James C. Banks

It’s Not Too Late to Declare Mission Accomplished

In Uncategorized on April 6, 2011 at 1:51 am

An argument I have been hearing recently in regard to the Libyan war—or situation, or kinetic military action or whatever you want to call it—is that going in probably was not a good plan, but, now that we have gone in, we cannot leave until Muammar Al-Gaddafi is gone. The argument runs something like this: The outcome of the Libyan civil war would probably not have had more than a tangential effect on American foreign relations and interfering was not in our interest; nonetheless, we have interfered in the situation, therefore, we have to interfere all the way; otherwise, there will be no end in sight to the civil war and Gaddafi will be able to claim that he has defeated the United States if he remains in power after the coalition’s air raids stop.

I understand where those who voice this argument are coming from, but I do not think that this is the only option on the table. The war, as it currently stands, has no specific goal and, therefore, no mission at which the United States can fail. Having no goal is not sound strategy in the long-run, but it gives the government enough leeway to define terms of victory in the broadest possible terms. It is conceivable that the president could order that American operations in the region desist since American military operations were meant to protect Benghazi from being leveled; Gaddafi’s forces did not level Benghazi and, therefore, America’s mission is accomplished. This is probably the safest course to follow, as the greatest danger in Libya is not from direct fallout, but rather the threat of that the intervention might damage the image of American resolve, if the country should involve itself deeply and then retreat.

It is unlikely that the government will take up this exit strategy. Even Tea Party candidates disagree on the Libyan intervention.  Disagreement tends to perpetuate the status quo and, regardless of the politicians’ positions on the issue, plans for what to do next are obscure. Even if removing Gaddafi were to become a goal, it is hard define how this should be done. Will it involve sending in the marines or are we actually confident that it can be done by arming the rebels?

With the exception of those opposed to the intervention by instinct—like the Pauls or Dennis Kucinich—there are no politicians who will settle for less than total success in Libya.  But no one has any idea what total success is.  It is better to be satisfied with having achieved our principal mission (we did successfully defend the civilians of Benghazi) and return to concerns in the region which will have a more direct impact on America’s long-term interests. Losing a few resources without knowing why is preferable to waiting until we have lost what we can never get back before trying to remember how we ever got involved.

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