For one thing, the fight is intensifying, not dropping off. On Sunday, the U.S.-led coalition flew 60 sorties over Libya; Monday it flew nearly 80; on Wednesday it flew 175. At this moment, American pilots are bombing and shooting at Gadhafi’s armor and artillery units on the outskirts of Libyan cities. Off the shores of Libya, a bevy of Navy ships and subs have launched over 160 Tomahawk missiles.
Nor can NATO agree on a command structure that will get the U.S. out of the lead of the war. Obama might want to hand off command responsibility to a different, multinational entity, in order to keep the scope of the U.S. commitment limited. He just lacks a plan to do so.
It’s true that not every application of military force is a war. Reasonable people can disagree, but when Saddam Hussein’s removal of weapons inspectors in 1998 prompted four days of U.S. and British bombs and missile strikes, that didn’t quite rise to the level of a whole new war. By contrast, the concerted, open-ended multinational application of naval and air power to enforce a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing “all necessary measures” to forcibly change the political behavior of a head of state — that’s something that Carl von Clausewitz would recognize in an instant. Call it smart, call it stupid, but please don’t call it anything besides war. ~Spencer Ackerman
I don’t entirely understand the impulse that government officials have to tell blatant, easily exposed lies to the public. Yes, they’re trying to manage how their actions are perceived, but usually the dishonesty is so obvious that no one apart from embarrassing partisan loyalists will fall for it. The administration officials claiming that the U.S. is not at war with Libya can’t actually believe what they’re saying, so what is the purpose? Is it just a bit of media spin? They must have concluded that an “Obama starts Libyan war” story would not be desirable, so they’re trying to pretend that the war the U.S. is waging against Libya is something else. Is it a bid to provide themselves with legal protection? Perhaps some of them think that the government is free to take military action at Obama’s discretion if they don’t call it a war. Perhaps they are guessing that once they call it a war they will be unable to wage a limited war, and will be forced in the end to expand the U.S. role rather than reduce it. Whatever the reason, the unwillingness to call the Libyan war what it is gives us another reason why the U.S. should halt its participation at once. If the administration cannot even acknowledge what it is doing right now, Americans should have no confidence that it has any clear plan of what it is going to do in the future.