Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mission Creep Already?

This early in a conflict it's hard to tell how much accurate reporting is happening and how much is distorted due to limited sources.  This New York Times article is making me wonder if the US is already starting to play a larger role than it needs to.  I understand that it is essential for US forces to take out the anti-air defenses but I don't see the need for US forces to be striking at ground targets.  It may be that our larger naval forces and problems with coordinating still incoming allied forces mean that we have forces in striking distance of targets such as armor and artillery while others currently do not.  On the other hand, America has a poor track record of sharing command and operations with others so it is also possible we're suffering mission creep when we don't need to because of this characteristic of our strategic culture.  Too early to tell, but I was worried about this but cautiously optimistic that as a result of the reluctance of the administration to participate in the Libyan intervention that we'd avoid our usual fate of demanding a leadership role whenever we participate.

Also, the divisions in the Arab League worries me.  Part of this is expected, none of these countries are all that democratic and they want plausible deniability.  Hopefully this is all that is happening.  What discourages me is that this is an example of completely unrealistic assumptions about war.  It was never possible to enforce a no fly zone simply by sending jets over and only firing back when fired on.  Of course we were going to have to hit command and control centers, airstrips, and anti-air batteries.  To think otherwise is incredibly naive.

This is a problem that I see often however.  People want to impose morality designed for individuals on state and group action, namely don't strike until someone else strikes first and then do so proportionately.  This isn't possible when you have a responsibility to others that are being asked to take action.  I find the idea of ordering pilots into harms way without first doing all we can to mitigate the chances of their getting killed to be an immensely immoral action.  No one should have the right to do this when they have the power to defend those they are responsible for.  The responsibility for commanders to see to the well being of their troops require that known valid military targets be taken out first before individuals under their command are asked to risk their lives.  It's regrettable that live will be lost in the installations struck but weighed against the power that the state possesses against the rights of the people under its command this is clearly the lesser of the two evils.  If Qaddafi hadn't been intending to fight back his troops would have already been withdrawn, sending our planes in before taking out these installations would have been little different then sending our soldiers to the gallows since we both knew about and had the power to save their lives by eliminating these installations.  No state can do that with a clear conscience.


  1. Isn't it amazing? I was just thinking that this morning. The no-fly zone started what, yesterday? And already there is a huge divergence between the middle-eastern allies and the Atlantic allies.

    Sherman's description of War as hell and Bierce's apocryphal description of war as history's way of teaching man geography seem out of date. War is now more like fence-building as work you can do to prevent future idleness.

  2. I'm still hoping the US will succeed in transferring command to the allies over the next couple of days, which is what was said in a news report after I read this. I think it's also notable that Qatar, and probably UAE, still intend to commit planes. I'm currently thinking that the divergent voices that are coming from the Arab League reflect the wide variance in regime types and their relative legitimacy. They passed the resolution because none of them like Qaddafi and a few states pressed strongly. The rest are now concerned about giving themselves public cover while they let those that actually wanted the intervention go ahead and do whatever they want. It's early so it's hard to say, but as I think about it more I'm not certain that these responses weren't planned from the beginning. I don't think any foreign ministry is foolish enough to think that pilots can be committed to patrol a no-fly zone without hitting at least some dual use infrastructure like radar and air strips.

    We probably won't know until we have some memoirs to compare 20 years from now.

  3. I kinda hope to be blowed up by a terrorist before that, but you're right. I think the point I started to express and didn't quite get to, though, was the mission creep seems to have gotten off to a springier start than usual. We've gone from enforcing a no-fly zone to enforcing a cease fire to targeting Qaddafi in just 24 hours.