Politics & Policy

Obama’s Missionless War

If you don’t have a mission, it’s hard to know when it’s accomplished.

If I recall correctly, we went into Libya — or, at any rate, over Libya — to stop the brutal Qaddafi dictatorship killing the Libyan people. And thanks to our efforts a whole new mass movement of freedom-loving democrats now has the opportunity to kill the Libyan people. As the Los Angeles Times reported from Benghazi, these democrats are roaming the city “rousting Libyan blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa from their homes and holding them for interrogation as suspected mercenaries or government spies.” According to the New York Times, “Members of the NATO alliance have sternly warned the rebels in Libya not to attack civilians as they push against the regime of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.” We dropped bombs on Qaddafi’s crowd for attacking civilians, and we’re prepared to do the same to you! “The coalition has told the rebels that the fog of war will not shield them from possible bombardment by NATO planes and missiles, just as the regime’s forces have been punished.”

So, having agreed to be the Libyan Liberation Movement Air Force, we’re also happy to serve as the Qaddafi Last-Stand Air Force. Say what you like about Barack Obama, but it’s rare to find a leader so impeccably multilateralist he’s willing to participate in both sides of a war. It doesn’t exactly do much for holding it under budget, but it does ensure that for once we’ve got a sporting chance of coming out on the winning side. If a coalition plane bombing Qaddafi’s forces runs into a coalition plane bombing the rebel forces, are they allowed to open fire on each other? Or would that exceed the U.N. resolution?

Who are these rebels we’re simultaneously arming and bombing? Don’t worry, the CIA is “gathering intelligence” on them. They should have a clear of who our allies are round about the time Mohammed bin Jihad is firing his Kalashnikov and shouting “Death to the Great Satan!” from the balcony of the presidential palace. But America’s commander-in-chief thinks they’re pretty sound chaps. “The people that we’ve met with have been fully vetted,” says President Obama. “So we have a clear sense of who they are. And so far they’re saying the right things. And most of them are professionals, lawyers, doctors — people who appear to be credible.”

Credible people with credentials — just like the president! Lawyers, doctors, just like Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s No. 2. Maybe among their impeccably credentialed ranks is a credible professional eye doctor like Bashar Assad, the London ophthalmologist who made a successful mid-life career change to dictator of Syria. Hillary Rodham Clinton calls young Bashar a “reformer,” by which she means presumably that he hasn’t (yet) slaughtered as many civilians as his late dad. Assad Sr. killed some 20,000 Syrians at Hama and is said to have pumped hydrogen cyanide through the town: There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, as the ophthalmologists say. Baby Assad hasn’t done that (yet), so he’s a reformer, and we’re in favor of those, so we’re not arming his rebels.

According to the State Department, Colonel Qaddafi’s 27-year-old son, Khamis, is also a “reformer.” Or at least he was a few weeks ago, when U.S. officials welcomed him here for a month-long visit, including meetings at NASA and the Air Force Academy, and front-row seats for a lecture by Deepak Chopra entitled “The Soul of Leadership.” Ten minutes of which would have me buckling up the Semtex belt and yelling “Allahu Akbar!” but each to his own. It would have been embarrassing had Khamis Qaddafi still been getting the red carpet treatment in the U.S. while his dad was getting the red carpet-bombing treatment over in Tripoli. But fortunately a scheduled trip to West Point on February 21st had to be canceled when young Khamis was obliged to cut short his visit and return to Libya to start shooting large numbers of people in his capacity as the commander of a crack special-forces unit. Maybe he’ll be killed by a pilot who showed him round the Air Force Academy. Small world, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, the same CIA currently “gathering intelligence” on these jihadist lawyers, doctors, and other allies has apparently been in Libya for some time arming them, according to a top-secret memo on their eyes-only clandestine operation simultaneously leaked by no fewer than four administration officials to the press. A reader suggested to me that they’d misheard the Warren Zevon song “Send Lawyers, Guns And Money,” and were sending guns and money to lawyers. And, if some of the guns and money end up in the hands of “al-Qaeda elements,” I’m sure Janet Napolitano can have it re-classified as an overseas stimulus bill. In the old days, simpletons like President Bush used to say, “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists.” This time round, we’re with us and we’re with the terrorists, and you can’t say fairer than that.

So this isn’t your father’s war. It’s a war with a U.N. resolution and French jets and a Canadian general and the good wishes of the Arab League. It’s a war with everything it needs, except a mission. And, if you don’t have a mission, it’s hard to know when it’s accomplished. Secretary Gates insists that regime change is not a goal; President Sarkozy says it is; President Obama’s position, insofar as one can pin it down, seems to be that he’s not in favor of Qaddafi remaining in power but he isn’t necessarily going to do anything to remove him therefrom. According to NBC, Qaddafi was said to be down in the dumps about his prospects until he saw Obama’s speech, after which he concluded the guy wasn’t serious about getting rid of him, and he perked up. He’s certainly not planning on going anywhere. There is an old rule of war that one should always offer an enemy an escape route. Instead, David Cameron, the British prime minister, demanded that Qaddafi be put on trial. So the Colonel is unlikely to trust any offers of exile, and has nothing to lose by staying to the bitter end and killing as many people as possible.

Meanwhile, the turbulence in the Middle East has spread to Syria, Kuwait, Yemen, Jordan, and beyond. In Egypt, an entirely predictable alliance between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood seems to be emerging. The “Arab Spring” turns out to be a bit more complicated than it looks on CNN, and a CIA that failed to see the bankruptcy of its own pension plan looming is unlikely to be a very useful guide to the various forces in play. For the Western powers to be bogged down in the least consequential Arab dictatorship’s low-grade civil war desultorily providing air support to incompetent al-Qaeda sympathizers may be an artful if expensive piece of misdirection.

Either that, or we haven’t got a clue what we’re doing.

Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is author of America Alone. © 2011 Mark Steyn.

Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist.

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