March 24, 2011

Amateur Hour at the White House - Take 2

CAVEAT: If you think the President is handling the Libya crisis well, you may find these comments offensive yet enlightening.

I have tried to understand why President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seem to ignore every principle of foreign policy taught at leading international relations schools and military institutions, not just in this country but around the world. I might give Mrs. Clinton a pass since she may be in the position of having to represent an ill-conceived position as she works for the President. Then again, if she does not agree with the Obama policy, she can resign - it merely takes a phone call and she doesn't need the money.

Where do I start? I was astounded by the earlier bifurcation of the President's policy and his military strategy. As I said in a previous article, any graduate of our professional military education institutions understands that military power and its application is but one component, one tool of foreign policy, just as is diplomacy. Both are used to advance foreign policy objectives. Stated another way, diplomacy and military power are both used to achieve foreign policy goals.

Applying that theory to reality, President Obama has stated that U.S. policy is the removal of Mu'amar al-Qadhafi from power. The President has made that clear (he is big on clarity) on more than one occasion. If that is the goal, then American diplomacy should be geared toward that. If diplomacy fails, the President also has the military option to achieve that aim.

Inexplicably, that did not happen. The President, for reasons that most of us cannot understand, has separated foreign policy goals from its components. When he articulated the reasons the United States supported the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, the President stated that although it was U.S. policy to support the removal of Qadhafi from power, the use of force under the resolution was not to achieve that goal. If you are not using military force to achieve a stated policy objective, why are you placing young American men and women in harm's way? That is inexcusable.

That said, perhaps the most egregious failure to grasp the realities of what is happening in Libya is the bifurcation of the military operation. Since the beginning of the military campaign on March 19, Obama has tried to downplay the leading role of the U.S. armed forces and was looking for a way to pass off leadership to another entity, in this case NATO.

That's okay in and of itself, but it was the convoluted agreement reached by the leaders of the NATO nations that is dangerous and confusing. NATO works on a consensus basis - all 28 nations must agree. In its haste to transfer leadership, the Obama Administration violated one of the key precepts of military operations - unity of command. What Obama and Clinton agreed to comes as a shock to any professional military officer.

Under what I will call the "Obama Abdication," the President agreed to cede command and control of the no-fly zone enforcement portion of UNSCR 1973 to NATO, but retains (via the U.S. Africa Command) responsibility for the portion of the resolution that applies to the protection of Libyan citizens from the brutality of the Qadhafi regime.

This is a formula for disaster. NATO forces operating under one chain of command will enforce the no-fly zone, while at the same time in the same air space American forces, possibly with other allies, in a separate chain of command will enforce the protection of civilians portion of the resolution.

Two command structures in the same space at the same time? This is dangerous work under ideal circumstances. There will be young men and women operating high-performance lethal weapons systems in close proximity against one enemy who has, through no machinations of its own, retained a key tenet of military operations - unity of command. There needs to be one commander focused on one set of military goals. Today's agreement does not do that.

It is obvious that the two-tier agreement took some arm twisting, otherwise Mrs. Clinton would have been on time for her announcement, rather than spending time on the phone begging and cajoling her counterparts at the last minute. This is probably the best she could do in an attempt to execute the wishes of the President to abdicate leadership of the operation.

The fact that the President of the United States and the Secretary of State agreed to ignore a basic military concept underscores their lack of understanding of the military option. Neither one of them have the background or experience to be making these decisions. What they did today is dangerous for our troops and our country.

Mr. Obama, the next time the phone rings at 3:00am, please don't answer it. The caller will understand - you can explain that you were appearing with Ted Mack on Amateur Hour.