Home / Robert Farley / Thoughts on Libya

Thoughts on Libya


It looks as if things are coming to a close in the Libyan Civil War. Although Gaddafi could still surprise the rebels, this is about as bad as it’s been for him. Much can still go wrong, however, including a bloody siege of Tripoli, a bloody battle for Tripoli, or a bloody rebel purge of Tripoli (or all three). Some quickish thoughts:

1. I’ll be glad to see Gaddafi go. Plenty of folks have correctly pointed out that we don’t have a good sense of who the rebels are, and that it’s possible they could pursue more repressive policies than the Gaddafi government. I’m a bit more concerned that we’ll simply move to phase two of the civil war after Gaddafi goes, but these concerns were genuine. However, it wasn’t easy to see a road to democratic reform in the Libyan state prior to the civil war, and such a road is (at least fleetingly) apparent now. This may not mean much if, in two years, Libya is still at war with itself or Gaddafi has been replaced by another strongman or authoritarian faction. But for now, I have some hope for the rebels.

2. The course of the war vindicates the “Afghan Model” as a military technique, if not as a political strategy. To review, the Afghan Model is based on the idea that airpower and special forces can help indigenous troops can win wars against numerically and organizationally stronger opponents. Special forces take on training, command, and liason roles, airpower conducts close air support, attrition, and interdiction missions, and the indigenous troops force the enemy to defend strongpoints from fixed locations. This model worked very well in the first several months of the Afghanistan war, but it worked rather less well at the start of the Libyan Civil War. Although airstrikes were able to freeze Gaddafi loyalist forces, rebel offensives initially failed.

With what looks like a rebel victory in the offing, the specifically military aspect of the Afghan Model seems to have been vindicated, if in slow motion. However, the Afghan Model is as much a political as a military concept. Politically, the AM is supposed to minimize domestic opposition in the intervening country, minimize nationalist reaction in the target country, and minimize international upheaval.  In Libya, the grade is mixed on all three.  Cameron, Sarkozy, and Obama probably received more flak than they had expected, mostly because the war stretched so long.  The war likely stretched so long at least in part because of nationalist reaction within Libya.  The international community remained relatively quiet, although the violence in Syria and the ongoing collapse of the global economy may have played some part.

The other political aspect of the Afghan Model involves post-conflict stability.  If Libya crumbles back into civil war in the wake of Gaddafi’s fall, it won’t reflect well on a strategic concept that promises large returns at minimal risk.

3. Given this outcome, it really is better that the Libyan rebels finished the war than, for example, the French. Although the course of the conflict was sufficiently frustrating that you could, from time to time, half wish for a quick amphibious invasion to end it all, the victory of the rebels on the ground is probably positive for the chances for a peaceful, stable post-conflict situation.  If nothing else, the length of the civil war has forced some coalition building, even if there have repeatedly been signs that the coalition is held together by spit and gum.  Of course, the length of the Soviet-Afghan War didn’t prevent the anti-Soviet coalition from cracking.  Still, the fact that so many of the major players in the opposition became familiar with each other and were forced to work through their differences prior to taking power is probably, on balance, a good thing.

4. I am still skeptical about the wisdom of the decision-making process that brought NATO intervention about.  It’s obvious that none of the major players expected the war to last this long, and unclear if they would have intervened if they had believed Gaddafi would hold on until almost September. However, I certainly don’t believe that the Libya intervention precluded a similar intervention in Syria, or that such an intervention would have been wise on its own merits either way.  It was also apparent that the decision-makers in Washington, Paris, and London didn’t have the faintest what to do in case of a failure of Gaddafi to collapse.  “Pound away until the bombs run out, the aircraft carriers have to go home, and the allies get bored” isn’t a strategy.

And yet, here we are.  In all likelihood Gaddafi will be gone soon, and that’s a good thing.  I do hope that one of the lessons learned is that even relatively weak states can survive for a while in the face of airpower campaigns. I also hope, as always, that policymakers will remember to take the utmost care with any decisions that involve dropping bombs in order to do “good.”

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  • Bill Murray

    I don’t see getting bored with the war and going on to a new war anywhere in the Afghan model. or was that just a bonus.

    I too am glad Khadaffy is out of power and so I assume my Libyan friend can go back as he deserted from the military back when he was young.

    I also hope that the powers that be, don’t try to Libya into their oily stooge, or some might get the idea that was the real purpose.

  • owlbear1

    The best part about using “Special Forces” is not having to make those pesky casualty reports.

  • Doug M.

    “seems to have been vindicated, if in slow motion.”

    — Six months to win a civil war — starting with untrained, poorly armed and organized rebels going up against a well-armed, well-funded and entrenched incumbent government — is not exactly slow motion.

    “The war likely stretched so long at least in part because of nationalist reaction within Libya.”

    — There’s very little evidence for this, actually. Nationalist reaction certainly did exist, but it doesn’t seem to have had a major effect on the course of the war.

    Qaddafi’s military effort has always rested on three pillars: his own tribe plus the two or three tribes most closely associated with his rule; the security services; and mercenaries. There has never been an aggressively pro-Qaddafi Libyan nationalist reaction. (The fact that Qaddafi’s people never stopped talking about how the tribes of Libya were flocking to his banner should have been a fairly large clue; that’s exactly what wasn’t happening.)

    “Still, the fact that so many of the major players in the opposition became familiar with each other and were forced to work through their differences”

    — No offense, but some of use were pointing this out months ago. “The fact that the Libyan rebels are willing to tolerate and work together with large numbers of armed Berbers strikes me as cause for cautious optimism. (Qaddafi spent 40 years demonizing the Berbers as dim, treacherous primitives who are Not Really Libyan.)”

    “”Pound away until the bombs run out, the aircraft carriers have to go home, and the allies get bored” isn’t a strategy.”

    — No, but “give the rebels the breathing space they need to get organized, and prevent the regime from ever applying its overwhelming strength in heavy weapons, tanks and air power” is a strategy.

    The quantum leap in the rebels’ tactical organization and fighting skills is not getting much attention. The even more dramatic surge in their strategic skills is getting none at all. Yet the campaign that led up to the attacks on Zlitan, Gharyan and Azzaziyah showed a very high level of strategic competence. It looks like the rebels methodically lured several major forces into strategic dead ends while preparing a well-coordinated set of simultaneous tactical offensives.

    See, e.g., the lengthy campaign down around Tiji near the Tunisian border. Qaddafi made a major commitment of forces to drive the rebels out of Tiji. Those forces were cut off and rendered helpless as soon as the rebels took Azzaziyah; they retreated into the interior and have, as far as can be told, become completely irrelevant to the conflict.

    There are several examples of this sort of thing. Either the NTC has an unsung Stonewall Jackson on the team, or they’re getting really good advice from somewhere.

    In any event, while I agree that NATO’s political leadership did not expect the conflict to go on this long, available evidence suggests that they’ve done a good job of adapting. To bring this back to the first point, six months is actually pretty quick to be wrapping up a full-scale civil war. From a purely military POV, with a starting point in March, it’s actually hard to see how things could have gone much better.

    Doug M.

    • Anonymous

      Has anyone reported on how the rebels went from untrained volunteers with no officers corps to laying siege on Tripoli?

      At first I thought all the good news was just propaganda, but after watchin al Jazerra, it really seems Tripoli is besieged.

      • Bill Murray

        well it could not have boots on the ground, because we were told repeatedly that we did not have these

        • MobiusKlein

          Hover-boots, perhaps?

      • Doug M.

        Dozens if not hundreds of western advisers and trainers have been in Libya since at least April. That’s pretty much an open secret — you can find video clips of them on YouTube.

        Doug M.

        • Anonymous

          I know, I remember the first pictures of the SAS. Can’t be the whole story though; how numerous were defections from the military?

      • Asteele

        Libyans aren’t children, the rebels forces/government certainly contained many people with military experience, it’s not unbelievable that in six months that they cohered into a force capable of organised activity. Other resistance groups in the region have shown themselves to be surprisingly sophisticated. I’m not entirely pleased with, if not surprised by, efforts to turn the Libyan rebels themselves into a sideshow in their own war.

        • Doug M.

          Libyans aren’t children, but their professional military was no great shakes. This was the army that lost a war to Tanzania, then rebounded to lose a war to Chad.

          Also, the contrast between the war in the east (the very static Brega front) and the war in the west was already very noticeable even before the big August offensives got under way. There are some underlying geographic and demographic reasons for this, but it’s still very marked.

          (In retrospect, Gaddafi’s single biggest strategic mistake seems to have been overcommitting to the Brega and Misrata fronts while trying to run the Western Mountains campaign on a relative shoestring. Actually a perfectly understandable mistake — but ultimately a lethal one. Probably deserves a post of its own, though.)

          Doug M.

      • Richard

        The rebels learned from failures, have had six months of training and have had numerous defectors from the Libyan army join their numbers, including some top commanders. It looks like Tripoli will be firmly in rebel hands by tomorrow.

    • Theobald Smith

      Do you have a good timeline or map of the campaign? I’m curious what specific aspects of the rebel campaign indicate a high level of strategic competence.

  • seedeevee

    Farley — “The course of the war vindicates the “Afghan Model” as a military technique, if not as a political strategy.”

    I am glad that you feel comfortable enough with the US military, its actions and conditions on the ground (In Afghanistan) to declare the “Afghan Model” vindicated.

    Unfortunately, in Afghanistan, Special Forces Fairy Dust is in short supply. Mass murdering warlords are not.

    Democracy is. Taliban, not.

    Appreciative civilians, is. “Loyal” Afghan soldiers, not.

    Non-corrupt “elected” officials, is. Murdered civilians, not.

    This list could go on and on.

    What was vindicated, again? The Bush Doctrine? The Rumsfeld Doctrine? The defeat of the Taliban?

    • elm

      Read the next sentence after the one you quoted to find out what the Afghan Model is. Notice, it is not an exhaustive definition of everything done in Afghanistan, but rather part of the strategic concept at the start of that war that was applied (IMO, much more purely as the war in Afghanistan always included elements beyond just those in the Afghan Model) in Lybia.

      What was vindicated was this miltary strategy as a means to helping rebel forces defeat governments. In your last paragraph, I would say that the stategy used in the initial military defeat of the Taliban was vindicated (partially), though what has happened in Afganistan since then certainly demonstrates that what comes next is as important, if not more so, than what leads up to the defeat of the governing regime. Notice that much of Rob’s post specifically dealt with the questions of what comes next.

      • seedeevee

        Thanks for responding, elm.

        I guess my point is that there is no actual vindication (if that is even possible) in a “partial vindication”. The Taliban is still there. Once-rebel forces have never controlled the country. The US has never had control over the country. I see no vindication.

        If the vindication statement was making a comment on how easy it is to terrorize a government into a short term abdication of power, it is nothing new. Just Gun Boat diplomacy in a modern form.

        • elm

          The partially was modifying the way the Afghan War was actually conducted, i.e. not along the theoretical “Afghan Model.” So I wasn’t suggesting the model was partially vindicated just that the Afghan War only partially adhered to the model.

          That said, I don’t agree with the point that “partial vindication” equals no vindication. Nor that because the Afghan Model isn’t completely new it isn’t in some way different from what was previously used.

          I think we agree, though, that before any assessment of the overall success of the Lybian War can be made, we have to wait to see what happens after Ghaddafi is gone.

          • seedeevee


  • On to Syria

  • Simple mind

    Interesting that all this is going on in the dark of night…

  • Pingback: Qadhafi Falls » American Footprints()

  • wengler

    I think you are making a serious mistake in claiming that Libya fell along the lines of the “Afghan Model”. The differences between the two states is just too stark to ignore.

    Firstly, the Afghan Model relied extensively on the legitimacy of a native force that had been fighting the Taliban government openly since it was founded. Afghanistan was a country that had been at war for over 20 years when the US got involved(for the second time). The Gaddafi government was not even an Iraq at the time of the first uprisings. It had controlled its borders for over 40 years.

    Secondly, there was an extensive amount of paying off warlord powerbrokers in Afghanistan to turn against the Taliban. There may have been some behind-the-scenes arrangements between the major tribes in Libya that led to this latest breakthroughs, but once again Libya had an actual army, not a number of local militias affiliated with strong men. Conversely, the civil war has created a hodgepodge army filled with amateurs and former professionals alike.

    Ultimately, the ‘buy-in’ to Libya from the US was so much less than Afghanistan, to compare them would be folly. Unless NATO now plans to stab their erstwhile rebel allies in the back, there will be no occupation of Libya by NATO forces like Afghanistan. I don’t see how the Afghan Model works without perpetual payout to warlords.

    And finally, a traditional invasion of Afghanistan was never an option. There was no credible point of entry for a large army to enter through(even though there is one now). Libya’s coast is so vulnerable to this type of invasion as to be tantalizing.

    I suppose what I’m getting at here is that to compare two approaches in warfare between a large, low density seaside state, that has some wealth, but a very poorly led and trained national army, to a rugged land-locked very poor failed state perpetually at war is not a great thing to do. There is no successful Afghan Model. Gaining the right to occupy that country was a not a victory.

    • Anonymous

      The operational model is still the same, though. All your quibbling does is prove that it can work militarily in several different contexts. You point out several differences, but have no analysis as to why the differences are relevant.

      • wengler

        If the ‘Afghan Model’ is as bare bones as inserting special forces + airstrikes, then I guess we need to wonder why it isn’t working in Somalia.

        Also known as the Vietnam model in the early ’60s.

        • Hogan

          Saying it’s been successful in some situations isn’t saying it will be successful in every situation.

        • Because in neither Somalia nor Vietnam were we supporting a local force as it fought to overthrow a government.

    • “The Afghan Model” doesn’t refer to everything that happened in Afghanistan. Putting a large ground army into the country is what the US chose to do after Kabul had fallen and the Taliban and al Qaeda routed by the campaign led by the Northern Alliance, with special forces organization and air power. That’s the Afghan model.

      It’s not meant to be a broad comparison involving our entire experience there.

      • wengler

        If not, then it’s a fairly useless military model for “successful” intervention.

        Special forces + flying killer robots would be a more appropriate title for the military side of things.

        • If not, then it’s a fairly useless military model for “successful” intervention.

          That depends on what you’d define as a successful intervention.

          It’s not comprehensive, in the sense that it doesn’t take care of the post-war and doesn’t give us control over political outcomes.

          But I don’t recall anyone saying it was.

          It’s a military doctrine, that has proven to be effective at overthrowing a government that is faced with a strong indigenous resistance movement, with minimal casualties or commitment. That it doesn’t seem to be very good at allowing us to install a puppet regime with staying power, but rather, leaves the political questions up to the locals, is a feature, not a bug, in my book.

  • Christopher

    1. I’ll be glad to see Gaddafi go… [i]t wasn’t easy to see a road to democratic reform in the Libyan state prior to the civil war, and such a road is (at least fleetingly) apparent now.

    I have the weirdest sense of deja vu… something about an aircraft carrier, and there was some kind of banner…

    No, it’s gone now. Don’t know what it was.

    • I’m going to be happy that the Arab Spring’s youth uprising in Libya overthrew the oil dictator, whether that sort of response is frowned upon or not.

      Tunisia, then Egypt, then Libya. Nothing like this ever happened under Bush.

      • dave


        “A few hundred protesters gathered Friday in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, calling for a civil state and an end to military rule…”

        Ten days ago, that was. Just because they’ve got the last dictator on trial doesn’t mean they’ve got a democracy…

        • witless chum

          But even if the Egyptian Revolution goes to shit, the U.S. is no longer propping up the country’s dictator. That’s worth something to our standing with the people of the Middle East and the world and I give Obama a lot of credit for resisting what must have been a lot of pressure from people in his administration to keep backing Mubarak.

        • Ten days ago, that was. Just because they’ve got the last dictator on trial doesn’t mean they’ve got a democracy…

          Is this supposed to make me less happy that the protesters overthrew Mubarak?

          Because there is still work to do?

          It doesn’t.

    • Robert Farley

      Lesson: You can never have enough caveats to scare away the true morons.

      • Christopher

        Did you guys read Slaughterhouse 5 and say, “Well, aside from all that, Germany’s chances for a real democracy were certainly improved”?

        I haven’t seen a single American argue against the war based on support for Gadaffi. The question is about whether the cure will be worse then the disease, and here in America, there’s the question of the war being blatantly illegal.

        I mean, I hate Hitler and Stalin and I love mom, baseball and apple pie, but I wouldn’t consider that to be, you know, any kind of analysis. Or even worth saying out loud, really.

  • I continue to root unreservedly for the overthrow of Middle Easter dictators by popular, reformist movements. I hope this ends quickly and with as little bloodshed as possible.

    • DocAmazing

      I’ll take “as little bloodshed as possible” for $600, Alex.

  • cpinva

    any state can survive, for a long, long time, in the face of solely an air campaign (see: vietnam, north: germany, nazi), unless you’re willing to go full nuclear. even then, it took two of them to finally convince japan. it always requires boots-on-the-ground to finish the job, always.

    libya is not afghanistan or iraq, it developed its own native revolutionary force, arrayed against its very own native dictator. afghanistan & iraq both had native dictators, but neither the will or capacity to develop a local revolutionary force capable (even with some help) of taking them on. had that been the case, most likely we wouldn’t be stuck in the twin quagmires of those debacles.

    as i see from recent updates, the deal is pretty much done. tripoli has, for all intents and purposes, fallen, quaddafi’s son has been arrested, quaddafi himself is probably on his way to exile, and there is dancing & random shooting in the streets, in celebration. let’s just hope this results in the libyan people getting a gov’t worthy of them, instead of just another tinhorn dictator.

    • witless chum

      Or another, worse, civil war with multiple factions that would be loads worse than living under Quaddafi.

      Hope it works out.

      • Now, there is hope that something can work out.

        Overthrowing your country’s dictator is always a roll of the dice. Look how getting rid of the czar worked out. Or King Louis.

  • rana

    I think the Afghan model is really the Kosovo model.

    • O the Kurdish model?

      • Robert Farley

        Difference between the “Afghan Model” and either the Kurdish or Kosovo campaigns is two-fold:

        1. The Afghan Model is considerably more ambitious, undertaking to overthrow a state rather than simply defend an enclave.

        2. The Afghan Model is more tactically oriented than the Kosovo campaign, focused on fixing and destroying fielded enemy forces rather than strategic “coercion.”

  • The war likely stretched so long at least in part because of nationalist reaction within Libya.

    Disagree. Gadhafi had to import thousands of mercenaries to fight in this war. Look at the collapse/uprisings in and around Tripoli. What “nationalist reaction?”

    As opposed to the military units commanded by Gadhafi’s sons and the foreign mercs, only a small segment of the populace rallied to the regime’s side, and they were located in places, like Sirte and some southern towns, that turned out to be strategically insignificant to the progression of the war. It took “so long” – five months – because it was a war in which a mass army of regular guys was taking on a professional military, so they couldn’t expect to meet and defeat them in the field, but to wear them down until the military and goverment collapsed.

    • Robert Farley

      “because it was a war in which a mass army of regular guys was taking on a professional military”

      This isn’t true, Joe; Libya never had a professional military in the same sense as Egypt, and most of the formations of the Libyan Army that did exist broke up in the first few weeks. As you point out, the bulk of Gaddafi’s forces consisted of mercenaries and tribal allies, albeit equipped with heavy weapons from Libyan government arsenals.

      • Doug M.

        That was me, not Joe. But either way, the point still stands: “nationalist reaction” played a very minor role, if any at all, in the conflict.

        Doug M.

      • But Robert, what are mercenaries if not professionals?

        It was a fight between a side with experienced trigger-pullers using the military equipment of a state, vs. a force of regular guys, many of whom fired guns for the first time when they were trained up for a few days before being sent forward.

        • Robert Farley

          “But Robert, what are mercenaries if not professionals?”

          Joe… please. Mercenaries assembled ad hoc are pretty much the exact opposite of a “professional military,” even if they’re technically getting paid. Moreover, it’s not at all clear that the mercenaries in questions had much more training than the “regular guys” on the other side.

          • They’re a lot closer to a professional army than a bunch of people who decided to march around with signs six months ago.

          • What is your point here, exactly? That there wasn’t a pretty significant difference in the level of experience and professionalism between, say, the people who were besieging Misurata and the rebels inside it?

            • Robert Farley

              My point is that the rebels were not fighting a professional military, in any sense that the term is recognized; they were fighting an ad hoc assembly of fighters (many of whom, reportedly, didn’t even speak the same languages) who had by and large not previously trained or fought together. This has to be taken into account in any evaluation of the effectiveness of the rebels.

              Please, Joe; do something about that chip on your shoulder.

              • Doug M.

                Joe may have a chip, but he’s also got a point. Military effectiveness is relative, not absolute — and back in March and April, Qaddafi’s forces were comfortably superior to the rebels in both number and quality.

                The rebels got better; that’s clear. It’s starting to look like Qaddafi’s forces got worse — desertions and defections seem to have played a significant part in the shifting correlation of forces.

                Doug M.

                • Robert Farley


                  Yes, but “professional military” is a term with a widely accepted definition, and sensible people can simultaneously accept that a) there was some difference in experience between rebel and loyalist forces in March, and b) the rebels were not facing a “professional military” in the accepted sense of the term. The dispute is about the magnitude of rebel improvement, and on this point the use of the term “professional military” is clearly not called for.

                • wengler

                  I think the point is that any professional military organization from even a lowly-regarded state could’ve wiped the floor of both the rebels and Gaddafi early in this conflict.

                • I think the point is that any professional military organization from even a lowly-regarded state could’ve wiped the floor of both the rebels and Gaddafi early in this conflict.

                  The actual point is that the difference in professionalism between the regime forces and the rebels, unlike a theorized “nationalist reaction,” is both documented, and a plausible explanation for whey the rebels did not quickly win.

                  The precise degree of professionalism among the regime forces isn’t actually the point.

              • What chip?

                Believe it not, disagreeing with you is not psychiatric disorder.

                If you feel the need to cling to your uber-semantic point (“a professional military” vs. “a much more professional military than their opponents”) then you can do that, but it’s just going to draw even more attention to your need to walk it back.

                It is simply not true to respond to my point about the difference between the professional fighters on Khadaffi’s side and the amateurs in the Free Libya Forces with “That’s not true, Joe.” Yes, it is true, and you look like you’ve got a chip on your shoulder for insisting on your semantic correctness instead of acknowledging this blindingly obvious, uncontroversial point.

                Here, try again: was there a significant difference in the professionalism of the two sides that might explain why the Free Libya Forces couldn’t defeat them quickly?

                • Robert Farley


                  The term “professional military” has a definition that is commonly accepted among analysts of military affairs. “More professional than their opponents” can sometimes make sense in the context of this definition, but not in the way you’re using it (mercenaries fight for money, thus are by nature professionals, etc.). The difference is clear from the comment you just made; professional “fighters” vs. professional “soldiers.” The latter can constitute a professional military, the former not so much.

                  To say that the rebels have defeated a professional military is a much stronger (and much less defensible, in this case) claim than they have defeated a force that was initially more experienced. Call it semantic, but the difference does actually matter; Syria, for example, is regarded as having a professional military, while Libya was not. It also matters for how we think about the Afghan Model (which was the subject of this post); if the Afghan Model could defeat a professional military, rather than just a force with relatively more experience than the proxy allied force, then we’d know something interesting, and relevant for policy.

                  I’m sorry that you were unaware of how the term “professional military” is used by analysts, and I’m sorry that you were offended when I said you were using the term incorrectly. However, I now feel compelled to file you under “people who I don’t ever need to respond to in comment threads.”

                • Blah blah blah, angels-pins-semantics. Just stop.

                  You’re still wiggling around to dodge the point: you theorized a “nationalist reaction” that you haven’t the slightest evidence for, and instead of addressing the point that there is a much more plausible explanation, you’ve decided to act disgustipated and quibble about something irrelevant.

                  I’ll just take your little hissy fit and retreat into cant as your acknowledgment that this “nationalist reaction” was pulled directly from your ass.

                • However, I now feel compelled to file you under “people who I don’t ever need to respond to in comment threads.”

                  Unlike your posts and papers, your comments have generally been shit anyway.

              • There was a lot more of a professional military in Libya over the past five months than a nationalist reaction.

  • It’s obvious that none of the major players expected the war to last this long, and unclear if they would have intervened if they had believed Gaddafi would hold on until almost September.

    It’s not obvious to me. I was someone who supported stopping Gaddhafi at Benghazi when the uniquely correct left position was apparently that all Musselmen (and Musselwomen and Musselchildren too) should be left to be slaughtered since human rights only apply to Europe or something and the act/omission distinction is the fundamental liberal principle. I can’t claim to have known how long the war would go on, but I would have thought end-of-August was optimistic.

    I agree with your grand-strategic military points. NATO intereventions work best when they complement an indigenous force whose main weaknesses are in technology and organization.

    • Robert Farley

      “It’s not obvious to me.”

      Really? You think that the Obama administration expected to see this last as long as it did? If they had, I suspect we’d have seen a much more aggressive effort to build Congressional support that would have produced at least a fig leaf of legality.

      It’s also clear from operational tempo that none of the Europeans expected or were prepared for a campaign of this length. Ordnance ran short, political will in some countries collapsed, French CV reached end of deployment limit, etc.

      • David W.

        IIRC, there wasn’t time to build any legal support in Congress as Gaddafi’s forces had rapidly driven to the outskirts of Benghazi and were poised to snuf out the heart of rebellion right then and there. It’s why the French air force went in to bomb those spearheads even before air superiority had been established. So it was clearly a case of leaping first and looking later strategically, but given the circumstances it was an understandable call.

        • But Farley has a point here, too: Obama didn’t spend late March and April trying to build support in Congress or even much with the public.

          One way to read that decision is that he thought the operation would be over quickly and investing the effort was unnecessary.

          • David W.

            Agreed, but you also have to consider whether or not even trying to build support for a Libyan campaign of more than several months in length would have resulted in Congress at best sending mixed messages or at worst pulling the plug on the operation.

          • I recall some chap pointing out that presidential attempts to build support in Congress and the public have a bad track record of success. According to this character, the assumption that a “real” attempt to persuade Congress and the public would have worked, while the failure of the actual attempts means they were fake, is a fallacy.

            I forget who that guy was. Had bad taste in hockey teams.

            • I don’t think I’ve met this guy, but if you see him, talk about the difference between foreign policy/military affairs and domestic politics.

              • Well, in this case, Congress didn’t try to stop the Administration from doing what it wanted, but refused to make it legal. I agree that nothing like that would happen in domestic politics. OTOH, there is the similarity that Obama couldn’t just make Congress give him a legal mandate, and the fact that he was unable to does not demonstrate that he didn’t try.

      • You think that the Obama administration expected to see this last as long as it did?

        I can’t help but notice that the UN resolution, and the cost estimate from the Obama administration, both ran through September.

        Call me an agnostic.

      • Doug M.

        Robert, I was addressing exactly these points in April and May over at Noel Maurer’s blog. I reached the conclusion that both Obama and the Europeans had jumped in hastily — but also that within a few weeks, they had adjusted their expectations and were settling in for a long (~6 months) war.

        I pointed to the removal of Doug Kmiec (remember him?) from Malta as an indicator; it was clear that he was being replaced with a professional, because Malta was being rapidly kitted out as our forward base. (Which it has been for the last four months, without anyone outside the military and intelligence communities ever much noticing.) Kmiec was a political appointee, an amateur and a dilettante — not the sort of guy you’d want in a critical position like that. (His replacement, Mills, is exactly the opposite — a professional diplomat with Middle East experience and a fairly spooky-looking CV.)

        Kmiec got kicked to the curb in mid-April, just about one month after the bombing started. There are a variety of straws in the wind that suggest that’s the moment when the administration said, okay, this could go on for a while — reconfigure.

        Doug M.

  • mike in dc

    Whither Syria, after this? I can’t see any sort of aerial campaign going on there, and there doesn’t really seem to be a meaningful armed resistance either. The only party with the potential capability and motivation to intervene militarily is Turkey, and they’re not even on board with full sanctions(yet). Yet, even without military intervention, it’s hard to see Assad hanging in there, long term.

    • I don’t see anyone in Europe going along with an intervention without UN support, and I don’t see Obama staging any interventions without NATO or UN support.

      And I don’t see Russia or China turning their backs on Assad.

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