- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Everybody’s going all wobbly over Libya, except those who never liked the idea in the first place. Tom’s advice: Calm down. We have done what we set out to do in Libya. We kicked the door down, and with radars and SAM sites degraded, have made it possible for lesser air forces to patrol the skies over Qaddafi.
We should now say, OK, we have created the conditions, time for you all to have the courage of your convictions. The goal now for the United States, I think, is a negative one: To not be conducting a no-fly zone over Libya 5 years or even 5 months from now. If the French and Italians want to park the good ships Charles de Gaulle and Garibaldi off the Libyan coast, good. And if the Arab states want to maintain an air cap over Benghazi, fine. Step right up, fellas.
As for the American military, let’s knock off the muttering in the ranks about clear goals and exit strategies. Fellas, you need to understand this is not a football game but a soccer match. For the last 10 years, our generals have talked about the need to become adaptable, to live with ambiguity. Well, this is it. The international consensus changes every day, so our operations need to change with it. Such is the nature of war, as Clausewitz reminds us. Better Obama’s cautious ambiguity than Bush’s false clarity. Going into Iraq, scooping up the WMD, and getting out by September 2003 — now that was a nice clear plan. And a dangerously foolish one, too. The clearer we are now about command and control, rules of engagement and other organizational aspects of the intervention, the harder it will be to pass if off. Better they do it in their own way than we make it so they can only do it our way.
What we need now is good, candid, hard-hitting discussions between our military leaders and their civilian overseers. Because war changes the reality of the situation every day, it is essential for the operational, or campaign, level of war to be connected to the political level. That is the purpose of strategy, and of those free and frank discussions.