- By Peter Feaver
One detects a palpable sense of relief from the White House with the latest news that a NATO command arrangement has finally been forged. President Obama has repeatedly talked about US commitment in very limited terms, emphasizing that the United States is in the military lead only for a very short time — days not weeks — and that soon we will turn the mission over to the allies who will bear the brunt of the load from here on out. The United States is central right now, but only because we have unique assets needed for the opening phase of operations. Very soon (implied: long before this gets messy), others will step up and take over.
Since the Obama administration is partial to automobile metaphors, perhaps they will indulge this one. Obama apparently views the Libya mission this way: Obama owns the pick-up truck that a bunch of friends have borrowed to move a piano they bought. Obama is not buying the piano. He has not promised to help the friends carry the piano up to the third-floor apartment. He is only loaning them the pick-up truck and he expects to have the keys returned within a few days.
The news that after days of chaotic wrangling a NATO command arrangement is within view must feel like the keys to the truck are finally going to be returned. The United States will have provided the assets needed to establish air supremacy, but the allies will take over all of the rest of the load of the no-fly zone. Moreover, if the crisis escalates with humanitarian nightmares or mass atrocities — "the piano gets stuck in the stair well" — Obama’s plan is apparently that the allies are the ones on the hook to deal with it.
There is a really good chance, however, that a more apt metaphor for what Obama has done is this: he has co-signed the lease for his college-age son and a bunch of fraternity brothers. If they mess up the house or otherwise stop paying the rent, Obama is on the hook because his name is on the lease.
President Obama talks about the Libya mission only with the simplified "false clarity" (my fellow FP colleague’s protestations notwithstanding) of how things might unfold if everything goes well — or at a minimum of how how things might unfold if everyone else does their part satisfactorily. If events do not unfold well and if our allies and partners do live up to Obama’s promises, has he prepared the American people for the "nuanced realism" of a lingering commitment? The latest polls, which show the lowest level of support at the start of a major military operation in the last three decades, suggest not.
UPDATE: As if on cue, an anonymous administration official supplied the closer to my truck-loaned-to-piano-movers metaphor in today’s New York Times. Check out this quote:
We didn’t want to get sucked into an operation with uncertainty at the end," the senior administration official said. "In some ways, how it turns out is not on our shoulders."
If I were writing it myself, I don’t think I could have done much better.
Could it be that the administration has an exit plan, but not an exit strategy. Is the plan to quit whenever we have reached Obama’s internal limit, which he consistently has indicated is measured in "days, not weeks?" A strategy would seek achievable political objectives relating to the mission itself. But so far the administration has not presented a strategy. Instead, they believe that "how it turns out is not on [their] shoulders." I wonder if the Allies see it that way.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at email@example.com.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |
Yochi Dreazen is a Managing Editor for News at Foreign Policy. He is also writer-in-residence at the Center for a New American Security. His book about military suicide was published by Random House's Crown division in 2014.
Prior to joining Foreign Policy, Dreazen was a contributing editor at the Atlantic and the senior national security correspondent for National Journal. He began his career at the Wall Street Journal and spent 11 years at the newspaper, most recently as its military correspondent. He was born in Chicago, and later attended the University of Pennsylvania. At Penn, he edited the award-winning daily campus newspaper and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1999 with degrees in History and English. He was hired by the Wall Street Journal immediately after graduation. Dreazen arrived in Iraq in April 2003 with the Fourth Infantry Division, and spent the next two years living in Baghdad as the Wall Street Journal's main Iraq correspondent.
Dreazen has made more than 12 lengthy trips to Iraq and Afghanistan and has spent a total of nearly four years on the ground in the two countries, mostly doing front-line combat embeds. He has reported from more than 20 countries, including Pakistan, Russia, China, Israel, Japan, Turkey, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia.
In 2010, Dreazen received the Military Reporters & Editors association’s top award for domestic military reporting in a large publication for a series of articles about military suicide and the psychological traumas impacting veterans of the two long wars. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Smithsonian, Tablet and the New Republic and he appears regularly on TV and radio programs such as NPR's Diane Rehm Show and PBS' Washington Week with Gwen Ifill. Dreazen gives frequent lectures about journalism, the wars and current events to both civilian and military audiences.
Dreazen lives in Washington with his wife, Annie Rosenzweig Dreazen, and their beloved Golden Retriever, Charlie.| The Cable |