Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Libya: You want clarity? Here it is

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 ...

MARCELLO PATERNOSTRO/AFP/Getty Images
MARCELLO PATERNOSTRO/AFP/Getty Images

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.

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.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

More from Foreign Policy

The Pentagon is seen from the air over Washington, D.C., on Aug. 25, 2013.

The Pentagon’s Office Culture Is Stuck in 1968

The U.S. national security bureaucracy needs a severe upgrade.

The Azerbaijani army patrols the streets of Shusha on Sept. 25 under a sign that reads: "Dear Shusha, you are free. Dear Shusha, we are back. Dear Shusha, we will resurrect you. Shusha is ours."

From the Ruins of War, a Tourist Resort Emerges

Shusha was the key to the recent war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Now Baku wants to turn the fabled fortress town into a resort.

Frances Pugh in 2019's Midsommar.

Scandinavia’s Horror Renaissance and the Global Appeal of ‘Fakelore’

“Midsommar” and “The Ritual” are steeped in Scandinavian folklore. Or are they?