The president speaks tomorrow on Libya. Expect him to assure us of success, thousands of lives saved, and a mission now “toned down” and “handed over” to NATO. Let us hope that is all true. But there are existential problems with Libya that will have to be addressed, whether Obama chooses to or not.
1) A no-fly zone will not remove Gaddafi. That is why our cruise-missile attacks and European bombing have already gone beyond the Arab League/UN mandate. Gaddafi, like Milosevic, can win without a helicopter or jet in the sky. To see the rebellion succeed, Obama (or his European allies) must violate the UN and Arab League sanctions that we now boast about following — and destroy his ruling cadre in Tripoli through bombing ground targets, not chasing non-existent jet formations. And that would be “war,” not “kinetic” operations.
2) Borrowing for Tomahawks. We are six to seven trillion dollars more in debt than when we went into Iraq, when the 2003 budget deficit was well under $400 billion, not over $1.6 trillion. The country is now in far more dire economic straits than eight years ago. And the length and expense of this present mission will be calibrated as few missions have been in the past (hence the administration’s understandable insistence on “days,” rather than “weeks” or “months” of fighting).