The Libyan War: Lessons Being Learned Outside the Beltway


By Ed Timperlake

03/31/2011 – The American and Allied combat action against Mommar Gadhafi  is appropriately generating significant debate in America, especially by individuals inside what is called “the beltway”. Needless to say on an issue of taking the country to a war unilaterally by President Obama, there is significant vigor in intellectual points being made both pro and con. Additionally, the hothouse atmosphere created by the looming U.S. Presidential election is only making the national discussion more U.S. focused.  However, there is also international media impacting back into the American debate since it is a UN mission or NATO mission or whatever hybrid is currently in vogue.

The vigorous foreign component to the debate is mostly focused on alliance politics, and appropriate use of force –e.g. just a no fly zone, or adding ground attacks, arming the rebels, making attempts to kill or bribe Gadhafi and thus the commiserate international command and control issues. Sometimes it reminds one of the famous skit: Who is on first?

But the real question and the most dangerous issue in this entire dynamic seems to be absent from the U.S. debate.  What lessons are other countries that are not currently directly involved learning from observing the situation?

It can also be noted that some countries without troops have the right to also kibitz from the side like Putin is currently doing, because of the Administration is using a UN Security Council imprimatur to justify the attack.

But what do other thuggish countries think and what will they do? And this is literally a life and death question.

The world now knows that when the U.S. decides the leader of a country is an “evil doer” about to stage a massacre  a forceful military attack can be justified and launched. This is the emerging “Obama Doctrine. ” Ironically, it is reinforced by the observed experience of the Bush Doctrine and the Clinton Doctrine. The goal is to stop a negative by pointing out the massacre that does not happen.

Now visualize a meeting after the U.S. Military successfully attacked both the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussain Iraq. At that table of world class thuggish leaders sits Moammar Gadhafi, Kim il Jong, the Dear Leader of North Korea, and Mahmoud Ahmadmejad of Iran. They see a huge problem –what will the Americans do next?

Gadhafi, knowing Saddam had WMD, specifically poison gas that he had used and a nuke R&D effort, decides his best course is to welcome the western nations into his country to deactivate his nuclear research and development program. The Dear Leader of North Korea leaves their meeting and shows the world that he has credible nuclear devices along with trying to build ICBMs. Mahmoud Ahmadejad had a choice when he left that table –he could follow the lead of the Libyan leader or play catch up to the Dear Leader.

With the attack on Libya, the Obama Administration has just made Kim il Jong look like a strategic genius. It also totally confirmed a lesson learned to the Iranian Leadership. The lesson is the only thing that can stop the Obama Administration deciding, with no U.S. Congressional notification, to attack a sovereign nation, is credible WMD.  Iranian leaders must now quickly double down on their belief that they need credible deterrence against an attack.

When the Americans and their allies, or in this case, Americans prodded into action by their allies, think they can use “stopping a massacre” as justification for combat, then quickly cruise missiles will be launched and bombs dropped, all in the name of saving lives.  Our words and actions have meaning especially as the world watches a country that stripped itself of any semblance of nuclear deterrence gets attacked.  Thuggish regimes around the globe are paying attention and will now rapidly act to insure their survival.

The Obama Administration may well have inadvertently just lit the fuse on a worldwide quest for WMD especially nukes.

Gadhafi, for whatever reason in his mind did the right thing and now he may soon be removed in part by American and Allied cruise missiles or bombs. Meanwhile, the Dear Leader is probably celebrating his genius and the Iranians are working as fast as they can to pop a demonstration burst.

The lessons being learned outside the beltway is that an atomic bomb might be the only thing between their survival and American ‘ready fire aim” diplomacy.

It is time for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist to move their “Doomsday Clock” much closer to midnight and start the sweep hand moving.