The revolutionaries in Libya are hitting their target, the empty sky, but Barack Obama, who wants to be a secret enabler, keeps firing blanks with his teleprompter. With no particular plan and nobody in particular in charge, it's an unusual way to run a railroad, a war or even a "kinetic military action."
Mr. Obama applies his famous formula of raising a cloud of dust and hoping for change, but hopey-changey continues to be a bust as a strategy for getting anything done.
There's growing sentiment within White House councils to further arm the rebels, maybe even with heavy armor and tanks, a prospect not likely to frighten Col. Moammar Gadhafi, whose fortunes have actually brightened over the past few days. Untrained and undisciplined "troops," such as they are, are rarely a match for an army, even a Muslim army. The only good news from Libya, such as it is, is that both sides are running low on ammunition. The rebels have spent a lot of bullets firing their guns at the sky, hardly making enough noise to frighten the occasional buzzard on the scout for breakfast.
"We need what Gadhafi has," a rebel commander tells the London Guardian. "We need rockets like Gadhafi has. We need tanks like Gadhafi has. We need weapons that can kill his rockets and tanks." Rebels armed with rockets could then punch bigger holes in the sky, perhaps even a few holes in low-hanging clouds, particularly the big puffy ones.
The rebels already have a few tanks, in fact, scavenged from the battlefield in the wake of airstrikes that sent Col. Gadhafi's terrified army fleeing helter-skelter from the town of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi. But the tanks haven't been used against Col. Gadhafi's army because nobody knows how to get them started and keep them running in the right direction.
Back in Washington, the U.S. commander in chief is having trouble getting public opinion on his side. His "explanatory" speech about American arms and aims, laced with his usual bromides and pulpit flourishes ("if we had waited one more day Benghazi ... could have suffered a massacre that would have ... stained the conscience of the world") has moved no one but what's left of his choir. Platoons of pollsters were dispatched to plumb drowsy public sentiment. Rasmussen finds that 21 percent of Americans say they have no more idea than the commander in chief about what the West's coalition of the grudging hopes to accomplish in Libya. Quinnipiac University, whose polls are regarded highly by the pols, finds that the Obama approval rating - and prospects for re-election - have plunged to the lowest levels yet.
The reality in the Libyan desert explains, for anyone paying attention, the unlikely contrast in the ambitions and expectations of the Pentagon, charged with defending the nation's interests, and the diplomats in Foggy Bottom, highly trained to dribble those interests away. The diplomats want to fight (or persuade someone else to), and the warriors are wary, understanding that there's not much to fight with. The rebels have no one to train them or impose the discipline that is the difference between a mob and an army. The finance minister of the rebels - of the "government" officially recognized only by France and Qatar - insists there are more than a thousand "trained fighters" in the rebel ranks, but Western correspondents traveling with the rebels find no evidence of such fighters.
"The problem is not solely the rebels' lack of more powerful weapons," says Chris McGreal of the Guardian. "In the past [week] their disorganization has shown as they have been badly outmaneuvered by better-trained forces that have outflanked them with sweeps through the desert. The revolutionaries lack any defensive plan. Instead they fire wildly at the enemy and argue among themselves about what to do next and who should be giving orders - before turning and fleeing." That sounds a lot like what's going on among the aimless "leaders" of the coalition of the grudging. Mr. Obama says he "hopes" Col. Gadhafi is deposed but deposing him is not the "aim" of the coalition.
Stonewall Jackson, a man of few words and many exploits, offers a little advice for commanders on the eve of battle. Soldiers, he said, should make short speeches, "but when you draw the sword, throw away the scabbard." That's the only strategy that ever works in war, or even in a "kinetic military action."
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.
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