Amidst all the confusion over our new little war in Libya, one thing is clear: Notwithstanding the bravery and professionalism of our troops in naming it Operation Odyssey Dawn, the Pentagon has invoked a haunting specter. The war's namesake Homer's epic poem "The Odyssey" is the tale of the hero, Odysseus, taking 10 years to get home from the Trojan War which itself took 10 years to fight.
In fairness to the Pentagon, when the Germans started their ill-fated campaign in Tripoli in February 1941 which was to be lost because of a too long and thin logistics line they too had difficulty, calling it Operation Sonnenblume (Sunflower). As the German historian Wolf Heckmann drolly noted of the Wehrmacht High Command: "Unconsciously, someone had hit upon the perfect symbol: a huge and showy flower at the end of a long and rather fragile stem."
This whole business of christening wars with catchy names is curious. Ten years ago, our current war in Afghanistan was christened Operation Enduring Freedom although the alleged beneficiaries of our military effort, the Afghan people, have not yet gained freedom from the Taliban enemy. In fact, we are getting ready to leave no later than 2014 rather than planning to "endure" until freedom is ensured.
Meanwhile, our war in Iraq, which the George W. Bush Pentagon eight years ago triumphantly named Operation Iraqi Freedom, had its name changed last year by the Obama Pentagon to the more tentative-sounding Operation New Dawn. Who knows what that "new dawn" of 2015 may bring: freedom, victory, defeat, civil war or forgetfulness?
I admit to belaboring these words, but they are worth belaboring. The words of generals and statesmen at the beginning of wars need to be decoded, as they are as likely to confuse as to clarify. And too often the first victims of the confusion are the very statesmen and generals who utter them. These days, few citizens are as ready to whistle cheerfully off to war as are their leaders.
When it is all over, it often turns out that the military intervention (in the words of the British comedy "Yes, Minister") provided the people with "every assistance short of help."
So what are our government and others saying about this new war?
President Obama, March 4: "Let me just be very unambiguous about this. Col. [Moammar] Gadhafi needs to step down from power and leave."
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, March 20: It "isn't about seeing [Col. Gadhafi] go." Asked whether it was possible that the mission's goals could be achieved while leaving Col. Gadhafi in power, Adm. Mullen said, "That's certainly potentially one outcome."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said, "It is not about regime change."
Then what is this war about? On Friday, Mr. Obama, in announcing our military intervention, cited as justification that Col. Gadhafi might kill "thousands the region could be destabilized the democratic values that we stand for would be overrun." But he also wanted to be "clear about what we will not be doing. The United States is not going to deploy ground troops. We are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal specifically, the protection of civilians in Libya."
Moreover, no sooner had Mr. Obama identified the importance of the Arab League's support for the operation as he understandably did not want to start a third war in a Muslim country without strong Muslim support than the head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, criticized the international strikes on Libya, saying they caused civilian deaths and went "beyond what the Arab League backed."
And how does Mr. Obama's concern about democracy relate to support from the Arab League, which can't claim a membership blessed with the instinct for democracy with the possible exception of Iraq, which we are occupying militarily? (Members include Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Tunisia, Somalia, Libya, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Kuwait, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Djibouti and Comoros).
The president cited the danger that "the region could be destabilized." But both in his Cairo speech in 2009 and in his policy statement on Egypt last month, he rejected regional stability as a justification for regime support or opposition.
The president called for a policy that forcibly removes the Gadhafi regime because it threatens to kill its own people, but it supports other regimes that do the same thing (Bahrain, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, etc.).
Based on his public words, the president's policy goals are contradictory and would seem not to be achievable within the self-imposed limitations on methods and length of commitment.
Of course, with our airmen, sailors and perhaps others in harm's way, I hope for the best, appreciate their courage, pray for their safety and look forward to the terrorist Moammar Gadhafi's early demise by the hands of a just God, or otherwise.
Tony Blankley is the author of "American Grit: What It Will Take to Survive and Win in the 21st Century" (Regnery, 2009) and vice president of the Edelman public relations firm in Washington.
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