We’ve seen this movie before. Spectacular photos of Tomahawk cruise missiles being launched from American Navy vessels. B-2 bombers piloted by amazing American crews making nonstop trips from Missouri to the Mediterranean. And Americans of all political stripes asking: What’s the plan?
Moammar Gadhafi is a very bad guy. He has been a bad guy for 40 years and has brazenly killed Americans on several occasions in attacks that fit any reasonable definition of terrorism. The world would be better off without him.
But at the same time that our courageous and incredibly skill-ed military is being asked to destroy a military headquarters in Tripoli without damaging the civilian building next to it, the White House is saying “Gadhafi must go” but the attacks are not about “regime change.” It is saying the mission is to protect the Libyan people from Col. Gadhafi’s madness but we aren’t going to send in troops for their protection. And yes, once again, we are being assured that the U.S. commitment is limited and we are just doing our part as a coalition of the willing.
When are we going to learn? Injecting the American military into the internal strife of other nations with no clear definition of a successful outcome doesn’t work. Our service members who are putting themselves at risk, the taxpayers who are paying more than $600,000 for every Tomahawk missile launched, and yes, the people in Libya we supposedly are trying to help all deserve to know what the plan is. That isn’t too much to ask.
Sometimes it appears our political leaders doubt that we can handle the truth.
If the objective in Libya is to replace Col. Gadhafi, why don’t we just say so and do it? We should at least have an honest debate about it. If that is the idea, it is perhaps worth noting that the guy has hung on to power for decades and just bombing his missile defenses may not do the trick. It also is worth pointing out that we went into Afghanistan to get rid of Osama bin Laden and his cronies, and almost 10 years and hundreds of billions of dollars and too many American lives later, we are still there - and bin Laden isn’t.
If the plan is somehow to level the playing field in Libya so Col. Gadhafi’s opposition has a fighting chance of toppling him, it would have been a lot cheaper and easier to have done that three weeks ago - before he was on the verge of crushing the uprising. Then there is the questions of who will replace him; will his replacement be any better for U.S. interests than Col. Gadhafi, and how many of the people we are trying to protect will die in the process?
It has been observed that by weakening his military capabilities, perhaps we will encourage dissension and defection among his own leadership and commanders. If that is the plan, it would be cheaper and a whole lot safer just to give each of them a check for $1 million and a condo in Florida.
Or, if there is some hope Col. Gadhafi will back down, see the handwriting on the wall and turn over a new leaf, it really must be remembered that we have tried that a couple of times already. The result: He is still in power and killing people and the presidents who “backed him down” are not presidents anymore.
For the cynical among us, let’s even try the theory that we care about what happens in Libya because it is the source of 1.3 million barrels of oil per day - and we need imports like that for more than half of our oil needs. If we are worried about oil, we should be a lot more concerned about what is going on in Saudi Arabia and a bunch of other countries that are, in fact, much more important to our energy security.
Mr. President, or someone, please tell us what the plan is. Otherwise, just stop. At the end of the day, what is happening in Libya is a civil war against a clearly bad leader. The world is full of clearly bad and evil leaders and millions of people being victimized by them. What makes Libya special? Simply enforcing a no-fly zone will cost American taxpayers as much as $300 million a week, and that doesn’t include all those Tomahawk missiles and B-2 round trips. More important, those are American crews risking their lives. If there is some compelling reason to be doing what we are doing, tell us what it is.
If, on the other hand, we are once again playing cop to the world, we can’t afford it.
Gary Johnson is a former Republican governor of New Mexico.