What ‘cha say I step a little out ahead of the President’s speech on Libya tonight? Why not?

Speaking a little over a week ago, President Obama repeated what we have heard over and over concerning the high level of American involvement in the Libyan campaign,

“We will provide the unique capabilities that we can bring to bear to stop the violence against civilians, including enabling our European allies and Arab partners to effectively enforce a no-fly zone,”

What are those “unique capabilities?” Most have focused on the tactical aspects, there is much more than that. Of course, no one has the satellite access, TLAM inventory, Heavy Bombers, or Tanker, or Heavy EW/ES like we do. That is part of our “unique capabilities” – but not the long-pole.

Why are USA capabilities “unique?” That answer is the simple: Western Europe has but a shadow of the military capability it once had. The long slide started with the Suez Crisis, and has culminated with the last gasps of the Western Welfare State’s economic foundations that today have drained defense budgets to absurd levels as a percentage of GDP – our traditional European allies simply cannot initiate and sustain intense expeditionary combat operations without us. Put peace keepers in small, steamy, quasi-failed former colonies in Africa? Sure. Sustained Joint-Combined combat operations without the USA – notsomuch.

Libya isn’t even a large country – though geographically large, its population of 6,419,925 is concentrated along the coastal road. In contrast, the European Union – which BTW has its own military structures – has a population of 501,259,800. Yes, Libya has 1.2% of the population of the European Union – yet the defense of European access to oil and secure maritime borders is being led by a North American (Canadian), and being fought air-to-ground mostly by other North Americans (USA). Yes, the EU is not NATO and NATO is not the EU – but as we know whose interests are primary of concern here; this works for me.

Let’s make it even more lopsided. Libya has a GDP of $62.36 billion. The EU has a combined GDP of $15.95 trillion. Let me adjust that for you; $15,950 billion. Yes, Libya has ~.4% of the EU’s GDP … yet the EU needs North American leaders, military forces, and borrowed money to defend its interests.

Ponder that a bit – I’ll come back to it.

Military power isn’t the most important “unique capability” of our nation. No, the most important are leadership and will. No other nation has the institutional ability to plan, organize, or lead a large scale Combined-Joint operation. That is the military side; the political side is that our allies are used to having our leadership and our top-cover when it comes to major military operations. Not only do we have the ability to bring the most to the fight, but regardless what political party is in power, we usually have the political ability to absorb the inevitable complaints, second guessing, gnashing of teeth and rending of clothes by the usual suspects that comes with military operations in the post-Vietnam era. Parliamentary systems such as those of our allies are not as sturdy as our system. These nations also have generations of leaders whose first instinct when it comes to major military actions is to look to Washington. Habits are what they are. They have become dependent – and for a variety of reasons we are happy with that.

I would like to lay down another marker before the President’s speech. As we discussed on Midrats yesterday with U.S. Naval War College Professor of Strategy, Thomas G. Mahnken, Ph.D., the Europeans have some realpolitik reasons for this conflict. The Libyan conflict is not about peace and democracy – though they make good talking points. If they were a concern, NATO jets would be flying over as many nations as their tankers could take them. No, this is about something much simpler. This is about the free flow of oil to Europe at market prices and trying to keep a lid on illegal immigration from Africa.

The fact that NATO is taking this mission is interesting as well. NATO has transformed – perhaps in ways not fully understood by many. In Libya, NATO is not defending the alliance from outside aggression as it was charted to do. It is not helping another alliance nation to prosecute those who attacked it, like ISAF is in AFG. No, NATO has signed up for something very different. Without any of its member nations being threatened, NATO is executing offensive operations beyond its borders supporting one side against another in a civil war. Quite the transformation.

As usual with NATO operations – this would not be possible without American forces and American money. Is it in the American interest?

From Sunday;

MR. GREGORY: Secretary Gates, is Libya in our vital interest as a country?

SEC. GATES: No. I don’t think it’s a vital interest for the United States, but we clearly have interests there, and it’s a part of the region which is a vital interest for the United States.

If anyone read or listened to SECDEF Gates earlier this month, this should not be a surprise. Hopefully tonight, the President will clarify this to the American people.

Even our Canadian friends are trying to figure out their nation’s reasons.

Why is Canada at war in Libya? You won’t get the answer from our elected leaders. They’re too busy fighting an election to explain it to us. You can’t count on the opposition parties to raise awkward questions, either. They have better things to do at a crucial time like this. Besides, it’s just a little war. It will be over soon, unless it isn’t. If all goes well, perhaps Canadians won’t notice that our political class has committed us to an open-ended military action in North Africa without a clue about what the mission is, who’s in charge, or how deep the quagmire might get.

The short answer is that Canada is in Libya because our allies are. But, ideologically, this is very much a made-in-Canada war – rooted in a doctrine that has been tirelessly promoted by foreign policy liberals such as Lloyd Axworthy and Bob Rae, and vigorously endorsed by some of Barack Obama’s closest advisers, especially Samantha Power at the National Security Council.

This doctrine is known as the “responsibility to protect” (R2P for short) and was endorsed by the United Nations in 2005. It mandates that the “international community” is morally obliged to defend people who are in danger of massive human-rights violations. It’s rooted in Western guilt over the failure to prevent genocide in Rwanda. R2P is the moral underpinning of the war in Libya, and it’s the reason why people such as Paul Martin, Roméo Dallaire, Mr. Rae and Mr. Axworthy have been so amazingly eager for us to rush into battle.

So have Ms. Power and her sister warriors Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of State, and Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the UN. Together, these three convinced Mr. Obama of the urgent moral case for war in Libya. Ms. Power is the author of the enormously influential book A Problem from Hell, about Washington’s failure to prevent genocide in the 20th century. Her counterpart in France is the glamorous philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, who flew to Benghazi, met the rebels, and persuaded French President Nicolas Sarkozy (who badly needs a boost in the polls) to back them.

R2P – another acronym that helps people avoid defining words, Is it what Mickey Kaus in The Daily Caller calls, “humanitarian imperialism.” Where do you stop? As we are in IRQ, AFG, and now Libya while our military budget starts to shrink and the Western sovereign debt crisis expands; I don’t know about you, but my war-card is about full.

With all the above swirling about as we wait for the President to speak on the subject – as I often try to do when things in the world get fuzzy – I go to the writings of great men. In this case, the Father of our Country; President George Washington.

On a regular basis, people need to read his farewell address in full – but this extended quote is worth pondering in some depth. The points he raise are as relevant today as they were then, perhaps more so.

The Nation, which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The Nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the Government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The Government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times, it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of Nations has been the victim.

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one Nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite Nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest, in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter, without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite Nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the Nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained; and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens, (who devote themselves to the favorite nation,) facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connexion as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.

Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people, under an efficient government, the period is not far off, when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality, we may at any time resolve upon, to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.

Taking care always to keep ourselves, by suitable establishments, on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.

What habits have we and the Europeans picked up since WWII and the Cold War? Do they apply in the second decade of the 2st Century? Is it in the American interest to have our children borrow money from the Chinese so we can send our armies though the earth searching for dragons to slay, to do the fighting for others who will not do it for themselves?

Hopefully, President Obama will help us all understand this a little better tonight.

As a side-note; if I can I’m going to liveblog the President’s Libya speech tonight at my homeblog so if you are so inclined; join me.

Posted by CDRSalamander in Foreign Policy, Hard Power
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  • Here’s something to consider: The European military stature has been reduced to such a state, that it is no longer inconceivable to consider a return to the sorts of internecine wars which preceded NATO. Is it truly out of place to consider the possibility of one nation using military force to either add “living room” doe it’s burgeoning immigrant population, or to use the threat of military force to preclude such an expansion? I would say no, not at all. We are closer to the dog days of 1914 than many would like to believe.

    Then there is the concern that perhaps Russia might begin to lean on it’s western neighbors for more money or “resources” as payment for the energy she provides. I’d also offer that it isn’t at all out of line to think about the nightmare scenario ( we all thought it would happen in the late 70’s/early 80’s) of Russia rolling west to the Rhine, being halted only by the consideration of French and English nuclear forces.

    The one stabilizing force to counter such an action, though, is China. The whole area is like a bubble level. Tilt it one way, and everything shifts. China might well see a Russian move west as an opportunity to gain land for itself up the coast and inland.

    These mass migrations from Africa and the ME are going to have very real and very destabilizing effects upon Europe for a long time to come. We saw what happened in the late 4th to 5th century, in the 7th to 11th centuries, and we are beginning to see a similar pattern now. Heavens, we are having a similar situation arise in our own country.

    Borders MUST be clearly defined and strongly enforced. Immigration left unchecked and unregulated will destroy any nation naive enough to think otherwise. History has not only shown us the folly of disregarding these issues, but has time and again given us concrete examples of what will happen to those who believe it won’t happen to them.


  • SwitchBlade

    Part of what’s left unstated is that we not only allowed the European military to atrophy – we actively assisted the process. After the break-up of the Soviet Unions and the reunification of Germany, we permitted the expansion of the European Social Welfare system by providing the military force whenever it was needed, and didn’t require them to provide any comparable force. Two examples:

    The breakup of Yugoslavia was entirely a European affair! We had NO national interest and yet we were right in the middle of it – leading, providing the air power, some of the sea power and most of the treats (Army Apache helicopters). We were patrolling in the Adriatic Sea to stop boats running contraband from Italy to the west coast of Yugoslavia for gosh sakes. As I said at the time, the President should have told the EU – your problem, you handle it. He didn’t and they continued to decline in military power.

    The first Gulf war – we got the coalition, but we provided way to much of the man power. In that instance there were, I believe, too many countries involved and some should have been told that they have too little to offer so they ought to stay home. Politically impossible, I know, but maybe the message could have been delivered behind the scenes. I’m sure it wasn’t.

    As long as we continue doing what were doing, we will be supplementing Europe’s welfare state, effectively with real money – ours.

  • AT1 Charles H. Berlemann Jr


    Actually, the European military atrophy begun will before the Yugoslavian operations or even the end of the Cold War. Take a step back and look at the history of the European defense spending from the mid to late 1970’s until about the mid-1980s. There were actual very heavy cuts in most of the European defense ministries. Some if not all these cuts came from worldwide recessions that seem to have struck most of the industrialized nations in Europe and the Americas. That money was reinvested into social programs. As some authors and advisors, like Sir John Hackett noticed, some of this also seems to come from a false sense that the détente the Soviets were offering at the time seemed better than the hard line the Americans were trying to maintain. In turn we saw a shift in the decade of the 1970’s were left leaning parties like the Greens and even the socialist parties with loose ties to the USSR, seem to gain majorities in NATO governments. It was in these times that we saw with in the US a shift from the draft to the All-Volunteer-Force and the costs of military systems increase from purchase to usage. Our European allies saw that they couldn’t affect the world like they could have only 30 years ago and were struggling to maintain just their commitment to even NATO. So like I said, they saw it was easier to stretch out replacement purchases or not even replace at all. Just slowly downsize to maintaining only enough to show up, all on the hope that the US would be able to hold the line with its “arsenal of democracy” again and that at least in some of the politicians life time the Soviets wouldn’t turn Europe into a meat grinder again for the third time that century.

    The only issue now is that the US has let its “arsenal of democracy” wither and die. So it is going to need to shift again that if the EU wants to be responsible for their neighborhood they are going to need to purchase an increase in their own arsenals.

  • AT1 Charles H. Berlemann Jr

    AW1 Tim,

    You bring up the issue of immigration from the Middle-East/SW Asia regions to Europe as being a bone of contention. You are correct that it is a bone of contention. However, step back from that sympton of a larger disease. Ask why are people leaving their homes and heading to Europe? Could it be that that the potential of having jobs is what is drawing people from one region to the other? If it isn’t only jobs than what else is drawing people away from the mid-east into Europe?
    I have heard everything from unchecked birthrates among those in the mid-east, corruption in a large number of nationalized economies (remember that a number of these nations which are in turmoil are socialist), and finally the fact that some of these nations are very tribal by nature and currently the minority is in charge of the majorities.

    I would also like to put this thought into your mind and the minds of any readers. For as much as people here in the United States want to claim that we are backwards racist bigots. If one pays attention to Europe attitudes, though they have changed some what, in reality they are worst then the US. Though they aren’t very open about it, they still have a major issue with the differences in races and cultures even with in Europe.


    “No, NATO has signed up for something very different. Without any of its member nations being threatened, NATO is executing offensive operations beyond its borders supporting one side against another in a civil war. Quite the transformation.”

    The Libyan conflict seems pretty much the same as NATO lead (sort of) efforts in Bosnia and Kosovo. Nothing new here.

  • Matt Yankee

    Weren’t American troops required in Bosnia? Obama’s speech seemed very similar to Bush’s “mission accomplished” moment. He cannot predict what will be required yet he did totally reject the idea of boots on the ground…and the dictator hasn’t even been removed. The very same mistake of underestimating the required “nation building” just because the first phase of wiping out the regular army is done. If this is possible then why weren’t we able to withdraw from Iraq after the “mission” was accomplished. It’s as if he totally forgot the last decade. Maybe he was just too busy campaigning against the war to understand the war.

    And who is going to protect the loyalist’s civilians once and if Gaddafi is taken down…Yea sure there won’t be any sectarian infighting to worry about…just like Iraq. And guess who is going to get blamed when this war isn’t over in the next month or the one or two or six after that.

    Couldn’t you make an argument for interveneing in Pakistan for the sake of US security…since their Al Qaeda allies have actually attacked our country…and they continue to use our money to produce ever more nukes. We seem to be whistling past the graveyard in Libya. How about we send the Predators to Libya to help the EU and send the real warplanes with the quantity of bombs that is actually required to Pakistan to do the job we should have done a decade ago.

  • Bosnia and Kosovo were in Europe. Libya is in Africa. No one in NATO is in Africa.

    No, this is different – as different as AFG was. Don’t dismiss, digest.

  • alfred_the_great

    Interesting that you quote the Suez Crisis as the point at which European Military Capabilities decline, yet it was the US that stopped our last serious attempt at unilateral power projection. Just a thought.


    CDR Salamander,

    Sorry, Bosnia and Kosovo were outside of NATO, just like Libya. The same arguments, humanitarian intervention and that instability in one country will bleed over and into others was used as a justification. Let’s see in Bosnia and Kosovo
    1. “Without any of its member nations being threatened” Check
    2. “offensive operations beyond its borders” Check
    3. “supporting one side against another in a civil war.” Check
    You can include
    4. “Without UN sanction” as well, which Libya doesn’t have, but that would just be piling on.

    Agreed, every situation is unique, not dismissing, just pointing out the similiarities which far exceed the unique aspects.

    Not so different regardless of how you want to spin it.

    – You got your evil ruler
    – You got your international outrage at a purely internal situation
    – You got the UK, France, and US in a snit because the evil ruler rebuffed them
    – You got a few countries (US, France, and UK in particular) looking for some “international organization” topcover.
    – You have a NATO member or two worried about instability effecting them (Italy, others).
    – You have NATO members refusing to participate but going along with NATO control (for the good of the alliance of course)
    – You have a slapped together control system that sort of follows NATO but really doesn’t because it is outside NATO.
    – There is a limited threat to aircraft and ships and we have ruled out ground forces.
    – Virtually no potential military threat to any NATO country, so little chance of anyone civilians being hurt.
    – The US has the top slots and is doing most of the heavy lifting.
    -You probably even have some NATO members tipping off the Libyans when our planes launch not that it will do much good.
    – There is German double-speak. Voting against should not be views as being opposed to it? huh!
    – Our long term objectives are different than our stated objectives

    Did I miss any.