We live in an age of hypocrisy so it is not shocking to have found ourselves in one of the most hypocritical of contests of will. The United States and assorted allies have spent the past week participating in what has been termed by a winking dupe of the executive branch a “kinetic military action” against Libya. Assorted videos of the conflict exhibiting active rocket launchers, flaming planes, concussive bombs, exploding buildings, and dead combatants and innocents alike would certainly tend to skew one’s opinion regarding what they see – it surely looks like a war. Then again, modern governments take great pleasure in going up to the line of war and just hedging their effort, in order to maintain plausible deniability. That way, none of the expected thinking processes that used to define the difficult process of going to war get in the way. Philosophers as far back as Cicero and St. Augustine contemplated the conditions for “Just War” – the concept that war could be justified in the face of just cause – the damage caused by the aggressor to the nation must be lasting, grave and certain; the complete exhaustion of other means of solving the conflict; the prospect of victory should be identifiable; and the use of arms should not create evils more profound then the ones they were attempting to vanquish. In modern terms, the indication that a nation’s treasure in riches or people should not be wasted in an action where the perceived national security interests are not directly attacked or threatened. The restrained quiet by the public and media flies in the face of the most recent reactions to a similar war or “kinetic military action” propagated recently in Iraq. The story went, a President with little indication of a perceived national threat, hastily drove towards war against a country that had not attacked his country, led by a dictator of an oil rich nation who had once been his ally, and did so with minimal national or international consensus, and no identifiable end game or exit strategy. Hmmm…..substitute “Libya” for “Iraq” and you have an almost identical presumptive argument, but none of the vitriol that surrounded President Bush regarding the Iraq conflict. One mustn’t forget that , of course, that was the dumb president, and this one is the smart one.
The tragedy of most modern conflicts is that the consequences of actions are so poorly conceived and vetted before plunging in. A million questions abound. Who are the people trying to throw Qaddhafi out? Are their goals for the Libyan people better than his? What are we willing to do to impose our will? What if it doesn’t work? What if it does work? Who will support the massive humanitarian crisis that could develop if stalemate enters? What wars have been won by committee decision? Who will declare victory and who will declare defeat? What would victory look like? These and other questions would seem to be ones you would want to have thought through before you would typically put a nation’s young men and women in harms way.
The availability of high tech weaponry has made these well thought out justifications too easily brushed aside. Cruise missiles flung from afar can seem to lessen the sense of risk to the launching country because after all, no country men risk harm firing from hundreds of miles away. Sterile wars seem to have amazingly unpredictable outcomes and more often then not painful realities and goal stalemates. The multi-decade presence of troops in Korea, Kosovo, and Afghanistan are just a few reminders of what prolonged stalemate looks like. As the war Napoleon once said of war strategy, ” If you start to take Vienna, take Vienna!” The lack of direct goals, aims, eye on victory makes this the most hypocritical of conflicts, where men and women will die, because no one could think of anything else to do.