Libyan War Coalition One Of The Smallest In Decades
President Obama's grand coalition against Libya is a lot less than meets the eye.
Over at Foreign Policy, Josh Rogin demolishes a meme that Ive seen popping up in recent days by pointing out that the international coalition that President Obama has gathered to support the mission in Libya is one of the smallest in decades:
President Barack Obama has touted his emphasis on multilateralism in the U.S. military intervention in Libya, but, for political, operational, and legal reasons, Obama’s “coalition of the willing” is smaller than any major multilateral operation since the end of the Cold War.
The Cablecompiled a chart listing all the countries that contributed at least some military assets to the five major military operations in which the United States participated in a coalition during the last 20 years: the 1991 Gulf War (32 countries participating), the 1995 Bosnia mission (24 countries), the 1999 Kosovo mission (19 countries), the 2002 invasion of Afghanistan (48 countries), and the 2003 invasion of Iraq (40 countries), at the height of the size of each coalition. As of today, only 15 countries, including the United States, have committed to providing a military contribution to the Libya war.
Experts quickly point out that all of these military interventions happened in different contexts. However, they added that the reason Obama’s Libya war coalition has less international involvement than all the others was also due to his administration’s behavior in the lead-up to the war, its approach to multilateralism, the speed with which it was put together, and the justifications for the war itself.
Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that the administration’s effort to build the coalition was hampered by its stated desire to hand off the leadership of the Libya intervention to NATO.
“[I]f you [focus on the handoff], you don’t deserve a lot of credit for leadership,” he said. “Obama in his deference to [getting out of the lead] has not only wanted other countries to do as much as they could, he has essentially forgone his responsibility to build the coalition.”
The Libyan engagement is, of course, smaller in scale than Iraq, Afghanistan, or the Persian Gulf War, at least for the time being. However, the notion that this all came about due to some kind of stellar behind the scenes negotiating aimed at building a massive international coalition simply doesn’t square with reality. Instead, it’s rather clear that, much like the planning for the engagement itself, this coalition is fairly slop-shod and sloppy.
That’s why it isn’t surprising that the supposed allies can’t even seem to agree on what we’re there to do:
WASHINGTON — Having largely succeeded in stopping a rout of Libya’s rebels, the inchoate coalition attacking Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces remains divided over the ultimate goal — and exit strategy — of what officials acknowledged Thursday would be a military campaign that could last for weeks.
The United States has all but called for Colonel Qaddafi’s overthrow from within — with American commanders on Thursday openly calling on the Libyan military to stop following orders — even as administration officials insist that is not the explicit objective of the bombing, and that their immediate goal is more narrowly defined.
France has gone further, recognizing the Libyan rebels as the country’s legitimate representatives, but other allies, even those opposed to Colonel Qaddafi’s erratic and authoritarian rule, have balked. That has complicated the planning and execution of the military campaign and left its objective ill defined for now.
Only on Thursday, the sixth day of air and missile strikes, did the allies reach an agreement to give command of the “no-fly” operation to NATO after days of public quarreling that exposed the divisions among the alliance’s members.
“From the start, President Obama has stated that the role of the U.S. military would be limited in time and scope,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday evening in announcing the plan.
But even that agreement — brokered by Mrs. Clinton and the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Turkey — frayed almost immediately over how far the military campaign should go in trying to erode the remaining pillars of Colonel Qaddafi’s power by striking his forces on the ground and those devoted to protecting him. It was salvaged, one diplomat said, only by papering over the differences concerning the crucial question of who actually controls military strikes on Libya’s ground forces.
“There were differences in the scope of what NATO would do and what would remain with the national militaries,” a senior administration official said, expressing hope that the agreement on NATO command would be a step toward resolving them.
The questions swirling around the operation’s command mirrored the larger strategic divisions over how exactly the coalition will bring it to an end — or even what the end might look like, and whether it might even conceivably include a Libya with Colonel Qaddafi remaining in some capacity. While few countries have openly sided with the Libyan leader, officials said on Thursday that most of the allies expected that the use of military force would lead to talks between the government and the rebels.
“I don’t think anyone is ruling out some kind of negotiated settlement,” the official said. Colonel Qaddafi has responded defiantly, making the likelihood of his negotiated departure seem exceedingly remote.
Let’s see. Badly articulated message? Check. Incoherent communications strategy with both the public and Congress? Check. Flimsy coalition built around a goal that contradicts the very policy you say your Administration holds? Check. Yea, Mr. President you’ve done quite a job here.