US to Hand Over Command to UK/France or NATO

Via the BBC:  US ‘will hand over’ Libya command

The US has said it expects to hand over control of military operations against Libya within days to either a UK-France coalition or Nato.


US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said that while the US will continue to play a part in military operations against Col Gaddafi’s forces, it "will not have the pre-eminent role".

A few quick reactions:

1)  It is interesting that events started out under US command (especially since a lot of comments today have seemed to want to downplay the US role).

2)  Gee, mightn’t it be nice to know to whom command will be handed?  One would think that perhaps such minor details would have been worked out in advance of starting the shooting.

3)  It will be interesting to see how the roles evolve.  A lot, it seems to me, will be dictated by what happens on the ground.  What if Gaddafi digs in?   What if the country breaks into pieces?  What if Tripoli falls, but a pro-Gaddafi insurgency starts?

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Well, it has been stressed that our involvement was intended to be “days, not weeks.” I don’t disagree with the scope, I just disagree with the timing. Methinks the learning curve on National Security and Foreign Policy hath each proven itself to be a presidential b*tch.

    As to your reactions, mind if I weigh in?

    1.) It started out under US command because no one else in the coalition can create a “No Fly Zone.” Any set of jet jockeys can enforce one once air dominance has been established. And that’s who we’ll hand off command to once we clear the aerial minefields for them. That’s what we do and have done since 1990. Hell, Dr. Taylor, Britain doesn’t even have an aircraft carrier to support its aircraft in said mission. They traded them in for health care and other “peace dividends.” And that’s just the way it is.

    2.) Short answer: Yes, of course. A couple possibilities here. Best case, we do know. Just because it isn’t expressed in the Washington Post doesn’t mean it’s an unknown to those who need to know. But, unfortunately, if that fully applied, POTUS wouldn’t be so concerned he is thought of as a Warmonger (TM) that he tips Qaddafi that he needn’t worry about US Marines kicking his doors in and pushing his pukes back out of the alleys they say they are going to comb. Worst case, POTUS is so disinterested in such things that he can’t be bothered. Don’t think Gates (et al) would allow that. Most likely for my money? It really doesn’t matter for us. It’s a political decision and a political trophy. No matter who command is handed to, our naval/air assets will remain the eyes, ears and traffic cops for French, Brit, Whomever pilots. Doesn’t change much for US uniformed services whether it’s a French, Brit or other NATO general signing papers. (Oversimplified, but still…)

    3.) To me, you’re not really talking about “roles” here, but the two bad military command words: “Mission Creep.” The current “mission” is loosely defined. “Protect and defend Libyan civilians against military attack by its own government…” and then continues with the real mission creeper, “any means necessary.” Sounds nice and tight. Until you try and do it. From 10,000 feet. When the good guys (have fun with that one) don’t all wear pink bandannas with yellow polka dots and stand outside in plain aerial view.

    Now, throw into that whole mess of funhouse games the fact that the Arab League, who demanded Western nations set up and enforce a “No-Fly Zone” – something they cannot do for themselves without massive air losses, if even then – are now griping about the manner in which it must be done, which includes civilian casualties. Why? Because happy people like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi don’t set up their air defenses on air force bases or in open desert. They set them up in/on/around hospitals, schools and neighborhoods. Now, the Arab League needs to study “Air Dominance” and “No-Fly Zones” – not to mention their own fellow Arab tyrants’ historical defenses – and acknowledge that they got exactly what they asked for. Where tyrants without remorse for the slaughter of their own people choose to set up air defenses, well, that ain’t up to us, quite frankly. And the only thing precise about 500-2000 pounds of high explosives on a “precision strike” Tomahawk missile or a JDAM is where it’s flown. The ‘boom’ is still big and undiscriminating.

    Sure is something to watch transpire. If you ask me, it’s even simpler than that for the Arab League tyrants. They demanded the No-Fly Zone because they wanted their own populations to perceive them as being on the ‘right side’ of this conflict and, more importantly, the regional social conflict. But they condemn it (with nods to civilian casualties for consumption) because they know that, aside from varying degrees of difference in sanity, there’s little that separates them and their governance systems from the very Qaddafi whom they seek to snuff and his own systems. A delicate dance they must toe along, isn’t it?

    Forgive the length of my comment. The byproduct of too little writing in recent months. A guy like me should maybe change that, considering the world is now in the throes of a slow-motion high-intensity explosion.


  2. In re: #1–I certInly understand whynthe US was initially in charge. I have just noted in the comments to other posts a desire try and play down, for various reasons, the US role. However, quite clearly the US role has been rather central from the get-go.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    However, quite clearly the US role has been rather central from the get-go.

    As I believe I’ve been asserting from the start.

    Anyone looking at the timeline can see this was a US deal. Too much diplomacy took place too quickly, and too many forces were positioned, for this to be anything other than a US deal.

    Which would mean the neo-con myth of Obama’s “dithering” is just that: myth.

    And we’re getting the Europeans to actually take on a responsible role? That’s just short of being a miracle.

    As for the above commenter complaining that we took ground troops off the table, how exactly does he think we could have done otherwise? The Arab League and the Russians and Chinese (UNSC) would never have offered us their free pass otherwise. And yes, we needed the UNSC and the AL or we’d never have gotten the Europeans in line.

    When all the neo-con and right-wing (and left-wing) politically-motivated bullshit is finally set aside, we’re going to see a diplomatic masterwork: a multinational coalition assembled in the blink of an eye. And I’m betting all sorts of interesting side deals were made.

    This is grandmaster level chess. I guess it’s not a surprise so many people — including many commenters and at least one of your co-bloggers, Steven — don’t get it.

  4. john personna says:

    I am shocked, shocked that the US would halt it’s “unilateral invasion” of Libya.

    (michael, you have very foolishly wanted this to be more than it is, more of a gamble for the US than it is.)

  5. JKB says:

    It is interesting that there has been a smokescreen to downplay US involvement. First reports seemed like the UK and France when ahead without us. But as details come out, we learn the armada that delivered the ordinance was the US fleet with one (1) British submarine. Operating under US command down the line from the CINC Africa to the embarked commander of Operation Odyssey Dawn.

    And what does it tell us that they’ve named this little expedition, Operation Odyssey Dawn (Operation long wandering and eventful journey beginning)?

    And now, Obama’s going to turn US soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines delivering US ordinance from US platforms, all paid for by US tax dollars over to some foreign commander to be named later with a mission to do something, anything, somebody fire.

    Reports are already coming in of civilians mixing with Gaddafi troops and at targets, ostensively voluntary support. Like I said, with the UN vote, they created the worlds greatest hostage situation.

  6. john personna says:

    JKB, everything that has happened has been consistant with Obama’s earliest statements.

    Given the task of blinding the Libyan military, the US took control and did it. Now it’s done

  7. john personna says:

    BTW, I see that it was the British who bombed the Qaddafi compound.

  8. michael reynolds says:


    I think you have me confused with someone else.

    Or else I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.

  9. john personna says:

    You’ve been going on and on michael, about this being a (Blackadderish) Cunning Plan to execute a US-led regime change.

  10. john personna says:

    Anyone looking at the timeline can see this was a US deal. Too much diplomacy took place too quickly, and too many forces were positioned, for this to be anything other than a US deal.

    You don’t know “what the hell” you wrote a few hours ago?

  11. OK, here’s a serious question for a smart crowd to mull: Why has Turkey decided to, now, force down (?) 2 Iranian planes bound for Syria on ‘suspicions’ they were carrying nuke or weapons cargo? Turkey and Iran have been warming like a hot tottie in front of a Christmas fire. The Iranian airlift to Syria has been ongoing for years. I smell a ruse, but pose the same to you folks.


  12. john personna says:

    I hadn’t been following that Steve, thanks for the note. This seems related:

    “Fearing further trouble in the volatile region, Turkey has warned Saudi Arabia and Iran, at odds over the Saudi intervention in Bahrain, to act with restraint and avoid actions that would undermine peace and stability.”


  13. michael reynolds says:


    Seriously, you’re debating that? I expect that from Jay Tea. Explain what Hillary was doing running around NA. Explain your apparent belief that Russia and China sat on their hands for the the Brits. Explain how something of this scale happened this fast . . . because France made it happen. You think all this came about because Britain and France said so? In what parallel universe?

  14. michael reynolds says:


    It’s not Black-Adderish. It’s diplomacy. And damned well-executed, too.