Wait, I Thought The President Said “No Boots On The Ground” In Libya

Remember when President Obama said there would be "no boots on the ground" in Libya? You didn't actually believe that, did you?

When he first announced American participation in the United Nations sanctioned intervention in Libya, President Obama explicitly promised that there would not be American ground troops used in any operation in Libya:

I also want to be clear about what we will not be doing. The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya.  And we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal — specifically, the protection of civilians in Libya.  In the coming weeks, we will continue to help the Libyan people with humanitarian and economic assistance so that they can fulfill their aspirations peacefully.

The President repeated that promise when he addressed the nation in March 28th:

I said that America’s role would be limited; that we would not put ground troops into Libya; that we would focus our unique capabilities on the front end of the operation and that we would transfer responsibility to our allies and partners.  Tonight, we are fulfilling that pledge.

It’s been roughly two weeks now since we intervened in Libya, though, and its becoming clear that Qaddaffi isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Partly, this is because the allied mission is limited to protecting civilians, a fact which has caused the rebels to complain that NATO isn’t helping enough. Partly, it’s because the rebels themselves are clearly not strong enough to defeat Qaddaffi on their own, although they appear to be strong enough to hold on to their territory in the eastern part of the country. Increasingly the word you’re hearing in reference to Libya is stalemate, and even partition of the country. Unless something changes. And that something could be American ground troops.

Yesterday, General Carter Ham testified before Congress and said that American forces could be part of an international force to aid the rebels:

WASHINGTON – The United States may consider sending troops into Libya with a possible international ground force that could aid the rebels, according to the general who led the military mission until NATO took over.

Army Gen. Carter Ham also told lawmakers Thursday that added American participation would not be ideal, and ground troops could erode the international coalition and make it more difficult to get Arab support for operations in Libya.

Ham said the operation was largely stalemated now and was more likely to remain that way since America has transferred control to NATO.

He said NATO has done an effective job in an increasingly complex combat situation. But he noted that, in a new tactic, Muammar Qaddafi’s forces are making airstrikes more difficult by staging military forces and vehicles near civilian areas such as schools and mosques.

The use of an international ground force is a possible plan to bolster rebels fighting forces loyal to the Libyan leader, Ham said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Asked if the U.S. would provide troops, Ham said, “I suspect there might be some consideration of that. My personal view at this point would be that that’s probably not the ideal circumstance, again for the regional reaction that having American boots on the ground would entail.”

This, of course, would be an entirely new mission since aiding the rebels is not authorized by UNSCR 1973, which speaks only about protecting civilians. It’s worth noting, though, that at the same time he was promising “no boots on the ground,” President Obama was also saying that American policy was that Qaddaffi must step down from power:

The United States maintains that Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi must give up power, President Obama said today, even as the current United Nations mission — and U.S. military involvement — remains more limited.

“I have… stated that it is U.S. policy that Qaddafi needs to go,” Mr. Obama said in a press conference from Santiago, Chile. “But when it comes to our military action, we are doing so in support of U.N. Security resolution 1973. That specifically talks about humanitarian efforts, and we are going to make sure that we stick to that mandate.”

Unless Obama is willing to accept a divided Libya with Qaddaffi still in control of a substantial portion of the oil rich parts of the country, he either has to abandon his “Qaddaffi must go” policy, or take some other action. That means ground troops and it means that the illusion that were merely engaged in a humanitarian relief effort over there will be revealed for the disingenuous lie that it is. Clearly, General Ham wouldn’t be speaking about ground troops in this manner if they hadn’t been already considered the possibility. It’s time for the President to be honest with the American people about what he intends for Libya, and to seek explicit Congressional approval if he wants to expand the mission even one millimeter beyond its current parameters.

 

FILED UNDER: Africa, Barack Obama, Military Affairs, National Security, Politicians, US Politics, World Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. I’m guessing that, like Bill Clinton, he’ll keep all the promises he meant to keep.

  2. Chad S says:

    Lets see if there’s actually troops.

  3. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    It’s time for the President to be honest with the American people …

    Why would he change now?

  4. How do you tell if a politician’s lying?

  5. Wiley Stoner says:

    There is no way to install al Qaeda without U.S. help. Can you spell impeach?

  6. pylon says:

    Asked if the U.S. would provide troops, Ham said, “I suspect there might be some consideration of that. My personal view at this point would be that that’s probably not the ideal circumstance, again for the regional reaction that having American boots on the ground would entail.”

    Somehow this is Obama breaking his word or lying in some way – a general speculating that they might “consider” that but it wouldn’t be his recommendation?

  7. Jeremy R says:

    I think you’re reading a lot into a General’s speculative response to a hypothetical question.
    “May consider” implies “not currently considering, but being the Commander in Chief’s subordinate I’m not going to make definitive statements ruling out things.”

  8. Dave Schuler says:

    Welllll, Gen. Ham is not the president and while his opinion may be that it will require boots on the ground to accomplish any reasonable objective he neither determines the objectives nor the strategy that will ultimately be used.

    IMO it was obvious from the get-go tthat the U. S. or the U. S. and NATO could create the conditions for a stalemate. All we needed to do was what has been done: prevent Qaddafi from re-taking Benghazi. And you may recall that as soon as UNSC Res. 1973 was approved I asked if it meant that the U. S. and/or NATO would attack the rebels if they began shelling cities.

    I think we now have our answer. At least the answer from the British and the French. They’ prevent the rebels from overcoming Qaddafi and prevent Qaddafi from unseating the rebels. Sounds like a stalemate to me.

  9. john personna says:

    I always thought “Qaddaffi must go” was a verbal push, and not a commitment. I certainly hope it wasn’t a commitment.

    And if we are opposed to escalation in Libya we certainly shouldn’t try to paint Obama into a “commitment corner.”

    Libya is no big, walk away.

  10. john personna says:

    (It’s kind of an example of cognitive dissonance when someone says “my opponent has committed to a policy I oppose! Let’s see him follow through!”)

  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    The usual misleading Mataconis on Libya. You know, Doug, if you were patient you might eventually get something right on this. Stop trying to make things be what they aren’t.

  12. Michael,

    It’s Obama who’s trying to make things what they aren’t. But, you know, whatever. Qaddaffi is going to survive and the whole world will be laughing at us

  13. And, again, just to be clear. I don’t think we should’ve gotten involved there in the first place. Nothing that has happened so far surprises me

  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    You’re very heavily invested in American failure, Doug.

    In fact a stalemate between one side under a blockade, with closed borders and frozen funds vs a side with international support and open borders ends with a win for the latter in all likelihood.

  15. You want another Somalia in Libya? That’s an odd thing to be in favor of. Perhaps they can call the eastern half of the country Obamia.

    And I am not “invested in failure,” I oppose intervention in the affairs of other nations where the vital national interests of the United States are not threatened.

  16. Fog says:

    “But, you know, whatever. Qaddaffi is going to survive and the whole world will be laughing at us.”
    That sentiment can only be described as adolescent.

  17. Davebo says:

    And I am not “invested in failure,” I oppose intervention in the affairs of other nations where the vital national interests of the United States are not threatened.

    But of course those feelings can’t be documented right Doug? Any blogging from 2003 to support that claim?

  18. W’re all very heavily invested in the failure of America, to the tune of a little over $14T last time I looked.

  19. Barb Hartwell says:

    I`m starting to think he really does not want a second term, but it scares me if no democrat other than him runs, we could get one of those tea bagger nut jobs in. God help us then.

  20. Dave says:

    If you change combat “boots” to combat “footwear” -problem with “no boots on the ground” solved (and yes I have seen this done in other contexts)

    Occasional drive-by commenter

  21. michael reynolds says:

    Obviously you have every right to oppose any policy, Doug. In fact you have a citizenship obligation to oppose the president when you think he’s in the wrong.

    But you’re straining to announce failure or dishonesty where neither yet exists.

    Now, it may well be a failed policy. From the start I’ve thought it was 60/40 (weighted toward success) and said so. If it fails there will be plenty of time to announce that.

    But as of right now, today, the President has kept his word: he handed off to NATO, let the Brits and French take the lead after a period of US dominance, and we have not at this point put “boots on the ground.” (And no, for some of you, CIA does not count: the CIA is more or less everywhere.)

    And a stalemate is not in any way, shape or form Somalia. A split Libya where Gaddafi is in a box in the west is not analogous to Somalia.

  22. anjin-san says:

    > You want another Somalia in Libya?

    Perhaps you could go into detail about what one has to do with the other. Because you sound a bit like a cheerleader for failure.

  23. “rooting for failure”

    LOL, it is hilarious how much you guys sound exactly like the conservatives I used to argue with over the Iraq War.

  24. Southern Hoosier says:

    Doug Mataconis says: Friday, April 8, 2011 at 20:34 I oppose intervention in the affairs of other nations where the vital national interests of the United States are not threatened.

    Doug Mataconis says: Friday, April 8, 2011 at 20:20
    But, you know, whatever. Qaddafi is going to survive and the whole world will be laughing at us

    Perhaps if Qaddafi does survive and it does become an embarrassment for us, maybe we will think twice or at least plan a little better before jumping into nation building.

    Doug Mataconis says: Friday, April 8, 2011 at 20:34

    You want another Somalia in Libya?

    Which is worse? A failed state like Somalia or a radical Islamic state like Iran?

  25. michael reynolds says:

    By the way, when will the next dishonest headline about Libya be posted? I don’t want to miss it.