The Obama approach — despite the clear, professional, and comprehensive accomplishment by the U.S. Armed Forces of those tasks assigned to them for the brief engagement — reflected President Obama’s belief that he must be clear of foreign military operations to successfully win a second term in the White House. However, it also reflected the very real knowledge that he and many of his friends and associates have been compromised by funds which had been made available to them by Gadhafi in recent years. This is now an open secret in Washington policy circles.
The U.S. lack of leadership on the Libya question — after President Obama had recently so notably encouraged protestors against the governments of Tunisia and Egypt, and the Government of Bahrain in the face of Iranian-backed protestors — coupled with the military intervention by a number of external governments in the Libyan civil war this month (as a result of the March 17 United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 of 2011), has served to accelerate growing divisions between European powers: between some European states and the U.S.; and within NATO.
One of the most significant developments has been the growing polarization between Western European states and Turkey, which has become increasingly aligned with Russia and Iran, and which has clearly aligned itself with Gadhafi.
The emerging alignments on the Libyan question are marrying with other trends which have effectively now ended the fiction that Turkey can become a member of the European Union (EU). Indeed, there is increasingly a view in much of the EU that Turkey is positioning itself as the major problem for the Union and for NATO, but one which still has a significant “gatekeeper” role in affecting the oil and gas traffic from Central Asia and the Caucasus to Western Europe.
Turkey remains a critical transit region, too, for the airlift of non-combat support to U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and is home to a number of U.S. Air Force units and to U.S. nuclear weapons. As a result, many U.S. decisionmakers do not want to face the issue of what a Turkish “defection” from its six decades of alliance with the U.S. would mean. U.S. global strategic doctrine would have to be re-written to reflect the move of Turkey out of the Western camp. Indeed, even the Cold War and post-Cold War concept of “the Western camp” needs to be reconsidered.
It is ironic, then, that the Turkish leadership and Obama fundamentally agree in their support for Gadhafi. Turkey has gained commercial success in Libya under Gadhafi, but there is no reason why it could not also prosper if Libya had its democratic and constitutional government restored. But the Turkish Prime Minister has — like so many Washington officials — prospered at the direct or indirect hand of Gadhafi.
Meanwhile, the U.S. withdrew on March 25 from its temporary operational leadership of the 12-country coalition — which includes Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Norway, Qatar, Spain, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates — and allowed NATO as an organization to assume coordination (on March 26) of the “no-fly zone”. The Turkish Government immediately contested this, and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen suggested that NATO would resolve this internal NATO challenge over the weekend of March 26-27. The U.S. military would continue to participate as a supporting member of the enforcement coalition over Libya.
The Obama administration has portrayed its keenness to minimize U.S. military involvement against Gadhafi as a result of pressures from the U.S. Republican Party majority in the House of Representatives to stop the administration from entering another conflict without clear objectives or endgame. In reality, President Obama has resisted U.S. military participation against Gadhafi in large part because of his long history of association with Gadhafi, who has financed many around Obama over the past years. Gadhafi, in a number of his broadcasts during February and March, issued veiled warnings to Obama, saying that Obama would know where his duty lay.
But while U.S. political influence has moved into a period of precipitous decline, including declining influence in Europe, Operation Odyssey Dawn has demonstrated — yet again — the reality that states cannot acquire true, world-class military capabilities merely by buying advanced weapons systems. The Libyan Armed Forces, never trusted by Gadhafi, were consistently denied training, true operational experience, and even the ability undertake live-fire exercises or training in exercises alongside advanced partner forces. This was demonstrated in the UK-Argentine war over the Falkland Islands in 1982.
In that conflict, the only force which operated well for Argentina was the Air Force, which had consistently exercised with the U.S. Air Force. The Argentine Army, Navy, and Marines had not had recent exposure to any equivalent or superior military force, and thus failed to compete adequately with British forces.
In Libya today, the forces still loyal to Gadhafi have only been able to perform at all against the Constitutional forces opposed to Gadhafi because of better access to weapons and communications, and — more importantly — because the Constitutionalist forces have equally had no training or experience. When Gadhafi’s forces came against first-rate military forces, they have failed to perform even at a basic level. The question facing the Constitutionalist forces in Libya, then, is whether they can now use the breathing spaces the international community has bought for them to build some viable command and control capability to confront Gadhafi’s forces.
This lesson cannot be ignored by other military leaders in Africa and the Middle East. The lesson is that advanced military capabilities cannot be acquired merely by buying advanced military systems.
If that is the case, then second- and third-tier military forces must consider what, indeed, they can do to ensure that they can provide the capabilities required to fulfill their missions. One of the first steps, clearly, is the appropriate selection of adversaries, which requires an emphasis on diplomacy, psychological strategy, and sound strategic intelligence. Another is to ensure that forces are developed to utilize local cultural attributes and then enhanced through adequate adoption of technologies which must become inherent to the logic of those forces.
Gadhafi did not ensure that his armed forces were geared to any goal other than to intimidate his own population. Significantly, as well, the anti-Gadhafi forces — those who have been suppressed since 1969 — failed to prepare for the eventuality which they knew must come: the collapse of Gadhafi’s government, or his death or flight. The opposition forces talked incessantly for four decades, but failed to make any plans for what has occurred in 2011, and that failure is also showing now.