03 April 2011

Thomas Ricks on Libya

Thomas Ricks, author of Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (Penguin, 2006) and The Gamble: General Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq (Penguin 2009, 2010), has had a couple of pungent observations to make about the US approach to Libya in his blog The Best Defense which he writes for Foreign Policy Magazine.

In a 22 March 2011 post, Libya: You want clarity? Here it is he writes:

Everybody's going all wobbly over Libya, except those who never liked the idea in the first place. Tom's advice: Calm down. We have done what we set out to do in Libya. We kicked the door down, and with radars and SAM sites degraded, have made it possible for lesser air forces to patrol the skies over Qaddafi.

As for the American military, let's knock off the muttering in the ranks about clear goals and exit strategies... For the last 10 years, our generals have talked about the need to become adaptable, to live with ambiguity. Well, this is it. The international consensus changes every day, so our operations need to change with it. Such is the nature of war, as Clausewitz reminds us.

Read the entire post here.

In How to deal with Libyan ambiguity: Define the problem, not the end state, posted on 1 April 2011, he writes:

Much of the debate over Libya has focused on the end-state, exit strategy, and objectives. Few, however, have taken a step back and defined the Libyan problem itself. There are never operations orders for strategic problems. Thus, planners are rarely blessed with well-defined objectives. So rather than identifying the mission, per se, civil and military leaders might start by identifying the problem.

After identifying the problem (or problems), commanders and their staffs decide what problems are worth solving, how to efficiently solve them, and how to minimize unintended consequences. After putting together a tentative -- and flexible -- plan, commanders can then observe and react to unforeseen circumstances.

So, for the moment, let's stop babbling about mission objectives, end states, and withdrawal plans. Instead, let's focus on the more immediate: the problems in Libya, their underlying causes. Next, we need to understand how solving one problem affects other problems? For example, what does action or inaction in Libya mean for regional stability? For the Arab Spring movement? For NATO? These questions are often glossed over in commentary on Libya, and they're debates worth having.

Most importantly, though, we need to ask ourselves: what problems we should attempt to solve in Libya, and how do we best minimize unforeseen consequences?

Read the complete post here.

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