"Boots on the Ground" - LTG James Dubik on What's Next in Libya (Foreign Policy)

Boots on the Ground

by LTG James M. Dubik, U.S. Army (Ret.)

The way the United States and its allies have intervened in Libya has placed them on a dangerously slippery slope. Air power alone has not protected Libyan civilians, the declared objective in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorized the military intervention. Nor have the rebels proved capable of making significant advances against Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces. To effectively enforce the Security Council resolution, the coalition would need to put combat air controllers, advisors, and trainers on the ground -- steps it appears unwilling to take. Where does that leave the coalition when it comes to developing a coherent war strategy? Mostly empty-handed.

I've learned a thing or two about using force to attain strategic aims in my 37 years in the U.S. Army. I've had command positions in three interventions -- Haiti, Bosnia, and Iraq. My last was as a senior commanding general in Iraq in charge of accelerating the growth of the Iraqi security forces during the surge period in 2007 and 2008.

From my standpoint, the reality is that Qaddafi is unlikely to give up even if his forces have stopped moving east and continue to battle in and around key cities. The coalition's choices are few, and none are good: 1) hold what it has and risk the rebels being cornered in some small portion of the country or ultimately forced to surrender at the point of Qaddafi's guns; 2) decide to take the steps necessary to actually enforce the writ of the Security Council resolution -- sending in the ground forces and supplying the rebels with weapons -- while increasing nonmilitary pressure on the Qaddafi regime; or 3) continue doing more of the same -- the minimum militarily.

Based on where things stand now, I believe that the second course has the highest probability of success in enforcing the Security Council resolution and bringing Qaddafi's regime to an end. But the coalition appears to have selected the third option, betting that they can muster the political will to maintain the no-fly zone and sustain the rebel force for however long it takes to pressure Qaddafi to leave. Anyone can argue the advantages and disadvantages of these three options, along with their likelihood of succeeding. But doing so misses the larger point.

Suppose the coalition does succeed. What happens once Qaddafi is gone, his regime collapses, and the rebels win? When such vacuums emerge, the results are unpredictable, at best. The world needs no further example of the costs of not preparing for the post-combat phase of an intervention than what it has seen in Iraq. A satisfactory endgame depends on the choices that Washington and its allies make right now.

Failure to do so, should Qaddafi fall, will likely condemn the country to a state of near anarchy -- in both the security and political realms. And this is when the dark side of human behavior is truly unleashed. I saw revenge killings in Bosnia and Iraq. Conflicts don't cease when arms are officially laid down.

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