This morning at the Skeptics, I blogged about a series of questions raised by the ongoing military operations against Libya. But I left room for one big question: Is the Weinberger/Powell Doctrine dead?
Actually, it isn’t a question. It’s a statement: the doctrine that sought to prevent the United States from engaging in risky and counterproductive missions that had nothing to do with protecting U.S. vital interests (e.g. Lebanon 1983; Somalia, 1991; and Kosovo, 1999) is dead. Shovel dirt on it.
To review, the doctrine was first coined by Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, in a speech at the National Press Club in 1984. Weinberger was aided by a rising military officer, Colin Powell, who later adapted the concepts for his own purposes as National Security Adviser for Reagan and later as Chairman of the JCS under George H.W. Bush. The essential elements boil down to five key questions:
- Is there a compelling national interest at stake?
- Have the costs and consequences of intervention been considered?
- Have we exhausted all available options for resolving the problem, i.e. is force a last resort?
- Is there a clear and achievable military mission, and therefore a well-defined end state?
- Is there strong public support - both domestic and international - for the operation?
The current operations over Libya fail on at least four counts.
There is no compelling U.S. national interest at stake. The rationale for the mission is purely humanitarian: stopping violence against civilians. Whenever the United States involves itself in such missions, it inevitably raises questions about why we are intervening in this case, and not in others.
The costs and consequences have not been considered or debated. The claim that it will be quick and easy is belied by troubling parallels to Iraq, not the least of which is the divided nature of Libyan society, and the possibility – indeed, likelihood – that in the event of regime collapse a long-term nation-building project will be required to prevent reprisal attacks against former regime supporters.
The mission is not clearly defined, and we do not have a clear understanding of an end state. In the run-up to last week’s UNSC resolution, a number of observers pointed out that a no-fly zone alone was unlikely to halt Qaddafi’s advance on rebel positions. The resolution went one step further, allowing for attacks against forces on the ground. But the danger to civilians will persist for some time (see above), and that seemingly discrete object in fact allows for a very long-term mission, at a time when U.S. forces remain in Iraq and Afghanistan, and are also engaged in numerous other missions around the globe.
There is some public support for the mission, but I’m most interested in domestic opinion, and I’m most troubled by the Obama administration’s failure to obtain congressional approval for war. There was time for such an initiative, but the administration chose to dedicate its attention to the UN building in New York, not the U.S. Capitol at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. If members of Congress had been asked in advance, they might well have given approval, but someone up there would have asked at least two crucial questions: How long will this take? And how much will it cost?
I will allow that the military option might have been the only thing remaining in the policy toolbox to halt Qaddafi’s advance on rebel positions, but that doesn’t answer the question of why the U.S. military should have been involved (with no vital U.S. interest at stake, and with the U.S. military busy elsewhere, it should not have been), and it also doesn’t address the more troubling question about the long-term ramifications of said military action, even if the best-case scenario of Qaddafi’s speedy ouster plays out.
It goes too far to claim that the Libyan intervention killed the Weinberger/Powell doctrine. It was already dead, or at least very sick. But I see President Obama’s latest decision as a clear indication that the relative wisdom and prudence of the Reagan/Bush I years is but a distant memory.