Monday, March 21, 2011

Kosovo and Libya Wars

The Kosovo War is a model for the Libya War in a number of ways. One thing to keep in mind about the Kosovo War, which is rightly seen as a NATO success, is that it took place in 1999. Today, in 2011, in a friendly ("permissive" in military jargon) environment for NATO after a successful war, the presence of a small number of NATO forces is still requires. As the NATO website reports (n.d., accessing 03/20/2011):

NATO has been leading a peace support operation in Kosovo since June 1999 in support of wider international efforts to build peace and stability in the area.

Today, some 8,700 troops from the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR), provided by 32 countries (24 NATO and 8 non-NATO), are still deployed in Kosovo to help maintain a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all citizens, irrespective of their ethnic origin.
John Mearsheimer rightly characterizes the Obama Administration's general foreign policy approach as the liberal imperialist variant of a "global dominance" strategy, which the Clinton Administration also pursued. The Cheney-Bush Administration's version of the global dominance strategy was more a neoconservative-militarist one.

One distinction of the liberal-imperialist approach to war is touched on by The Atlantic's James Fallows in On Libya: 'What Happens Then?' 03/20/2011:

[I]t cannot reassure anyone who cares about America's viability as a republic that it is entering another war with essentially zero Congressional consultation or "buy-in," and with very little serious debate outside the Executive Branch itself. And there the debate was, apparently, mostly about changing the President's own mind. I recognize that there are times when national safety requires an Administration to respond quickly, without enduring the posturing and institutionalized dysfunction that is the modern Congress. Without going through all the arguments, I assert that this is not such a moment. To be more precise: the Administration has not made the public case that the humanitarian and strategic stakes in Libya are so unique as to compel intervention there (even as part of a coalition), versus the many other injustices and tragedies we deplore but do not go to war to prevent. I can think of several examples in my current part of the world. [He's writing from China.] [my emphasis]
None of these observations in themselves imply ill-will among the policymakers. Experience shows that ill-will and unworthy are never lacking in decisions to go to war. But the effects of these actions are not dependent on the goodwill or lack thereof of the policymakers.

Andrew Bacevich in " Neglected Trinity: Kosovo and the Crisis in U.S. Civil-Military Relations", his essay in the collection War Over Kosovo (2001), edited by himself and Eliot Cohen, talks about the "remarkable trinity" identified by the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), whose work enjoys something like canonical stature with the US military today. For Clausewitz, this trinity of "reason, primordial violence, and chance" (Bacevich's summary) were three major tendencies affecting war.

Bacevich in that essay picks up a different "trinity" from a separate essay by Cohen and talks about how that played out in the US conduct of the Kosovo War. In Bacevich's short version, the new trinity was (1) the "geopolitical upheaval caused by the end of the Cold War," which among other things allowed the US to assert a far bigger military role in the Arab world; (2) "a redefinition of U.S. grand strategy," i.e., the strategy of global dominance begun by the Old Man Bush Administration and continued by the three succeeding Presidential Administrations; and, (3) "a novel conception of warfare that itself is a product of powerful technological and cultural influences have all contributed to this transformation," which in practice involved heavy reliance on airpower.

The latter consideration is focused on the idea of minimizing US casualties. This comes from a flawed but widespread assumption among military and foreign policy theorists that US casualties are the main reason the US public turns against wars, maybe the only reason. As Bacevich describes the approach that played out in several military situations but most especially in the Kosovo War:

... Clinton the commander in chief fashioned doctrine for employing American military power that bridges the gap between his grand strategic objectives and the public's limited willingness to exert itself on behalf of those objectives. The military component of Clinton's strategy requires minimal blood and only modest treasure - indeed, the cash flow on balance may be positive. And it does not unduly tax the nation's attention span. Finessing the deficit between ends and means, the new postliberal civil-military relationship that Clinton ushered into existence seemingly reconciles the irreconcilable. For this achievement, Bill Clinton, in his own way, deserves to rank alongside FDR and Reagan as one of the most influential commanders in chief in modern American history.
Initially, it appears to me that the Obama Administration is trying to pull off something like this in Libya. I doubt it will work very well.

Another similarity to the Clinton Administration's procedure on the Kosovo War: The Kosovo War occurred in 1999. In March 1999, the House voted a nonbinding concurrent resolution to authorize US peacekeepers for Kosovo. The Senate passed a nonbinding concurrent resolution authorizing air and missile operations against Serbia. "The war against Yugoslavia began on March 24 without any statutory or constitutional support," wrote Louis Fisher in Presidential War Power, 2nd edition (2004).

Republican Congressman Ernest Istook of Oklahoma said at the time, "President Clinton asked many nations to agree to attack Yugoslavia, but he failed to get permission from one crucial country, America."

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