Saturday, April 9, 2011

President Obama appears not to have read Von Clausewitz

Von Clausewitz was a 19th Prussian officer whose treatise "On War" is still used in war colleges. And one of his key principles is when you get the enemy on his back foot that's the absolutely worst time to back off. Yet just as President Bush I pulled back from the road to Baghdad in the first Gulf War, now our president appears to be duplicating that folly in Libya. Never give the enemy a chance to regroup.

I'm not advocating rashness here, or committing troops to combat in Libya. Just that we shouldn't have pulled back our side's best tactical weapons.

At the same time, none of us should assume the President's doing nothing just because he isn't stating our intentions clearly, or because we aren't seeing bullets flying out in the open. The Fog of War can be a good thing. 

I have a friend who's dead set against our going in there; he says we don't know who the rebels are, or whether we won't cause, inadvertently, more people to be killed in the long run than if we'd just stayed out of it altogether.

Of course nothing is certain. We have to make decisions before all the facts are in, all the time. But waiting for certainty is just as much a choice in the dark as acting. Most critical is to stay flexible and keep our options open, and be ready to turn on a dime as we find out new information.

The composition of the rebels includes everything from secular Libyans to Islamist radicals, to be sure. If we stay involved and help them we give the secularists spritual ammunition; if we stay aloof or help Gaddafi we just reinforce what Al Qaeda says about us.

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