Bob Franken

Hearst-New York Times Column

(Writer’s note:) The arrangement with the syndicators allows these columns to appear here here a week after their newspaper release. This is an obvious case in point)

^THE LIBYAN ROAD TO POINTS UNKNOWN@< ^(For use by New York Times News Service clients)@< ^By BOB FRANKEN@= ^C.2011 Hearst Newspapers@= WASHINGTON _ The U.S. adventure in Libya is already looking like one of those here-we-go-again trips where we don't know where we're going. Not only that but we can't be sure whether our fellow passengers will be with us all the way to the final destination, whatever that is. So far it seems to extend to the next news cycle. While we're firing away missiles, at a cost of over a million dollars a pop, according to the Navy, there is already squabbling with the other coalition partners about whether they will take up some of the heavy lifting. So far they've been junior partners. Or less. What happens when the facade of support from the Arab League unravels, as it has already begun to do? That is complicated by the jumbled Mideast puzzle, with pieces strewn all over the place. Libya is hardly the only place in an uproar. Some of the very rulers called on to support the military force against Moammar Qadhafi have their own popular uprisings to suppress. Worst of all is the confusion over how it all ends. Is wildman Qadhafi still in power? Does that threaten other countries in the region? (After all, this is the man who at a 2009 Arab League meeting declared himself ``King of Kings.'') What about the deadly consequences if he does hold on to power? Will this end in a stalemate with the Libyan rebels? Before we hear too much more about ``no fly zones,'' let's not forget that there were two such zones over Saddam Hussein's Iraq for 11 years _ and we know where that got us. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., is not exactly a firebrand but he's offering the same criticism of Obama's decision to attack that many fellow Republicans and Democrats are leveling. There is the usual grumbling about a president's constitutional overreach. But that lament is always futile. Of more immediate consequence is the complaint that Lugar leveled on CNN when he said, ``I do not understand the mission because as far as I can tell in the United States there is no mission and there are no guidelines for success.'' The best the administration's designated explainer could offer was basically no explanation. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, could only say: "I think it's for others to determine where this will go long term."

One very strange aspect of it all is that missiles and bombs were flying before the attacking countries had their act together. Questions linger: Who’s in charge? Who does what? When? Mullen’s boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, explained the chaos in the front office: “This command and control business is complicated.”

It sure is. The forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are both coalition operations. Is Libya the new morass?

With the initial rush of “shock and awe,” a CBS poll conducted on the two days after the Saturday military action showed that 68 per cent of U.S. respondents supported it.
Still, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, warned that the Obama administration “must do a better job of communicating to the American people and to Congress about our mission.” That’s code for “we’re looking for ways to make this a campaign issue.”

Boehner is well aware that backing among Americans can erode if there are casualties and U.S. forces get bogged down after poorly conceived planning.

Geopolitical maneuvering is often likened to chess, though it’s not a perfect comparison. Unlike chess, there are an infinite number of pieces and no hard and fast rules. Also, unlike chess, the point is often not winning but simply not losing. That can only be accomplished by looking beyond the immediate next move, which doesn’t seem to be what’s happening with Libya.
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