Sunday, April 17, 2011

R2P and RMA: Strange Bedfellows

Our talks about the revolution in military affairs that predicted a network-centric battlefield strategy that quite literally paralyzes an enemy before it knew how to react was most closely associated with Admiral Cebrowski and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. I am here to contend that equally forceful proponent of the “Afghan model” is the perhaps unlikely Samantha Power.

Power and other adherents to the doctrine of R2P have long advocated that when countries do not have the means or cohesive government to protect innocent citizens from violent crisis, then other governments endowed with that ability must act in their place. In short, imminent threats allow the U.S. and others to act with extraterritorial jurisdiction and enforce law and human rights.

So RMA? What’s the connection you ask? RMA provides some of the means to get the ends desired by R2P advocates. When we fought clumsy, ground-based, pain-in-the-ass wars justifying wars of a humanitarian motivation was difficult if not impossible. But the progress of technology changed things and soon enough, the likes of Madeline Albright were asking, “What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

But now we can do this, right? We can intervene in a nasty civil war, keep things above-board by using our air superiority, and prevent our reputation from being tarnished, right? In the eyes of primacy advocates and liberal interventionists, technological progress allows our choice of when and why to use military force to be disconnected from pesky issues like vital interests. This intoxicating effect beget “columnist wars” like Iraq and now Libya, that sound really slick in the context of a WaPo column, but don’t pass the smell test of shrewd analysis.

The problem with RMA by-products like the Afghan model is it assumes, rather wrongly, a number of rosy things. First, it assumes perfect execution and ignores the idea that plans usually don’t survive first contact. Along those same lines, it ignores that the enemy has a vote, and winning the back half of a conflict is MUCH more difficult that the first half. Second, it assumes that our intervention could not possibly further complicate things. It sees panaceas where they do not exist.

What I’m attempting to say is that R2P is a compelling argument, one I’ve discussed here, but the tasks it advocates that the U.S. take a vested military interested in are often quagmires where we’d realistically accomplish little. Libya increasingly looks like it fits this bill. As I write this the Colonel is taking it to Misurata the last rebel held city in Western Libya. What lays ahead of NATO are a number really, really difficult questions to answer. That the administration and proponents of the intervention have not really addressed. These unanswered questions tend to revolve around one big one: what are our political objectives and what are we willing to do, militarily, to achieve them. In short, we ignore Clauswitz at our own peril.

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