What Would Winning Mean?

BinJawadLibayRebelGetty

Andrew Exum sizes up our interests in Libya:

Sec. Gates said yesterday, correctly, that Libya is not in the vital interests of the United States. He then, added, also correctly, that the United States has (presumably non-vital) interests in Libya and that Libya is part of a greater region in which the United States does, in fact, have vital interests. But the reason Sec. Clinton jumped into the conversation and immediately "clarified" the remarks of Sec. Gates is because she knew he had just committed a Kinsey gaffe, which is to say he had spoken the truth when, ahem, something else would have perhaps been a better political option.

Vital interests are those interests for which you are willing to bleed. And so if we have no vital interests in Libya, why are F-15 pilots punching out and having to be rescued by Marines? As Steve Biddle argued in an op-ed on Saturday, we have gone to war in Libya not to protect any vital interests but because events in Libya "offend U.S. values [and] threaten peripheral interests."

Exum thinks the administation has communication problem:

When the administration went to war in Libya, it did so without talking through the crisis of Libya, its possible responses to the crisis, and the consequences for action or inaction. As a result, nine days into the intervention, we are at war without a clear policy, clearly defined goals, or stated assumptions. Instead, we are at war with a laundry list of activities -- things we are doing, but things untethered to a broader framework.

The president will presumably make the best case he can, after the fact, on the basis of humanitarian concerns. With any luck, he'll avoid any kind of "doctrine" and be as candid as he can be about the limits of the operation. My guess is that he hopes the rationale will be forgotten if Qaddafi quits or is pushed. But that's a big "if".

(Photo: Libyan rebels survey fighting along the front line during shelling with forces loyal to Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi at a location close to the town of Bin Jawad, which was seized yesterday by rebel forces, on March 28, 2011. By Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

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