Monday, March 28, 2011

What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate

President Obama will be speaking tonight to explain the Libya mission.  Many have been critical of the administration's messaging.  No surprise really, given that it took much wrangling to gain consensus within the government, just as it did at NATO.  Moreover, as Roland Paris has pointed out, it is far harder to prove the success of preventative actions.

It is especially difficult when it is clear that conflict is not squarely in the zone of the "national interest."  Neither was Rwanda.  What is different now? 
  • Rwanda came first, helping to re-shape attitudes about what can/should be done when one can do stuff.  Sure, the Congo is still bathed in blood and Darfur has been left twisting in the wind, but one of the differences between Libya and the others is that, like Iraq compared to Iran and North Korea, it is low-hanging fruit.  While success is hardly assured, it is simply easier to target tanks and other assets of Libya, then to stop a campaign of machete violence.  
  • Unlike Bahrain, Syria or other repressive places, we do have an international consensus on Libya. Qadaffi is now paying for alienating damn near most of the planet, especially the French. 
  • And, as I suggested during the conference on Nationalisms and War, Libya's proximity to Europe matters not just in terms of the relative ease of NATO intervention, but also that more violence would produce refugees that would wash up on French and Italian shores.
While the Administration could be doing better, I really admire Admiral Stavridis's efforts.  He not only tweets but blogs!  He clearly explains his dual role as SACEUR (the head of NATO's military) and commander of USEUCOM (US forces in Europe).  With the latter hat, he is clear that the relatively new combatant command (USAFRICOM) has the lead and that USEUCOM is providing forces, bases, and other assistance to General Carter Ham (not halal?) who runs AfriCOM.  With the former hat, Stavridis is making it clear that he is commanding the NATO effort, which has meant assigning a Canadian Lieutenant General to run the operation just as an American General (Petraeus) is running ISAF in Afghanistan.

One of the fun parts of Stavridis's messaging is how he notes how quickly NATO has reacted to events, measured in handfuls of days after the UN resolution.  While some would see this as spin, given how tortured NATO discussions can be, I see this as fairly genuine appreciation that NATO did make its decisions pretty quickly despite significant challenges from the aggressive (France) and the restrictive (Turkey).  Not to mention the timing--just before state elections in Germany, where the parties of the Chancellor and the Foreign Minister got spanked mightily.  If only Germany had a dynamic Defense Minister to stand in front of the effort.... oops!*
* Yes, I will be showing/linking to that video of the German marching band with torches pretty much any chance I get.  Just too entertaining with so much unintentional comedy to let go.  Easily my favorite video since Lisa Simpson's take on McGill as the something of something.

Speaking of communication, Andrew Exum (abumuqawama) noted via twitter that this signaling by NATO sounds a lot like the probe droid on Hoth sending back its findings to Darth Vader.

And speaking of comms, part 2, didn't the NYT time its new gated policy perfect?  Grrr.

No comments: