David Bromwich, in an article highly critical of President Obama's handling of the war in Libya, among other things, notes the extraordinarily rapid "mission creep" from enforcement of a no-fly zone to protect civilians in Benghazi to an all-out air war plus ground support intended to topple the Qaddafi regime. But if Obama has been silent about his strategic intentions in Libya, so has the principal sponsor of the war, Nicolas Sarkozy. As I noted the other day, French forces have gone all-in on this adventure, to the point where the carrier Charles de Gaulle will have to be withdrawn from service next year for maintenance if the war doesn't end soon (according to a French admiral). Yet we have heard nothing from Sarkozy about how he sees the evolution of military operations, the prospects of imminent victory, or alternative plans if the current strategy proves a failure.
Already there are rumblings in the US about the cost of the operation, the violation of the War Powers Act, and the usefulness of NATO, for which the US now bears 75% of the cost, higher than during the Cold War years. Robert Gates, on his way out as Secretary of Defense, has lambasted the Europeans for their willingness to free-ride on American largesse. Ultimately, Sarkozy's pressure on NATO to get involved in Libya may turn out to be the straw that breaks the camel's back of unquestioned US support for NATO. This war, launched precipitously in the hope that an exit plan would materialize in short order, has become a burden for everyone involved. Once again, we have seen the danger of allowing televised images (in this case of threatened civilians and plucky rebel fighters), overzealous entrepreneurs (today BHL, yesterday the neocons), and false or dubious analogies (the idea that an "Arab spring" could bring about painless regime change across the Arab world) to result in ill-considered engagements from which there is no easy exit.