Lybian Action Worries Retired Admiral
BY JOHN CHAPPELL
Retired U.S. Navy Adm. Leighton W. "Snuffy" Smith is casting a worried eye on the Libya effort, based on his own experience as one of a handful of men who've commanded "no-fly" zones in the past.
Smith, who lives in Pinehurst, took time for a telephone interview while on his way to Annapolis, Md., to attend the graduation ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy. He is a distinguished graduate of the Academy and was on his way to this year's ceremony.
"Who in the hell are we helping?" Smith asked. "What happens if, attacking a Gadhafi stronghold, they start slaughtering civilians? Do we bomb the rebels? I don't know the answer to that question."
As commander-in-chief of NATO Allied Forces, Southern Europe and U.S. Naval Forces, Europe, Smith commanded NATO's Operation Deny Flight during the Bosnian war, the first time a NATO shield was extended beyond Europe.
"The U.N. resolution was to protect civilians," Smith said. "I think it is duplicitous. The president said he wants Gadhafi out, that he must go. Now everybody is saying that's not the mission of the bombing. Of course the mission has to be in concert with the United Nations resolution, and that is protection of the civilian population. Those are at odds with each other."
The partners in this coalition already appear to be divided, Smith said.
"I think what's going to happen, with a lot of patchwork involved, is that the coalition is getting frayed," he said. "Obama had to call the Turkish prime minister to bring him back into the fold. The French want very much to run this operation.
"They didn't want it to be a NATO operation, but now Sarkozy has apparently agreed to that. There is some idea that they can have a committee of politicians deciding what is to be done - and I don't see how you run a war like that."
War-by-committee command is apt to be troublesome, Smith said. During the Bosnian conflict, Smith said he found himself operating under complex rules of engagement whose interpretation varied depending on who did the interpreting.
"The biggest problem I had in Bosnia was that, again, interpretation," he said. "Michael Rose - he was a British general - wanted no part of NATO air. He saw that was a danger. (Another) said, 'The use of force is the absolute last, last, last, last priority. I don't want to use it' and I said, 'Why the hell are we flying airplanes all over the place?' and he said, 'Well, you know it gets their attention.'"
There was little common understanding of mission, he said.
"It was just ridiculous," Smith said. "I was being pushed very, very hard to be more aggressive by the U.S. side, and being held at arm's length by the U.N. side, and - interestingly - the contact group, which was all the interlocutory, made up by the way who all sat in the U.N. and all but a few sat in NATO - couldn't get their stuff together. It was just unbelievable!"
Lack of Clarity
This Libya situation could be even worse, Smith said.
"I think it is going to be much worse," he said. "Who in the hell are we talking to on the ground? Who is the representative that we think is going to go in and take over, assuming Gadhafi is deposed - but, of course, that is 'not the mission' - what in the living hell is the endgame?"
This is not the only place in the world where civilian populations are in danger from their nation's leaders, Smith said.
"What happens if the Syrians start getting the crap beat out of them by Assad?" Smith asks. "What is he (Obama) going to do if the Iranians arise and get the crap beat out of them by Ahmadinejad? This is a Pandora's Box, and it is an unbelievably complex situation. I don't know that we are doing this exactly the right way at all."
That lack of clarity is very troublesome to this former no-fly zone commander.
"Who is calling the targets?" Smith asked. "What is the ultimate objective? I mean, no kidding, what is the ultimate objective? Is it Gadhafi? Is it to embolden the rebels, or to arm the rebels? What happens if the rebels start bleeding out Gadhafi supporters? I don't think we have taken that next step, and I don't think we are even close to being prepared to commit to a 'next step' if a 'next step' is required."
Smith said he is by no means suggesting the United States side with Gadhafi and support his regime.
"He is an animal, a crazy man," Smith said. "He is a terrorist by any definition, and he should have been assassinated years ago. The fact of the matter is we have no clue who is going to rise to the top if he goes away. Who is going to be the guy who takes his place, and is he going to be worse? And who will rebuild what we tear up?"
Despite these misgivings, Smith feels the United States does have some protective responsibility.
"I think Obama is probably (right) that at some point we have to do something to try to protect the individuals who are getting slaughtered," he said. "Us using the rebels' uprising as a means to facilitate the departure of Gadhafi is probably not a bad thing, but we get cross-threaded with the United Nations. The U.N. has said our mission is to protect civilians. We have to be careful. The question I have about NATO is why is NATO involved? You have to get 16 nations involved, a mind-boggling situation when you have to do anything."
'Deserve Full Explanation'
Article 5 of the NATO agreement makes an attack on any an attack on all, he said. It has been extended to cover other area conflicts since.
"When you went into Turkey and declared a no-fly zone in 1991 to protect the Kurds, that was the first time Article 5 was imposed," he said. "The second time - and this was the first time NATO ever went out of area - was when we went into Bosnia and I was the commander."
That meant, Smith said, a real struggle getting NATO nations to agree.
"You had to get 16 guys to agree," he said. "The wording is unbelievable. You and I arrange something, a French officer and a British officer are going to interpret it two different ways. At the end of the day, I would really love to see this mission statement. I don't know. I've never seen it.
"The whole thing keeps getting broader and broader, and nobody knows where it's going to end up. That's what I'm worried about."
That is what Smith hopes the president will provide the American people, and the sooner the better - a clear explanation of what we are doing and hope to achieve by the use of military force in Libya.
"Whatever the mission is - whatever the coalition turns out to be, whoever is involved - the American people deserve a full explanation of what we really are trying to do, what our end-state is, how we intend to extract ourselves from that situation once that end-state is achieved," Smith said. "I definitely think the president is obligated to consult with the leadership of both parties, because he is spending the treasure of this nation and putting the young men and women of this nation's lives on the line.
"I think we need people to understand why we are doing that and if the goal we are trying to achieve has any chance whatsoever."
Contact John Chappell at email@example.com.
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