There is a historically based truism about war--even a very small war hiding behind an euphemistic moniker and a poetic code name. The truism can be summed accurately in a single word: unity. There must be a unity between political goal and military goal. There must be a unity between the goal and what can be termed the "definition of victory." There must be a unity--or at least a tight cohesion--between the definition of victory and the "theory of victory," which is the specific mix of military and non-military means intended to result in victory. Finally, there must be a unity of command so as to assure that all forces employed are marching to the same band.
Unity in all the forms mentioned is critical to war waged by a single power. It is even more critical when the war is undertaken by a coalition.
To date Operation Odyssey Dawn (as the Americans term the effort in Libya) or Operation Ellamy (as the Brits have dubbed it) fails in most of the ways listed above. There is no unity of political goals as between the several coalition members. There is no unity between political and military goal as regards the US. There is no unified definition of victory. Thus, there can be no definition of victory. Nor can there be a unified theory of victory. And, looking forward, the unity of command and common effort is nowhere to be seen.
Operation Odyssey Dawn has been through yesterday a predominately American effort. Nearly two thirds of all sorties have been flown by US aircraft. American planes flew 212 sorties while the British and French as well as other NATO states contributed 124. This trend continued during the past twenty-four hours with the Americans flying 113 sorties and the other twelve coalition partners contributing 63. This is an improvement on the 85 percent Made in America record of a couple of days earlier. The overwhelming majority of the 162 Tomahawk missiles fired were American (the British have fired a dozen or so from a submarine which represents a goodly chunk of the 64 Tomahawks in the British inventory.)
In this respect the operation represents business as usual. Way back when during the days of H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton the no-fly zone was primarily an American effort. The US flew five sorties for every one undertaken by the UK. (The French were not involved at all.) The situation was much the same during the Bosnian affray.
All this "joint" effort has put a lot of hours on the airframes of American aircraft. It would be interesting to know how many hours had accumulated where and when on the F-15E Strike Eagle which crashed in Libya as the result of an "equipment malfunction." The use--perhaps bordering on overuse--may be one reason the US military seems anxious to pass the baton to someone else in Libya.
It is not the only nor even the primary reason the US is looking so eagerly for an early exit from its current leadership role. Leaving aside the motives and their worthiness, the most important consideration is whether or not the American bowing out will help or hinder the gaining of unity in all the forms mentioned.
The primary requirement, the requirement from which all subordinate forms of unity descend, is that of political goal. With respect to Libya this seems to be quite elusive. The French seem to be wedded to an endstate which sees Gaddifi gone. The British have acknowledged they have no exit plan, which implies the absence of a final political goal. The American president has drawn a line between an expansive political goal and a very, very narrow military one. The Germans are opposed to everything which may bring with it the possibility of someone shooting someone. The Turks are likewise inclined. The Arab League is adrift in a sea of confusion bordering on despair.
The upshot of this sorry state of affairs is there is little if any probability of a unified political goal emerging regardless of who or what finally takes over the political direction of the war. With this reality in place at the most foundational level, it almost doesn't matter who runs the actual conduct of daily operations. But, politics guides that as well. The UK with phlegmatic realism understands that NATO has the command and control capacity to run a coalition war. The French and others are against this for the frankly political reason that NATO is Western and as such will alienate the Arab states whose political cover is essential for the effort.
The internal political contradictions and tensions which afflict not only the AL but many of the member states as well prevents the League from adopting and keeping to a unified political goal or even collaborating with non-Arab states in formulating one for the Libyan Question. This reality makes an imitation of the ISAF in Afghanistan a fiction. (Not that the ISAF is a model of unity--consider the risk averse nature of many contributor countries such as Germany whose ROE's virtually prevent firing an angry round.)
When night falls there will be a cobbled together simulacrum of a central political directorate. Command and control of daily, routine operations will devolve to someone, perhaps the French or a joint Anglo-French body, or, just maybe, NATO. The political directorate will not make the hard choices of the what-do-we-do-next? sort of decisions which will be popping up in a very unpretty way shortly. These matters will be kicked back to the national leaders. The notion that the assorted leaders of the main players (which will continue to include the US as only the US has many critical capacities such as enough aircraft) will achieve a consensus on the questions of what-now? is hallucinatory at best.
The yawning gap between President Obama's declaratory policy--"Gaddafi must go"--and the no-American-boots-on-the-ground pledge underscores the impossibility of coming to effective terms with the what-now? genre of questions. The vast differences in motivation among the assorted NATO states which have contributed aircraft of basing facilities further exacerbates the question.
The American stance toward the effort in Libya is epitomized in the quote giving this post its title. Of course this view ignores the vast differences in motives and intents within the "Europeans." Frankly, the effort is the brainchild of France and the UK. This allows the inference that these two should be the political directorate, but such is totally unacceptable to all others.
So the necessary unities will not exist. This redounds to Gaddafi's advantage. The greatest irony in this is simply that should Brother Leader come out of the current fracas still in power, the states with the most to worry about are those of the Arab League. Given Gaddafi's past love affairs with terror groups and the current political tumult in most Arab states, his capacity for mischief is unlimited.
A line from an old Jefferson Airplane song is relevant: "Go away or go all the way in." This is the fundamental dilemma facing the mock coalition in the sky over Libya. The states with the most dogs in the fight are those of the Arab League. The collective and individual unwillingness of these states to address the ground truth in play in Libya right now constitutes a major failure of political will and acumen. In time this failure may well lead to more failed states where Arabic is the language.