Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told a Congressional panel that he strongly opposed putting any American forces in Libya. Asked if there would be American “boots on the ground” — that is, uniformed members of the military — Mr. Gates swiftly replied, “Not as long as I’m in this job.”
At the same time, Mr. Gates declined to address reports that the Central Intelligence Agency has sent clandestine operatives to Libya to gather intelligence for military airstrikes and to contact and vet the rebels.
Given the fact that the recently expanded air missions all need some help from Americans on the ground, and the probability that at least some of that help is from Air Force special operations, there are probably already boots on the ground. Gates may be setting up his exit from the Barry Obama Traveling Sports Talk Show. Can’t say I blame him, and the memoirs will be a bracing read.
Back to the kinetic military action in Libya, I keep thinking about the Iraq no-fly zone era. That effort, fully sanctioned by the UN, stumbled on for something like 12 years before we finally had to put nearly 200,000 pairs of boots on the ground to finish it. Iraq is a larger country and Hussein’s army was larger than Gaddafi’s, but still, that wasn’t exactly a short-term project. It wasn’t cheap. The global Oil-For-Food scandal was among the by-products of that effort. And several of the allies we went into that effort with ended up dropping out and becoming counterproductive (see: France). It would be nice to think that we’ve all learned all the right lessons from that experience, but the evidence so far suggests…not.