From the Sky and Ground, War Strategy Has Highs and Lows

U.S. war policy since 1990 has been inconsistent at best.

Before the first Iraq War, President George H.W. Bush made a strategic decision to drive Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. The international community of nations lauded this honorable objective enabling Bush to create a formidable coalition of allies. But, the most important aspect of this episode was that Bush vetoed all proposals to unseat Saddam’s government. The result was that Saddam remained in power for more than a decade.

The first Gulf War resulted in 148 Americans deaths in combat, an amazingly small number considering the scope of the military operation, which included over 100,000 bombing sorties and cost the U.S approximately 61 billion dollars. The U.S. fought most of the war from thousands of feet in the sky and exposed ground troops for only a limited amount of time in the final days of the seven-month conflict. Americans grew to appreciate the type of war where the U.S. annihilates incompetent and poorly-armed adversaries using high-tech weapons. Iraqis estimate that their losses topped 100,000.

By 2003, George W. Bush was determined to unseat Saddam regardless of the cost. The only way he could accomplish this was with an all-out ground invasion, in which the enemy would be rooted out city-by-city, street-by-street, and house-by-house. This initiative has resulted in over 4,000 American casualties and 32,000 wounded and is quickly pushing $1 trillion in cost to date. The invasion has never been embraced by the international community or by a consensus of Americans. The senior Bush’s policy to fight primarily from the sky was abandoned by his son, and our country has paid a high price. The second Bush administration justified extensive ground operations, and the associated loss of American lives, by its objective to take down a cruel and disruptive tyrant.

Americans have lost their stomach for drawn-out conflicts. The Afghanistan operation initiated by the younger Bush is not very different from the Iraq debacle. The original mission to destroy Al Qaeda has morphed into a nation-building project that has little chance to succeed in the long run. After ten years, the Afghanistan invasion has become as frustrating to Americans as Iraq. And now, Libya has presented a new challenge to President Obama, who seems to be trying to resist the urge to commit ground troops and become enmeshed in yet another endless conflict.

Unfortunately, it may be impossible to eliminate Qaddafi and rebuild Libya without the application of American ground troops. Hope is that merciless bombing sorties will enable the rebel forces and inspire a regime change. But, the reality is that Qaddafi will persevere without greater U.S. involvement.

In defense of Obama’s actions, stemming genocide in Libya is a noble objective. Once the revolution began, the Libyan leader was not shy about slaughtering those who defied him. So, allied support of the rebels made sense. But, an escalating civil war will result in even more bloodshed and anarchy unless our country intervenes.

The fascinating question that overhangs the latest Middle East crisis is what should our country do when civil war breaks out in other countries? Should we pick sides and supply arms to our favorite combatant? Should we bomb another sovereign country without a declaration of war? Should we get involved if our national interests are not at stake? Should we use ground forces and risk the lives of Americans? Should the U.S. institute a policy to end genocide anywhere it occurs in the world regardless of the cost?

Before Obama becomes further entrenched in the Libyan brouhaha, he better answer these questions and consider the economic realities. The expenditures associated with military operations around the world have greatly impacted our nation’s ability to provide a higher level of social support for our most needy citizens here at home.

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