After a few days of making gains against the Libyan government during the initial stages of US-led air and missile strikes, rag-tag rebel forces are again in retreat, from the Wall Street Journal:

On the ground in Libya, rebel fighters fled farther east from Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s military Wednesday. The lightly armed opposition forces fell back from the oil-refinery town of Ras Lanuf and faced intense pressure from Col. Gadhafi’s forces around Brega, another oil port they had conquered in recent days under the umbrella of allied airstrikes.

Rebels in Darnah, in eastern Libya, recounted unconfirmed reports that their fighters had been pushed back toward Ajdabiya, a crossroads leading to the rebel capital, Benghazi.

Their retreat is forcing the U.S. and its allies to confront the possibility that their air power alone won’t be sufficient to boost the ragtag opposition forces.

 As for civilians on the ground in Libya–the people whom the US-led intervention’s stated aim was to protect–the prolongation of the civil strife has left their lives more, rather than less, imperiled than if Qaddafi had been allowed to reassert control over the country, as he was close to accomplishing before the intervention.

Of course the stated aim of protecting civilians was just a subterfuge to justify intervening in the civil war on the side of the rebels.  The end of fighting would have done more to protect civilians than any number of sorties flown against the Libyan government’s forces.   Fights end when one side loses or a stalemate ensues.  As it stands now, the half-hearted intervention guarantees fighting will continue, as the rebels won’t be allowed to lose and Qaddafi’s forces are too weak to win in the face of external assaults.  The haphazard intervention prevents even a stalemate from forming.   Neither the rebels nor the Libyan government know how much and how effective will be NATO interventions going forward, so the fighting continues, and the lives of non-combatants continue to be threatened.

NATO, to whom responsibility for the mission of implementing the UN resolution to protect civilians has been nominally charged since the ceremonial hand-off last Thursday, has said that it will not consider arming the rebels.  The US has said it is keeping all its options on the table, i.e., it is considering arming the rebels.  (Guess which organization’s imperatives will hold sway?)

President Obama has signed a “secret” order to insert covert CIA operatives on the ground in Libya to help in the rebel’s conduct of operations.   How exactly the order can be considered secret, or the operatives covert, when all the world has been informed of them, is not clear.  But it does offer some evidence on the way that hoary cliché that “in war, truth is the first casuality” got to be one.

The British, seeking to prove they still have imperial relevance, though now reduced to having to motivate their off-spring United States to cover their backs militarily, have claimed that the Libyan Foreign Minister’s recent defection proves that the Qaddafi regime is crumbling.  Just like the defection of Deputy Führer Rudolph Hess in 1941 indicated the Third Reich was crumbling, I suppose.

The confused and incoherent mess that Libya is quickly becoming is directly derived from the confused and incoherent objectives of the intervention.  The US (just nevermind about everyone else–there is only one relevant military power intervening in this conflict, and its leader’s name ain’t Sarkozy or Cameron) claimed it only wanted to protect civilians but its leader proclaimed that Qaddafi must go.  Supposing that air power would turn the tide in the favor of Qaddafi’s opposition, the bombings began.  But it now appears to have been a grave military mis-calculation on the part of the American president.  Having an air force won’t much help an opposition that’s has no real fighting force capable of seizing and holding terrain.  Now what?

From the Halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli….the time is drawing near for calling in the Marines.  What a lovely Hollywood motion picture script it would make for the Marines to return to the place of one of their first engagements, forever memorialized in the opening line of their iconic song.  History cycles ’round and ’round.  Barbary pirates in the early nineteenth century have given way to rogue dictators in the early twenty-first.  Yet the Marines still remain, semper fi.

President Obama’s fecklessness at prosecuting this engagement points to the inherent danger of having political leaders that don’t understand the imposition of will by force.  Obama grew up in the cloistered world of academia among the intelligentsia that mostly ignores the fact that there is no security, no freedom, no nothing except anarchy, when governments do not have a monopoly on the imposition of will by violence; a monopoly which can only be won by violence sufficient to gain and maintain superior fire power.  He nobly wishes to prove himself better than his warmongering predecessor by claiming high-minded ideals are at stake in Libya that the US must protect, when in fact all he wishes to do is depose Libya’s leader, but without taking responsibility for the nastiness that doing so will entail.  In the meantime, all his high-minded ideals have got the Libyan people is closer by stages to anarchy, the place where freedom dies. 

By refusing to lead; by refusing to acknowledge that the goal of intervention is to oust Qaddafi; by refusing to take the steps necessary to quickly and efficiently accomplish his goals; by refusing to explain what he is really doing and why to his American constituents, Obama has made the situation far less stable and more dangerous for when he finally decides to act forcefully to accomplish his objectives.  Whether or not one agrees with the intervention (personally, I abhor it), the decision has no middle way:  It’s either go all in or stay out.  It’s now too late to stay out, so we already are all in, though harboring pretensions to the contrary.  

It appears that Obama views military action as a means of last resort in accomplishing diplomatic goals, which in my view is an admirable trait in a political/military leader.  But reluctance to use force does not mean force should be meekly employed when it is finally decided upon.  Obama’s predecessor rather considered the use of force as a first option.  Ironically, Bush and Obama’s widely-disparate views haven’t seemed to matter on the ground.  The biases of both men led them to the same place–prosecuting military operations in a half-assed way such that more lives are ultimately endangered, and for a greater duration of time.  The old boss is the same as the new boss, if for a different reason.