Obama's Big Blunder in Libya

Sun Tzu wrote that deception was one of the most important factors in warfare. He introduces deception in the first chapter of The Art of War (translated variously as "Laying Plans" and "Estimates"):

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable, when using our forces, we must seem inactive, when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away, when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him... Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.

From there on he works deception into almost every chapter of the book.

Commanders of every epoch since have concurred with Sun Tzu.  Examples of deception in warfare are endless, running from the Trojan horse up to FUSAG, the bogus army group constructed around the person of George Patton for the purpose of fooling Hitler into believing that the main invasion of Europe would occur at the Pas de Calais. 

So why has the U.S. thrown one of the basic elements of military success to the four winds?

Not a day has gone by in the current campaign against Gaddafi but somebody prominent in the administration or military hasn't gotten up to explain what "we're not going to do". This began with Obama's speech announcing U.S. participation, in which he promised that the boots of American troops "would never touch Libyan soil." Circumstances being what they are and Obama being what he is, it's doubtful that anybody required any such assurance. But they got it anyway, and it set the pattern for further comments of like nature. (Hillary has repeated the "no ground troops" mantra as well, just in case nobody was listening to Obama.)

Last weekend saw the debut of the "we're not after Gaddafi" motif. According to Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, "The goals are limited. It's not about seeing him go. It's about supporting the United Nations resolution which talked about eliminating his ability to kill his own people."  Mullen repeated this on several different issues programs. He was echoed later the same day by Vice Adm. William Gortney, who assured the media that Gaddafi was "not on the targeting list."

On Monday, General Carter Ham, chief of U.S. Africa Command, stated that "We have no mission to support opposition forces if they should engage in offensive operations operations... U.S. and coalition military forces enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya are there to protect civilians and not to provide close-air support for opposition forces fighting."

What does all this tell Gaddafi? It tells him that he needn't look over his shoulder while attacking the rebels. That the "no-fly" order is effectively a matter of show. It tells him that he personally has nothing to worry about from Coalition actions and can waste as many lives as he pleases. But most of all, it tells him that the US and Europe are not serious.  (To that we can add Obama's pronouncement that Gaddafi could stay if he really, really wants to -- a statement suggesting not arrogance, or hubris, but bipolar disorder.)

We've created difficulties for ourselves with this kind of thing before. In 1965, in a speech given at the time of the first large-scale escalation in Vietnam, Lyndon B. Johnson vowed that the U.S. "would not invade North Vietnam." A short time later it dawned on the North Vietnamese communists that he was serious, at which point they took their reserves and sent them south on the Ho Chi Minh trail, where they could kill plenty of Americans.

What's the thinking behind this? What could Johnson in his day, and Obama and Clinton et al today possibly be trying to accomplish?

It comes down to public relations. Obama is trying to persuade various third parties -- Middle Eastern governments, the Arab street, the UN, and American and European dissidents, not to forget the media that serves all the above -- that the Libya operation is limited, that certain things are not being contemplated and will not be attempted. It's an effort to placate those forces before the fact, to stop them from protesting, voicing reservations, and otherwise interfering. Everybody remembers what happened when George W. spoke forthrightly about what he was going to do in Iraq.

Of course, it will accomplish no such thing. Michael Moore has already spoken ex cathedra from the bottom of a KFC bucket and now Cindy Sheehan will begin wailing with Medea and the rest of the girls not far behind. The Arabs are playing both ends, while Germany has gone AWOL. Obama and crew have forgotten that, nearly a half-century ago, LBJ tried the same trick only to be chased out of office. It's an expression of weakness, and it will be greeted the same way bullies greet any expression of weakness.

How would deception work in Libya? It's not complicated. Remember that Gaddafi is up against it. He's studying the signs as avidly as a Bronze Age king examining the entrails of a chicken. A few veiled references from the politicians, a few smiles and "no comments" from the military, would send him ballistic. He'd sweat every time he heard an aircraft, start at every explosion. His judgment, his reasoning, and his confidence would all be affected. He would start making mistakes. And that, in turn, would undermine the loyalty of his followers. The atmosphere would grow very tense in the colonel's bunker complex. The defections would begin, and eventually somebody would show up who knew exactly where he is and what his plans are.  

That is deception in warfare, in the classic Sun Tzu manner. Properly executed, and with considerable luck, it could end up in the classic Sun Tzu manner:

To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence lies in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.

Now that's a plan.     

J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker and author of Death by Liberalism.