March 21, 2011

Bystanders to Genocide

In trying to understand why the Obama Administration has intervened in Libya, it may be helpful to re-read Samantha Power's 2001 essay in the Atlantic on Rwanda.

Susan Rice, Clarke's co-worker on peacekeeping at the NSC, also feels
that she has a debt to repay. "There was such a huge disconnect between
the logic of each of the decisions we took along the way during the
genocide and the moral consequences of the decisions taken
collectively," Rice says. "I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a
crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going
down in flames if that was required."

I read Power's essay a few years ago and, while Power makes a strong case for intervention in Rwanda, I had some of the same questions reading it then that I do watching the administration's policy unfold on Libya. Some questions were strategic: What would the end state have been? Would U.S. military intervention have helped or have exacerbated drivers of conflict? (How do we know?) Other questions, meanwhile, were tactical: How would we have resupplied a parachute infantry battalion after 72 hours? How would we have conducted casualty evacuations in a land-locked African country? What about other contingency plans? What if our forces came under attack? What would have been their rules of engagement?

In the end, the sheer amount of deliberate planning and rehearsals you have to do in order to execute a proper military operation with clear and defined objectives mean policy makers cannot intervene as quickly and decisively as they would otherwise like. Confronted with a 24-hour news cycle, that must be frustrating for elected officials, but trust me, it is no where near as frustrating as being a platoon leader on the ground unsure of his commander's intent, thousands of miles from home, and responsible for 35 lives.