Complex Command Structure for U.S. Forces in Libya War

“We are considering whether NATO should take on the broader responsibility in accordance with the UN Security Council resolution, but that decision has not been reached yet."

-- NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

The Navy may want to add a seat to its fighter planes for lawyers from the JAG Corps as the American involvement in the Libyan war continues under a dizzying set of command rules.

After a week of wheedling, the Obama administration won approval from NATO to take a role in the conflict. The decision came over the objections of Turkey, Germany and France, which were all opposed for different reasons. The Turks seem to oppose a Western-led attack on a Muslim nation, the Germans tend think the whole thing is a misadventure and the French wanted to lead the war themselves as Nicolas Sarkozy channels Charles de Gaulle.

This gets President Obama a step closer to his promise of minimizing the role of the U.S. in the war, labeled by the White House as a “kinetic military operation.” But the NATO agreement is more about future conditions than current ones.

NATO is only in charge when enforcing the no-fly zone over the country. But a French fighter pilot on Thursday shot down what may have been Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s last working airplane, a trainer jet, establishing air superiority is not much of a concern. The U.S. has already basically grounded Qaddafi and wiped out his air defenses.

NATO is not in charge, however, when missions involve strikes against Qaddafi’s ground forces and bombing raids against other spots in the country. When providing this kind of close-in air support and bombardment, pilots are still flying under the ad hoc, U.S.-led coalition that has been in charge since the outset of Western involvement in the country’s civil war.

So, NATO has agreed to take over the mission that President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have promised was to arrive this week – low-risk enforcement of a no-fly zone on a country without an air force. That leaves the U.S. leading the current, more dangerous effort to get the rebels back in the fight.

After a week’s worth of bombardment of Qaddafi’s forces, the rebels have so far been unable to push back government forces from key positions, particularly the city of Misrata, where urban warfare between the mercenaries and fellow tribesmen loyal to Qaddafi are steadily infiltrating the onetime rebel stronghold.

The irony about the new NATO arrangement is that President Obama has been a stickler on the point that Operation Odyssey Dawn was only about enforcing a U.N. resolution that called for the protection of Libya’s civilian population, not an effort to depose Qaddafi. The president and U.S. officials have repeatedly stated that the war may end in a stalemate because the American strategic aim is only to protect civilians and that Qaddafi can be dealt with through diplomatic isolation.

Obama’s French and British counterparts have been unambiguous about the goal of the military mission: toppling Qaddafi, who has spent 42 years alternately terrorizing and supplying them with oil.

Now, NATO is in charge of the mission that Obama described, but the U.S. military is in charge of the mission that Obama has been more squeamish about: helping the rebels retake the initiative in a war that, early on, seemed destined to drive Qaddafi and his tribe from power.

As the U.S. military has learned in places like Mogadishu, air superiority is of little help in block-to-block fighting. And while the French and British have suggested that ground forces might be a possibility, Obama has been adamant that the U.S. role would be limited to bomb and missile strikes.

It has been widely reported that there are some U.S. forces on the ground in Libya in the form of CIA agents and Special Forces troops coordinating with rebels to direct U.S. air strikes, but the only reported direct military engagement so far has been from a Marine combat team that was rescuing a crashed U.S. fighter pilot.

But with the rebel effort continuing to founder and few signs of support for the revolt outside of the Cyrenacian tribesmen and Islamists who began it, it is an open question whether the dramatic escalation of the U.S.-led air war against Qaddafi’s forces will be enough to get them back in the fight.

Tricky Timing for Obama Libya Address

"[I]t absolutely is important for the President to speak to the American public to inform them of what he's doing. He's done that on multiple occasions thus far and will continue to do that."

-- White House Spokesman Jay Carney in an off-camera briefing with reporters.

Being out of the country when the U.S. entered the Libyan civil war had some political advantages for President Obama.

He was able to keep a low public profile, with three tightly controlled press conferences with Latin American leaders. Obama’s remarks on the war were mostly limited to answering a total of three questions from the traveling White House press corps and some friendly interviews from Spanish-language news outlets.

Meanwhile, critics of Obama’s decision to enter the war without congressional approval and with ambiguous objectives were constrained by the longstanding convention among American politicians to not criticize the president when he is overseas.

But Obama is back in the White House and questions are now mounting about when the president will clarify himself about the Libyan war.

Congressional grumbling over the war is growing louder on both sides of the aisle and a Gallup poll shows lower initial support for the conflict than any since the firm began conducting similar surveys with the Grenada invasion in 1983. It is also the only military engagement not to have majority support.

Obama needs to rally support for the war and to dampen the complaints about the way he entered it.

A week ago, things must have looked more appealing to the White House. The timetable laid out by Obama and Hillary Clinton would have had combat operations wrapping up, not intensifying at this point. Under that timetable, Obama would have been able to return to Washington in time for an address in which he announced that the U.S. had achieved his objectives and was now stepping back.

As Obama decides when to address the nation, he is in a bit of a bind. He can’t talk until he has something good to say, and NATO assumption of the least dangerous part of the Libyan mission won’t quite feed the bulldog.

And with the rebels unable to retake the initiative despite massive U.S. support, more substantial good news seems out of reach right now. No president wants to go on television to announce to the American people that he has fought the country into a stalemate against a tinhorn North African dictator.

But if Obama waits too long to talk, perhaps in the form of an Oval Office address, he risks losing control of the conversation as skeptical lawmakers on Capitol Hill become more emboldened. Congress gets back to work on Monday, so Obama must feel the need to mount the bully pulpit soon.

African Union Seeks Stalemate

"We are convinced that there is enough base to reach a consensus and find a durable solution in Libya."

-- African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping of Gabon.

The African Union, which Muammar Qaddafi led in 2009, is trying to broker a cease-fire between the Libyan government and the rebel forces.

The body has a very poor record on standing down dictators and sticking up for human rights, but has retained some international credibility because of its efforts to promote fair elections etc. where it is politically convenient.

The U.N. has blessed the gathering in Ethiopia with an envoy and the Union’s leader has called for a transition period under a cease-fire in preparation for eventual elections.

With the rebels still reeling, the offer of a truce, deemed unacceptable just two weeks ago, would now have considerable appeal. The Obama administration is eager to shed the U.S. role as the rebels’ primary ally against Qaddafi and there is little hope that NATO will agree to take on such an aggressive role when the treaty group meets again on Sunday to discuss its role. The rebels may have concluded that the time has come to cut a deal.

For Qaddafi, there is much to be said for negotiations. If his government is involved in talks, it is harder for Western powers to defend attacks on his forces against sharp criticism from adversaries in China and Russia. One of the downsides of acting under U.N. auspices is that one must pay attention to such opinions.

But with the rebels in control of so little land, and with a humanitarian crisis brewing, enforcing such a ceasefire could further test the international coalition that has been so shaky about the war so far. And hatreds between the rival tribes and the presence of Islamists among the rebel ranks will mean that any ceasefire would need considerable enforcement from external forces.

A ceasefire without American and European enforcement would likely mean slow slaughter for the rebels.

Romney Team Looks to Scare Off 2012 Competitors

“This will be a test of stamina, not speed.”

-- A 2008 advisor to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign talking to Power Play about the 2012 GOP primary campaign.

As potential Republican presidential candidates for 2012 edge toward entering the race, the campaign of frontrunner Mitt Romney is issuing a warning: Get ready for an ugly fight

Romney himself told an audience of potential donors to his potential campaign at the Harvard Club in New York that he intended to raise $50 million in the coming months to demonstrate his fundraising prowess and thin the field of challengers.

As former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour all prepare to unleash big-money campaigns, Romney’s team is trying to raise the stakes.

A Romney insider from the last campaign who is familiar with the thinking of the former Massachusetts governor’s strategy says that time is on Romney’s side.

He points to the expected increase in primary contests in which states’ delegates will be divided. New RNC rules for this cycle forbid winner-take-all primaries from being held before April 2012 – except for New Hampshire and South Carolina -- as part of a bid to prolong the nominating process.

Why Republicans thought this was a good idea isn’t entirely clear. Some believed that that Democrats benefited from a long, dramatic struggle in 2008. Others believed that the winner-take-all approach traditional to the GOP was unfair to outsider candidates and favored the political establishment too much.

Florida is preparing to crash the party with a bid to hold its primary in January 2012. If Florida succeeds in cutting the line, it will be harder for the RNC to enforce sanctions on other states that hold winner-take-all contests before April 1.

But, Team Romney believes that there will be several contests with divided delegates in March – a system that mirrors the Democratic process that led to a brutal delegate fight between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton stretching from January to June of 2008.

“Who is best positioned to win a long fight – the fighter with the most stamina. There will be some that come out swinging and look good for a few rounds, but they will fade,” said the former Romney adviser. “This will be a test of stamina, not speed.”

Romney’s big money and national organization means that even in states where Romney can’t win first place, he can carry away enough delegates to stay competitive. In such a scenario, it would be more desirable to finish second everywhere instead of having regional strongholds.

If the primary calendar shapes up that way, Romney could have an advantage. But, the strategy draws some unflattering comparisons to Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 plan that focused on later primaries.

But the Romney team is looking for two wins – in Nevada’s caucuses and in New Hampshire’s primary – before getting into the later rounds of the fight.

“By the time people look around in May [2012] and see who’s still stnding, Romney will look like the obvious choice,” the Romney advisor said.

And Now, a Word from Bret and Jon

Bret Baier

“We could do an ombudsman section. How about that?”

Jon Stewart

“Oh, that’s very nice of you. So you just want to say quickly ‘That’s right, you are not an All Star.’”

Bret Baier

“Thought I would get it out there fast.”

-- Bret Baier on “The Daily Show” discussing Stewart’s suggestion that he could join the “Special Report” All-Star Panel.