I’m not saying that Diane Sawyer gave perhaps the most supine interview in the history of the craft. Typically, reporters reserve that honor for GEN Petraeus.
In fact, I think that she grilled HRC medium well.
The problem: Clinton wasn’t going to talk about this war as an adult would to other adults who are sending their loved ones into harm’s way.
Instead, the U.S. Secretary of State stuck to bland talking points, obfuscating any rudimentary understanding of reality, and then prattled pointlessly about the few facts she was willing to concede — there is day of the week known as “Saturday” and NATO remains headquartered in Brussels.
Why not fax over to Hillary some Madlibs and have her fill in the blanks?
Diane Sawyer: We should invade ______ because _______.
Hillary: Libya, freedom and we’re moving in the right direction.
QUESTION: Thank you again, Madam Secretary, and we hear repeatedly it will be days, not weeks, before the U.S. turns over the lead; it will be one week on Saturday. Will it happen by Saturday?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it will be days. Whether it’s by Saturday or not depends upon the evaluation made by our military commanders along with our allies and partners. But the President was very clear that the United States had unique capabilities that we would bring to bear in the enforcement of the UN Security Council resolution, and that is exactly what we’re doing.
REALITY: Clinton bravely named a day of the week, then brushed it aside. She said POTUS was “very clear” about “unique capabilities” the US would bring to the war, without actually saying what those capabilities were beyond crashing an F-15 into a village. Which is to say, the president wasn’t very clear, which is why he had to defend his decision in (of all places!) El Salvador and we still don’t really understand the full role of the US or who, eventually, will lead the jumbled alliance doing the fighting.
QUESTION: So it might go into next week?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think we’re making real progress, so I think that it will be days, and the days, I hope, will be sooner instead of later.
REALITY: Tough follow-up! Easily deflected with the meaningless “real progress,” the hope-is-a-plan timeline of “days,” which are in the middle of the Venn diagram of “sooner” colliding with “later.”
QUESTION: Sounds as if you don’t think it will be next week. You might even think this weekend?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think it’s moving well. From our assessment – and we do a call every day to check in, plus during the day getting updates – the work that the United States and our allies have been doing to take out the air defense systems; to clear the field to enable a no-fly zone to be effectively implemented; to help level the playing field, because there have also been strikes on some of the other assets that the Qadhafi forces have, will enable the United States to do what we said we would do, which is to fulfill this initial phase and then to transition to the no-fly zone and the work that will be led by our partners.
REALITY: Well, at least State calls everyday. I wonder if they reverse charges to put it on AFRICOM’s bill. Maybe AFRICOM has a party line in Stuttgart with European Command. She begins by mentioning the worthless (NFZ) to concentrate on what’s really going on (“strikes on some of the other assets that the Qadhafi forces have”). But why not just say, “We’re going to use attrition and we don’t know when his forces will be degraded to the point that we can coerce the conduct we want” and be done with it?
QUESTION: Will it be NATO?
SECRETARY CLINTON: That is still being worked out, I mean, because we do have a broad international participation. And as we speak in NATO headquarters in Brussels, they’re working on the planning for the no-fly zone, for the arms embargo because everyone believes that having NATO assets and coordinating mechanisms behind what we’re doing makes a lot of sense.
REALITY: Translated, that means “we have no clue who is going to lead this. Partly, it’s all about giving credit to some nation and its generals. Hey, I correctly identified where NATO is headquartered, so that should count for something. And when I say that ‘everyone believes having NATO assets and coordinating mechanisms,’ I mean everyone but Italy, Germany and Turkey, and probably a few other liaisons in Brussels.’”
QUESTION: So it might be something outside NATO but with NATO assets and coordination?
SECRETARY CLINTON: That is also being looked at, but NATO will be definitely involved, because we do have a lot of NATO members who are committed to this process, and they want to see command and control that is organized, but we also are integrating others from outside of NATO. But I’m very relaxed about it, Diane. I think it is – it’s proceeding, it’s moving forward in the right direction, and we will have what we need in the next few days.
REALITY: It’s good that you’re so “very relaxed about it.” As for the “next few days,” I thought you said we were transitioning in the next few days? Or weeks? Or “sooner” instead of “later” or blah blah blah. I wish everyone could be so relaxed about leadership during times of war. Apparently, the attacks on Libya are like my Roomba — flick a switch and it moves in the “right direction” even when none of the adults bothers to watch it.
QUESTION: Muammar Qadhafi – will this intervention be a success if he’s still in power?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think we have to separate the two sides of the equation, if you will. The United Nations Security Council resolution was very broad but explicit about what was legally authorized by the international community. And we are a hundred percent committed to enforcing it and helping others enforce it. There is nothing in there about getting rid of anybody. It is about protecting civilians, providing humanitarian assistance, but also enabling nations to use whatever means necessary in order to bring that about. There are many aspects to what the international community is doing to put a lot of pressure on Qadhafi and those around him. So it does –
REALITY: How can the UNSCR be both overly broad AND explicit? You haven’t even defined what our foreign policy goals are, much less helping others to “enforce” them. What does “protecting civilians” mean? What level of force will be used to do so? Is putting a Hellfire in Gaddafi’s rump part of that mission of “protecting the people he’s trying to exterminate?” Humanitarian assistance to whom? The rebels? You know, the chaps who beat with knives and clubs impoverished African workers trying to escape Libya? Or all the dispossessed in the dictator’s Libya? You just said that the legal authorizations were “explicit” and then you trot out “whatever means necessary?” Well, obviously not everything is necessary. Would a multi-generational occupation of Tripoli be part of that, like it was in the Balkans? How are we prioritizing these uses of force? Does Afghanistan still come first?
QUESTION: Are you saying you’re confident the end result will be that he’s out, whether it’s under the NATO –
SECRETARY CLINTON: No, it’s – no, I don’t want to make any predictions because we’re taking this one step at time. I mean, I don’t want to jump beyond where we are right now. We are implementing the UN Security Council resolution. We are establishing the no-fly zone, which everybody was calling for, from the United States Senate to the Arab League – please do a no-fly zone, get UN Security Council support to do it. And that is what we are doing. Now obviously, if we want to see a stable, peaceful, hopefully someday democratic Libya, it is highly unlikely that can be accomplished if he stays in power as he is.
REALITY: Good gravy. Crash Davis gave the same advice to Nuke Laloosh — 1) We gotta play ‘em one day at a time.
2) I’m just happy to be here. Hope I can help the ballclub.
3) I just want to give it my best shot, and the good Lord willing, things will work out.
And if the Senate and the Arab League — that meaningless chatting circle of old grumps — were begging Hillary to “please do a no-fly zone,” then why not ask that very Senate to declare war on Libya? I mean, it’s a slam dunk, right? They were begging for you to bomb Libya!
QUESTION: But at this moment, he is pummeling Misrata, the rebels in Misrata. Are we going to go the extra step if air power alone – if prevention of air power alone is not enough, are we going the extra step? Are we going to let him go ahead?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, the United States has been clear from the beginning – President Obama has stated numerous times we’re going to do what we said we would do. We’re not telling others what they can or cannot do, but we have a limited, discrete mission that we are going to fulfill. And that includes making sure that all of our partners, both European, Canadian, Arab, the Turks, everybody is involved in making sure that we meet the obligations of the Security Council.
REALITY: But we haven’t said what we would do! In fact, you just had the opportunity to say, and you blathered vague inanities! And what about all the “Arab” and “Turk” and “European” critics of US involvement in this? They’re now “making sure” that we’re doing what they want? Come on! Regardless, Misurata loves company…
OK, I’m agnostic about the latest version of El Dorado Canyon. I could make some cogent points about how the utility of force might be applied to Libya in order to prevent floods of refugees spilling into Europe and reeling neighbors Algeria and Egypt; that if Gaddafi turned uber-murderous we might been prodded to action anyway by the Genocide Convention to which we’re bound by treaty; and that without some dog in the fight we won’t have much control over the outcome.
But at the same time, our leaders — both military and civilian — owe this democracy a frank, adult conversation about what our goals in Libya realistically should be.
They need to describe how the operational arts can be linked to strategy to achieve them. And they probably should list some of the risks that we face going forward.
They could detail some of the people in Cyrenaica we’re now supporting (including former Gaddafi crony Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, his former justice minister and now putative boss of the National Transitional Council; Mohammed Busidra and other Islamists and sheiks and, for all we know, an increasing number of foreign fighters we formerly faced in Iraq and Afghanistan).
They might want to mention some of the loose tribal sediments upon which the insurgency rests, and how even in an increasingly globalizing world these shifting allegiances could matter in the conflict.
Adults in a democracy deserve that.
Or, as Crash Davis put it, “Relax. Alright, don’t try to strike everybody out. Strike outs are boring, besides that, they’re facist. Throw some ground balls — it’s more democratic. So relax, let’s have fun OK? It’s fun goddamnit!”
Toss us a few grounders, Hillary. Quit nibbling the corner of the strike zone. Let us put a couple of balls in play (no, impish wags, you’re not allowed to say that it’s a line her husband might have used).
Full disclosure: I’ve interviewed HRC and she was smart, articulate and knew a great deal about military strategy. I came away convinced that she is one of the finest minds of her generation, so if this blog entry seems harsh it’s coming from a place of sincere respect.
I just think that respect goes both ways. She had an opportunity to talk to the American people. And she didn’t.