Recently, military men and politicians have been talking about “mission creep” in Libya. There is a certain inevitability about conflict escalation, yet in spite of tons of historical evidence, politicians ignore the phenomenon – at their peril. Mission Creep occurs when an invading power has only ONE overriding objective. It begins immediately after it has taken that first stride towards its military goal.
That first step is followed by a series of incremental shuffles which are driven by the failure to secure an early result. In Libya, warnings to Gaddafi were superseded by a “no-fly” zone, then bombing, then military advisors, then the deployment of helicopters, then the supply of arms to the rebels. As soon as the first NATO helicopter is shot-down and Gaddafi holds a few NATO hostages, the next step will be justified. “The situation has changed” reasoning will be deployed.
A single focus on just ONE end-game results in the protagonist doing anything to achieve his ambition because politico-military “tunnel vision” kicks-in. Western politicians believe that they have painted Gaddafi into a corner but in having done so, their inflexibility has meant that they have done exactly the same to themselves.
NATO views the Libyan end-game in very simple terms – a dead Gaddafi. Some may say that there’s nothing wrong with that very laudable ambition but there are alternatives. There are always alternatives.
Meanwhile, Gaddafi’s focus is equally intense – to stay alive. The “big picture”, i.e Libya’s future is largely ignored because there is a dictator to be killed.
President Obama has been advised by his own people to “back off” in order to allow minnows such as the United Kingdom and France take the lead in the Libyan “mission”. Why? Obama is essentially a man of peace and he knows that there are alternative end-games in Libya but it is not politically expedient for him to explore the other options. His and the American government’s stance is further driven by public opinion and the rather flaky state of the US economy as well as the relative unimportance of Libya as a strategic jumping-off point.
Nevertheless, cigar-chomping generals are in the driving seat – and once they have a taste of blood, they are notoriously difficult to control. They do NOT understand the concept of ”reverse gear”.
European jets and helicopters are busy dropping explosives over Libya with an abnormal concentration having been dropped on Tripoli – specifically in the vicinity of Gaddafi’s compound – all in the name of peace and protection of civilians.
Their lack of success and increasing frustration caused by the failure of their “Kill Gaddafi” objective will create battlefield escalation and a constant reinterpretation of UN Resolution 1973. That means that the military invasion of Libya is a forgone conclusion. It is merely a matter of “when” and not “if”.