U.S. Military Has Questions About Libya Mission
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Mr. Ricks, welcome back to the program.
TOM RICKS: Thank you.
INSKEEP: What are you hearing from your military friends?
RICKS: A lot of concern, a lot of worry, a lot of questions about what's the mission here, how long does it last, and what's the exit strategy.
INSKEEP: And let's be clear here: The military is going to follow whatever orders they're giving. But these are people who think, and think about strategy, and think about putting their own troops in harm's way. And you're saying they're worried about what they're doing.
RICKS: So if the military's unhappy with the mission, it can start fiddling with it without any discussion with outside the military. And that can be worrisome, because it can start going off in different directions.
INSKEEP: Okay, in exactly what way are the people you're talking to unhappy, then?
RICKS: It's a very different sort of game. And I think the military is also, just culturally, having a hard time adjusting to it.
INSKEEP: Because you're suggesting that the military would be more comfortable with what was once called the Powell Doctrine. If you're going to go after a country, go after them with overwhelming force, destroy them and get on with things. And we have a situation here where, as we've heard elsewhere in the program from former Ambassador John Negroponte, the Obama administration is going along with this coalition, going with consensus - which is a no-fly zone - even as they try to pursue this deeper political goal of eventually getting rid of Gadhafi. That ambiguity makes soldiers uncomfortable, you're saying.
RICKS: Very uncomfortable. And also, the consensus changes every day. Now, I actually think that's a realistic approach. The nature of war is that things change when you begin war, which is what we're in: a small war now. I also think that all the talk I'm hearing from the military of what's the exit strategy is simply a false question. I have never seen an exit strategy plan that works. I think it's actually a false concept.
INSKEEP: You mean it's too early to figure out how we get out of this.
RICKS: Yeah. You can figure out what your goals are, what you're trying to do, and I think that's good. But actually saying: Here's what we're going to do, and then here's how we're going to get out - no, that's not going to happen. Never has, never will.
INSKEEP: Here's a tough question, a dicey question that I need you to answer and 20 seconds or so, Tom: When military officers speak of President Obama and his leadership, do they speak with confidence?
RICKS: No. They speak with puzzlement.
INSKEEP: What do you mean?
RICKS: They're really not quite sure of this guy. He doesn't seem that comfortable talking with the military. They're not sure what sort of military advice he's getting. They're kind of worried by the handling of Afghanistan. So there's a general sort of puzzlement here.
INSKEEP: And that's different from the way that they viewed president Bush.
RICKS: Yeah, at least in the outset. I think by the end of the Iraq War, they were deeply concerned by Bush because they realized that he was peddling a false clarity...
RICKS: ...and they were swearing off the moonshine at that point.
INSKEEP: Okay. Thanks very much. Tom Ricks, good to talk with you once again, right here on MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.
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