Winning Ugly in Libya

What the United States Should Learn From Its War in Kosovo

Courtesy Reuters

The Obama administration has come under fire for its slowness in responding to the Libyan crisis, its apparent unenthusiastic stance once it did get involved, and its desire to hand off the mission to Europeans as quickly as possible. The administration has also been criticized for failing to involve Congress in the decision-making leading up to the military operation and for its apparent failure to develop a clear road map for what to do next.

Most of these criticisms have a kernel of truth -- indeed, although the mission has been effective in averting a humanitarian debacle so far, it has been ugly in some ways. But as Ivo Daalder, now the U.S. ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and I argued about the Kosovo war a dozen years ago in our book, Winning Ugly: NATO's War to Save Kosovo, an ugly operation is not the same as a failed operation. In fact, even a mission that starts off badly can turn around if policymakers start to give thought to the full range of outcomes that will be acceptable and what it will cost to achieve them. It is far too early to say for certain that Operation Odyssey Dawn will turn out as well as the 1999 war designed to stop Slobodan Milosevic's violence against ethnic Albanians in what was then the Serbian province of Kosovo. Much can still go wrong, as it did in Kosovo. But on balance, this operation is off to a far better start than that one.

In the run-up to the Kosovo war, there was less disagreement among NATO members about getting involved, although Greece was more opposed to war then than Turkey is today. Still, given Russia's opposition to using any force against its long-standing ally in Kosovo, NATO had to launch its operation without a UN Security Council resolution, which only complicated the mission at the end, when Russia unsuccessfully tried to compete with NATO for control over northern Kosovo in the

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