I wonder if they have even factored into the administration's thinking. Let's look at the bright side. If this is all over within days rather than weeks, as Obama apparently believes, and Qaddafi leaves the country, and the rebels take Tripoli, then it will be a major feather in Obama's cap, a defeat of a murderous madman, and a new paradigm in coalition warfare, in which other countries take the lead, and a statement of America's support for those seeking freedom in a crazed, tribal and totalitarian state.
But the downsides are far more worrying. The reason this is worth considering is because without solid domestic support, wars can unravel very quickly. But this war is actively opposed by huge majorities already:
65 percent oppose the U.S. military getting involved in Libya. Opposition cuts across party lines. Seven in 10 Democrats (70 percent) and independents (70 percent) oppose it, as do 59 percent of Republicans.
Going to war with only 25 percent public support, with no Congressional buy-in, and opposition from the defense secretary is, to my mind, a form of madness. Even the war-hungry neocons will never give Obama any credit; they will insist, even if this succeeds, that Obama should have gone in earlier; and they will mock him for following the lead of the French. The more opportunistic Republicans will exploit every failure and misstep in the war, and ask questions similar to my own. Heritage has already gone there.
Among the Democrats, there may be a faction that is thrilled with this kind of humanitarian intervention and believes in it. But one also suspects that a war launched so suddenly, without any consultation, and with no clear end-game will alienate many of those who voted for Obama precisely because he promised to end the pattern of what he once called "dumb wars," and because he promised that he would start no new wars without Congressional approval.
Moreover, the fact that this is clearly the Clintons' war – egged on by Bill, pushed through by Hillary – could exacerbate tensions between the two primary rivals. After all, why did Democrats vote for Obama over Clinton? In part because they specifically wanted less war, not more; and Clinton has never seen a war she didn't support. Her consistency from Iraq to Libya places her closer to McCain than Obama. Things are at a very early stage as the bombing begins, and these are provisional worries. But unless something miraculous happens quickly, I see this as a lose-lose proposition for the president.
And the initial optics are terrible. A president solemnly sends America's troops into action and then spirits off to Brazil to talk about jobs. How often does a president announce a war at 2 pm so he can catch a flight out of the country? And as public doubts and fears multiply, the president will be in a foreign country thousands of miles away. This is recklessness on a Bush-Cheney level.
(Photo: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives before a crisis summit on Libya at Elysee Palace on March 19, 2011 in Paris, France. Britain and France took the lead in plans to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya on Friday, sending British warplanes to the Mediterranean and announcing a crisis summit in Paris with the U.N. and Arab allies. By Franck Prevel/Getty Images)