WASHINGTON - Retired Gen. Montgomery Meigs has it right: The United States could not thumb its nose at the United Nations when it voted that the civilized world had to prevent genocide in Libya.
Meigs is a brilliant thinker who studied at many institutions, including MIT. He has a Ph.D. in history. He is a West Pointer, Purple Heart recipient and former commander of the 2nd Brigade in Desert Storm. He served in Vietnam and Bosnia and commanded NATO's multinational division. His reputation is as a formidable military analyst and strategist. He is the great-great-great-grandnephew of the famous Civil War general, Montgomery C. Meigs.
When many in the military were insisting the U.S. has no national interest in Libya warranting a no-fly zone, Meigs disagreed. He said we could not continue to support the rebels (and democracy for all) and ignore a U.N. resolution calling for multilateral action, especially when it was supported by the Arab League.
As rebels faltered, Meigs said that often happens (Afghanistan), but they eventually get stronger. The transition in Libya is not a worry, he said.
With all our problems, it is incredible we are involved militarily in a fourth Muslim nation (Iraq, Afghanistan, drones in Pakistan and now Libya). We wrongly got into a war in Iraq, which meant that we didn't concentrate on Afghanistan, where al-Qaida was active. As a result, we've been in Iraq and Afghanistan far too long.
In Libya, we had no choice but to act when Moammar Gadhafi announced he was going after the citizens in his own country who wanted political reform. Sadly, the U.N. did not act fast enough in Libya when bombing Gadhafi's airfields might have given the rebels enough of an early boost to have made a big difference.
But even though President Barack Obama, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, made the right decision in standing up for our principles -- leaders should not use their military to slaughter their own people-- it has been painful to watch his mistakes.
In addition to being too slow, Obama failed to consult sufficiently with Congress and now is paying the price by the constant second-guessing from both Republicans and Democrats.
Even while insisting that no American boots will hit Libyan soil, Obama failed to explain immediately and exactly what he wants to accomplish in Libya, what the cost will be and how we will extricate ourselves. If we learned nothing else from being in Iraq for so long, we learned that Colin Powell's advice resonates: Do not use force if you don't have an exit strategy.
Obama failed to explain why we are spending hundreds of millions of dollars in Libya, but avoiding supporting rebels being killed in Bahrain, Yemen -- ground zero for terrorists who hate America -- and Syria. And what happened to all those who agitated for months for war against Iran?
What happens to Obama's credibility if we have to put Special Forces on the ground if there is a long stalemate between Gadhafi's forces and the poorly organized rebels? What if Gadhafi stays in power? How long before the French and the British and the Arab League insist it's time to stop intervening and leave the rebels to their own devices? What about the patent subterfuge that we are not in charge?
Obama says that jamming Libyan communications, intelligence-gathering and "other assets unique to us" will prevail. But how? And what does "prevail" mean in this case? What is our national interest in Libya? How does Obama maintain his credibility?
Why on Earth is the mission in Libya called Operation Odyssey Dawn?
After Obama's ambiguous approach to war in Libya, it's actually surprising that as many as 44 percent of Americans, according to the latest Gallup Poll, say they support the president and 47 percent support the military action in Libya. Almost certainly, those numbers will decline.
Ah, Monty Meigs, what do we do next?
Columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986.