March 23rd, 2011
09:00 AM ET

Letters to the President: #793 'The ever changing battlefield'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: The troubles in Libya continue, as do my letters to the White House.

Dear Mr. President,

I read the news of that U.S. fighter jet going down over Libya, and I was simultaneously relieved and concerned; the former because the crew escaped safely, the latter because it suddenly felt as if our brief, arm’s-length involvement could become a lot more than just that.

That's the whole problem with wars, of course: They can be dreadfully complicated and no matter what you intend at the start, you may soon find yourself in wildly different circumstances. For example, if the Libyan Army had captured that downed crew, what would our response have been? A quick rescue? Alright, but what if that failed...then what?

I understand that this is the nature of war, and often even in the most surgical strikes, events can spin off in unexpected directions. Despite the massive superiority of our military to any other force on Earth, we ought not ever deceive ourselves into thinking we are untouchable. The best boxer can be laid out by the worst if the right punch comes through at the wrong moment.

I'm not saying any of this to discourage you. Making the decision to pursue this course in Libya was, I am sure, difficult. You are taking heat from a variety of fronts over it, and I won't join in the fray either for or against.

All I am saying is that the crash of this jet, even though it was simply a mechanical failure, is a cautionary tale for any president. Wars are unpredictable. They are messy. They can seem straightforward and promising at the first shot, and can be hopelessly confused and filled with uncertainty by the second shot. Success depends on daily reassessments of the battlefield, your resources, your enemy, and your goals.

Chess players are known now and then to make disastrous moves because of false assumptions; they believe a strategic element that was in play two moves ago is still alive, or they misunderstand when an exchange of pieces will end, or sometimes they even imagine a piece is still on the board when that knight or rook or bishop was captured some time ago.

Each day as this battle unfolds you, like a grandmaster, must find a way to look at the field with fresh eyes and ask yourself what is the same, what is different, and how your plan must be adjusted so that the overall effort comes to fruition and does not itself go down in flames.

In case I haven't mentioned it, I am off this week. But I have my cell on all the time, so of course you can always call if you feel like it. As an aside, while you were worrying about Libya this afternoon, I was at the music store playing some great guitars! Thinking about adding a Gretsch to my collection. Thoughts on that?


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Amy

    Even with the serious situations in the world, we must still have moments of peace, guitars, dogs, meals with family, etc, to realize fully what we have and what could be gone instantly. The fragments of life become more important.

    March 23, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  2. Ronnie

    I guess I'm like the rest of the "women" who were concerned with the president's decision re Libya. I kept remembering Ghadaffi's assertion that he would kill every member of the opposition – telling all who would hear that they were a bunch of terrorists, etc. We know he has no sense of decency – from prior behavior – and yet the president refuses to go to the extremes that Gingrich has called for – regime change. He rather chose in a calibrated manner that has Kucinich calling for his impeachment.
    I am totally sick of both of these politicians..they are BOTH reactionaries.

    March 23, 2011 at 1:06 pm |