Odyssey Dawn: America’s epic Libyan intervention

With conflict continuing to unfold in Libya, and American involvement also continuing, the question on the minds of many is – just how limited will this limited intervention be?

According to President Obama, in a speech on March 22, it would be very short.

I said at the outset that this was going to be a matter of days and not weeks,” the President said while visiting El Salvador.

But five days later, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, appeared on ABC’s this week where, host Jake Tapper asked,"Do you think we'll be gone [from the Libya operation] by the end of the year – will the mission be over by the end of the year?"

"I don't think anybody knows the answer," Sec. Gates responded.

When NATO took over the majority of command of the mission, they did so with the aim at protecting the civilian population, according to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO Secretary General. The mission has been approved for 90 days with an option to extend.

Some people like to look into the name of the mission, Operation Odyssey Dawn, though those in charge of naming it say it was totally random.

There’s a group of planning officers led by a Lieutenant Colonel that in the early days of planning and looked at a list and decided to call it Odyssey basically because they liked the word odyssey,” said Eric Elliot, with US Africa Command.

Still, some continue to find the title concerning.

It’s sort of an odd combination,” said Hayes Roth, Chief Marketing Officer for Landor Worldwide. “Odyssey implies that we’re on a long journey and dawn means we’re at the beginning of that long journey so in English, that’s a little worrisome.”

And it’s not just the dictionary definition to be concerned about. Think about Homer’s epic, poem The Odyssey.In some ways, it’s a story about people wandering around the Mediterranean for ten years unable to find their way.

But from that book, to the history books, the meaning of a “limited” war has been transformed time and time again.

When President Bush addressed the nation about the impending war in Iraq, he said, “Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force.”

Decisive force came and went but the troops stayed on.

When asked by a reporter how long people should expect the war to last he said, “It will go on until the Regime is gone.”

Sadaam Hussein also went, but still the troops stayed.

And when President Clinton spoke to the nation about the need for U.S. forces to get involved in Kosovo in 1999, he said:

My fellow Americans, today our Armed Forces joined our NATO allies in airstrikes. against Serbian forces responsible for the brutality in Kosovo. We have acted with resolve for several reasons.We act to protect thousands of innocent people in Kosovo from a mounting military offensive. We act to prevent a wider war.”

Just how wide that war got, continues to be debated.

There’s also US involvement in Somalia, which eventually led to the death of 19 Americans. Two black hawk helicopters were also shot down.And the civil war there continues to this day.

So what should the American people expect?

Well if history is any indication, then what is limited is also relative.