Saturday, March 19, 2011
Operation Odyssey Dawn: My Take on It
I think this take from Richard Engel pretty well sums up some of the practical facts regarding the situation.
My particular hope for the protests that had been breaking out all over the Middle East was that it would be more completely a regional matter that did not involve US participation at all. My reason for that is that I don't think the US government is particularly well-respected in the Middle East generally, and that US involvement might give a bad propaganda angle to the framing of events: "The rebels are 'backed by the imperialist Americans'." And I do subscribe to the comments that Colin Powell made very early in the talks that led up to the Iraq debacle--"You break it, you bought it." If the US were to become involved, our unique size, the degree and amount of military and financial involvement the US brings, pretty much makes us either the heroes or the villians for any success or failure-- Uncle Sam just isn't "Mr. In-Between."
In light of the long, painful experiences the US has had in Afghanistan and particularly Iraq, or going back to Vietnam, I would say there is a very meaningful argument to be made against global adventurism even in the case of interventionism in a humanitarian mission. There is, in liberal and libertarian criticisms of the use of force, a certain logic that nothing wagered isn't nothing gained--it's nothing lost. In contemplation of the very real loss of lives and treasure involved in any military exercise, this is a realistic argument, not to be lightly dismissed, and a frame of looking at the revolt in Libya that I shared--it simply was not our business to insert ourselves into the domestic business of a sovereign nation--
And yet--Gaddafi. Moamar Gaddafi has labored to make himself an exception through his actions. I've tried, but failed, to be a pacifist. Even though I will agree that the path of peaceful resistance is the best choice in 99 out of 100 situations, there's always got to be that one place where action prevents a greater harm--and I have some thought that this is the intention of this action. It strikes me as persuasive that some of the voices within the US who've backed this use of force are Secretary of State Clinton, Samantha Powers, and Susan Rice. I have a lot of respect for these people, and for their voices on the topic of the use of power for the acheivement of justice. And yet--
Another, and less-discussed drawback of the US-style of support is the tactical nature of it--our part of the bargain is to provide air, not ground, support. Creating a NFZ (No-Fly Zone) is certainly going to curtail Gaddafi's retaliation against the rebels, but not end it. Depending upon his degree of murderousness, he can resort to ground attacks, house-to-house brutality, or even (I wouldn't doubt he has the capability) chemical warfare. I can suspect this of him based on previous action. If any of these tactics are employed--our air support really won't do shit. Also, that kind of warfare is pretty damn ugly and demoralizing, and that is a real problem.
Call it the Schroedingers' War Paradox: There is no way to test the resolve of any people regarding a siege scenario until they are in it. That's why it's tactically paramount to bring the fight to Tripoli, instead of letting Benghazi get pinned down by ground forces--meaning there has to be real committment to snuffing Gaddafi and his supporters--you know, like the civilian supporters who are forming a "human shield" around their peerless leader right now--
They stopped being civilians when they started being stupid for a dictator. That's war. That's what I hate about it. That men and women and children would be taking real hellfire on earth for supporting "the devil they know". Gaddafi is making the wager we won't....we wouldn't dare. He's crazy enough to risk them, but we?
Air support is the wrong weapon. Too much likelihood of killing civilians. It is true that the public support is always clearer for a short, clean, surgical little war, but the right tactic might be to really circle Tripoli and make Gaddafi's supporters enjoy a siege, wondering every day just what the combination of UN/US folks really would and would not do. And what exactly Gaddafi is doing for them. It functions psychologically, it kills fewer, it leaves infrastructure intact. It enables the rebels to rally and expand their own sphere so that they are ready to take over when the schmucks at the top eventually bolt. It's not what we're good at, and it's unlikely it's what will actually be done. I wonder what we really will do.
I worry. (And I really wish my brain did not play out scenarios like this.)
(I'm not in any way affiliated with anyting military in real life, but I'll have you know I play a mean game of Risk.)