“War is not an independent phenomenon, but the continuation of politics by different means.” — Karl Von Clausewitz.
On March 13 the AP reported: Moammar Qaddafi's forces swept rebels from a key oil town Sunday with waves of strikes from warships, tanks and warplanes, closing on the opposition-held eastern half of Libya as insurgents pleaded for a U.N.-imposed no-fly zone.
Qaddafi's troops have been emboldened by a string of victories in the struggle for Libya's main coastal highway but their supply lines are stretched and their dependence on artillery, airstrikes and naval attacks makes it hard for them to swiftly consolidate control of territory, particularly at night.
The insurgents claimed they moved back into the strategic town of Brega after dusk in a fast-moving battle with a constantly shifting front line, destroying armored vehicles and capturing dozens of fighters from Qaddafi's elite Khamis Brigade.
The United States sent U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton to meet with rebel leaders in Paris on Monday as world powers consider trying to ground Qaddafi's air force.
Stratfor reported on March 10; The French government said on March 10 that it would recognize the Libyan National Transitional Council as the sole representative of the Libyan people. It will soon move its ambassador to Benghazi from Tripoli. This comes as French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he would call for airstrikes against Libyan forces at the March 11 EU Council meeting.
France has been one of the most vociferous supporters of a no-fly zone in Libya. However, the issue for French involvement is the capacity of Paris to enforce such a zone on its own. The French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle is the only aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea at the moment. However, its (around) 35 aircraft alone would be insufficient to set up the initial zone. Therefore, the question is: To what extent can France enforce the zone on its own?
The logic for the call to an intervention is largely a domestic one for Paris. Initially, France took a lot of criticism for how it responded to the wave of protests in Tunisia and Egypt. France’s then-Foreign Minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, took a lot of criticism not only for vacationing in Tunisia by flying in a private jet of a businessman close to the regime, but also for offering the regime help from French security forces in repressing its protesters three days before the Tunisian president fled the country. Sarkozy ultimately had to replace Alliot-Marie with veteran Alain Juppe. The replacement was a considerable embarrassment for Sarkozy and for the French government. Therefore, one aspect of the logic for France’s support of a no-fly zone is the compensatory for the earlier lack of clarity on French policy toward change in the Middle East.
Another reason for the support of the no-fly zone is, of course, the French role in EU affairs. With Germany’s rising clout in economic and political policy of the Eurozone and the wider European Union, Paris wants to maintain its leadership in foreign affairs and any military initiatives of the Europeans. Therefore, leadership on this issue is very important for Paris. Furthermore, what aids Paris in its diplomatic push for a no-fly zone is an actual lack of interest in Libya.
That is not to say France has no interest in the country; it does import 10 percent of its oil from Libya. However, it has nowhere near the level of interest in Libya as its Mediterranean neighbor, Italy, has, which imports about 20-25 percent of its oil from the North African state. Therefore, France has less of a need to hedge its policy toward the Gadhafi regime. It can be far more forceful in supporting an intervention because it is not as worried as Italy about its energy assets and investments in Libya
In evaluating such calls, it is useful to remember that in war, Murphy’s Law always lurks. What can go wrong will go wrong, in Libya as in Iraq or Afghanistan.
It has been pointed out that a no-fly zone is not an antiseptic act. In order to protect the aircraft enforcing the no-fly zone, one must begin by suppressing enemy air defenses. This in turn poses an intelligence problem. Precisely what are Libyan air defenses and where are they located? It is possible to assert that Libya has no effective air defenses and that an SEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses) attack is therefore unnecessary. But that makes assumptions that cannot be demonstrated without testing, and the test is dangerous. At the same time, collecting definitive intelligence on air defenses is not as easy as it might appear — particularly as the opposition and thieves alike have managed to capture heavy weapons and armored vehicles, meaning that air defense assets are on the move and under uncertain control.
Therefore, a no-fly zone would begin with airstrikes on known air defense sites. But it would likely continue with sustained patrols by SEAD aircraft armed with anti-radiation missiles poised to rapidly confront any subsequent threat that pops up. Keeping those aircraft on station for an extended period of time would be necessary, along with an unknown number of strikes. It is uncertain where the radars and missiles are located, and those airstrikes would not be without error. When search radars and especially targeting radars are turned on, the response must be instantaneous, while the radar is radiating (and therefore vulnerable) and before it can engage. That means there will be no opportunity to determine whether the sites are located in residential areas or close to public facilities such as schools or hospitals.
Previous regimes, hoping to garner international support, have deliberately placed their systems near such facilities to force what the international media would consider an atrocity. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi does not seem like someone who would hesitate to cause civilian casualties for political advantage. Thus, the imposition of a no-fly zone could rapidly deteriorate into condemnations for killing civilians of those enforcing the zone ostensibly for humanitarian purposes. Indeed, attacks on air defenses could cause substantial casualties, turning a humanitarian action into one of considerable consequence in both humanitarian and political terms.
The more important question is what exactly a no-fly zone would achieve. Certainly, it would ground Gadhafi’s air force, but it would not come close to ending the fighting nor erode Gadhafi’s other substantial advantages. His forces appear to be better organized and trained than his opponents, who are politically divided and far less organized. Not long ago, Gadhafi largely was written off, but he has more than held his own — and he has held his own through the employment of ground combat forces. What remains of his air force has been used for limited harassment, so the imposition of a no-fly zone would not change the military situation on the ground. Even with a no-fly zone, Gadhafi would still be difficult for the rebels to defeat, and Gadhafi might still defeat the rebels.
The attractiveness of the no-fly zone in Iraq was that it provided the political illusion that steps were being taken, without creating substantial risks, or for that matter, actually doing substantial damage to Saddam Hussein’s control over Iraq. The no-fly zone remained in place for about 12 years without forcing change in Saddam’s policies, let alone regime change. The same is likely to be true in Libya. The no-fly zone is a low-risk action with little ability to change the military reality that creates an impression of decisive action. It does, as we argue, have a substantial downside, in that it entails costs and risks — including a high likelihood of at least some civilian casualties — without clear benefit or meaningful impact. The magnitude of the potential civilian toll is unknown, but its likelihood, oddly, is not in the hands of those imposing the no-fly zone, but in the hands of Gadhafi. Add to this human error and other failures inherent in war, and the outcome becomes unclear.
As you can see from the above reports from the AP and Stratfor the situation in Libya is a mess. In fact it is such a mess that Madame Hillary Clinton fired her deputy press spokesman, P.J. Crowley, after he had given mixed messages regarding events in Egypt and Libya.
Crowley resigned Sunday after also recently angering the White House for comments that he made during the height of the Egyptian crisis that forced President Hosni Mubarak to step down.
Neither the EU nor Obama know what to do about Libya. The French want a no-fly zone, the Italians are clueless, the Germans are mute, Obama is more concerned with the Wisconsin battle against the public sector unions and the Saudis want us to bomb Qaddafi because they don’t like him and the “rebels” are reported to be more in line with their Islamic philosophy.
We haven’t the slightest idea who the “rebels” are and what they represent. Are they connected to the Muslim Brotherhood or Al-Qaida? Or are they truly a group of untrained, poorly armed and disorganized Libyans wanting a free and democratic Libya? We really don’t know.
All we know is what is coming from incomplete and biased news reports. We don’t like Qaddafi so our tendency is to side with the “rebels.” This is a civil war and no matter which side we support we will pick the wrong one. This is the way civil wars go. This is what happened in Egypt. This is what is happening in Afghanistan.
I recall the days of the Bosnian-Serbian-Croatian conflict (1992-1995) when the EU and UN diplomats were shuttling back and forth between Sarajevo, Belgrade and Dubrovnik trying to stop the conflict and ethnic cleansing by all sides. They all hated each other and their passions were greater than their self-interest. I can recall having a conversation with a few of my British colleagues in Swansea, Wales during the height the conflict. They asked what I thought should be done to stop the killing. My response was: “We should build a fence around the place and let them fight it out. No one was going to abolish hundreds of years of ethnic hatred. The EU and UN were powerless to stop this conflict, as they were so anti-war they could not credibly back up their peace initiatives with real force. Only we could and then we would incur the wrath of the western world. Both the EU and UN were feckless” They did not seem to like my response, but I turned out to be correct.
It finally took a volley of cruise missiles launched by Bill Clinton and an intervention by NATO to bring the warring factions to a peace table in Dayton, Ohio. Everyone applauded and claimed peace had come to the former Yugoslavia. Four years years later we were dropping tons of bombs on Belgrade to prevent the Serbs from killing all of the Muslims in Kosovo.
After 9/11 these very same Muslims, we supposedly saved in Bosnia and Kosovo, danced in the streets as they saw the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapse, the Pentagon burn and 3,000 Americans die. This is what the reward for intervention in civil wars brings. Afghanistan is turning the same direction.
Obama has seemed almost Shakespearean in his public musings about whether to be or not to be. In general, from the very beginning of the unrest in Tunisia, the United States has appeared erratic, inconsistent, and contradictory, often pontificating and talking loudly while carrying a tiny stick. It also apparently has no clue that Iran, Libya, and Syria are different sorts of autocracies from a dictatorial Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, or the Gulf states.
We should not take too seriously the sudden European chest-thumping about jumping in to support Libya. The British government has a tawdry record of cynicism in its money-making diplomacy (BP) with Qaddafi the last few years. The Italians cozied up to him for gas and oil, and the French and Germans will sell anything to anyone at any time. No European government will back up any of their ongoing humanitarian rhetoric with force; they will launch no Euro air sorties from Spain, southern France, Malta, Italy, or Crete to stop Qaddafi’s use of airspace to put down the rebels.
After all, the present U.S. policy of non-interference is exactly the sort of soft-power contemplation that the Europeans for the last decade have clamored for in an American administration. Secretary Clinton’s and President Obama’s emphases on the primacy of the U.N., multilateral consensus, U.S. deference to the Arab League, the EU, NATO, etc., is European to the core. Chamberlain squared.
All this is not to deny that Sarkozy et al. are shrewd. They hope to get out in front of the U.S. (and have) in terms of humanitarian concern for the Libyan rebels, without any concern for themselves: If we do nothing, they, not us, appear the custodians of Western values; if we do act, even better for them — France and Britain finally shamed the U.S. into action. Or, to put it another way, we take the risks, incur the costs and ill-will, and yet appear to be reacting to a more moral Europe’s far earlier and stronger hectoring.