Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Is this our fight?

As all of you have seen, the Libyan Civil War is kicking in to high gear.  Opponents of the Qaddafi regime have been successful in gaining control of a large chunk of the country, and have been pushing towards Tripoli.  Government forces have used armor and air power to push them back, apparently with some success.  Those of you who have learned about the Rommel/Montgomery campaigns in this area probably already know that unopposed air strikes in this terrain are extremely effective.

Leaders of the E.U. and the United States have expressed dismay that a dictator such as Qaddafi would use all the tools available to him to stay in power, and are considering what they can do to settle the problem:

The United States and its NATO allies edged closer Monday to formulating a military response to the escalating violence in Libya as the alliance boosted surveillance flights over the country and the Obama administration signaled it might be willing to help arm Qaddafi's opponents. Europe, meanwhile, kick-started international efforts to impose a no-fly zone.
American defense officials have made it clear in recent days that imposing a no-fly zone over Libya would start with attacks against the Libyan Air Force and its supporting air defense network.  That means casualties on the ground and air for the Libyans, and probably a few on the attacking side as well.   The rebel forces have no air force to speak of, so crippling the Libyan Air Force means we take the side of the rebels.  That's a line that I'm not willing to cross, even though I have a lot of bones to grind with Qaddafi.

Aside from the usual concerns a nation should have when getting involved in another nation's civil war, we have to ask ourselves, what's in it for us?

In a completely unselfish sense, we could rationalize involvement in this conflict by saying we're doing it to prevent the wholesale slaughter of non-combatants by the Libyan Air Force.  I don't believe that the LAF has a large supply of precision munitions, so most of their air strikes are probably done using unguided rockets and bombs, which against urban targets means a lot of collateral damage.

But if we look at this with the jaundiced eye of a country that has spent the past two generations trying to get the rest of the world to play nice and has been kicked in the shins by pretty much everyone involved, is that really a good reason to commit an act of war that commits us to one side of an internal Libyan conflict?

There are a few outcomes I can see here:

We impose a no-fly zone over Libya, and even with that aid, rebel forces continue to lose.  Gaddafi didn't keep power for 41 years without making sure he had the resources to fight this fight.  Do we then use our air power to support the rebels?  Do we provide them with material support such as weapons, medicine, and food?  Do we put boots on the ground to protect the rebel strongholds, ala Bosnia?

We impose a no-fly zone over Libya, and the rebels prevail.  Anyone want to bet on how quickly American forces go from liberators and allies to imperialistic targets for every two-bit wacko in Libya with a 1970's era Lada, a can of diesel fuel, and a bag of fertilizer?

We do nothing, and Gaddafi wins.  Status quo ante bellum.  He's crazy, but he's a stable kind of crazy as long as you don't kick him too much. 

We do nothing, and the rebels win.  We didn't lift a finger to help them, and they might not like us because of that.  But they didn't like us before the war and they probably don't like us now, so no change there.

What I'm getting at is that I don't believe we have a dog in this fight.  If I were president or the leadership of the EU, I'd pick "Do nothing and see what happens" as the best course of action.  This is a civil war between two groups who want to control a relatively oil rich part of North Africa.  No-one is invading Europe or North America out of Libya anytime soon.

Here's my suggestion for what should happen in Libya:

  • Establish well run and guarded refugee camps in Egypt and other bordering countries.  All the women, children, and old people who want to leave are to be escorted out of the country and provided for by the UN and any NGO's that want to help.  Military age men need not apply.  We're not creating a base camp in neutral territory for an insurgency here.  
  • We do our best to keep more weapons and ammunition from getting into Libya, but we do nothing to stop the forces in Libya from fighting.  If they want to fight until there's only one man standing alone in the desert, so be it.  
  • After the shooting stops, coordinate international efforts to rebuild Libya and re-settle the non-combatants, regardless of who won. 
  • Let the rest of OPEC figure out where the extra oil can come from while Libya goes on and off the market.  Make it quite clear to them that if the price of oil stays where it is, lots of bad things are going to happen to both our economies and their ability to buy off the unhappy hordes in their own countries.

Basically, take care of the helpless, do nothing to interfere with the war itself, and help the non-combatants pick up the pieces afterwards.  We get to brand ourselves as the helpers of the down trodden, and we commit no acts of war.

Update - Donald Sensing beat me to it.  

1 comment:

KurtP said...

I can't remember where I read it, but someone mentioned an AVG type,,,intervention.

Or at least offer the rebels planes, since I'm sure there are some ex-AF pilots down there. They don't even have to be jets. Prop planes would probably be better than jets in the strafing and ground support roles they'd play anyhow.
trainer are pretty rugged and I'm sure would take a pair of MA DEUCEs somewhere.

Upside, we give them air support for little investment and they may remember us fondly.

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