Friday, March 18, 2011

Good Luck With All That

Last night, the U.N. Security Council declared war on the government of Mohmar Qaddafi.  Oh, they call it a "no-fly zone", and they try to spread the responsibility around by asking member nations to voluntarily participate.  But if an organized group of sovereign nations decides to bomb the anti-aircraft defenses of another sovereign country and then shoot down any of that countries planes that take off, that's an act of war in my book.

So how's it going to happen?  I suppose whoever decides to enforce this could stage aircraft out of western Egypt, or maybe park a series of aircraft carriers off the coast and patrol the entire country.  Or a couple of airfields in Libya proper could be seized and air operations run out of there. 

There are those who think that using long range missiles and drones to crater airstrips to keep the Libyan Air Force on the ground without having to actually shoot down their planes.  One thing that this strategy misses is that Libya has helicopters which are almost as effective and survivable in ground attack roles as fixed wing aircraft, and can be flown out of just about every square inch of the country.  Libya also has quite a few fixed wing aircraft that are designed specifically to take off and land off on short, unimproved runways, which makes any well-packed road a temporary airstrip.

No, disabling the established airfields in Libya will not keep Qaddafi from using his airpower to continue to pound his opposition.  It doesn't take much to hide an MI-24 in a warehouse or a wadi, then trot it out again once the U.N. air patrol has moved on.  A small fixed wing aircraft can land on a patch of desert, be covered up with netting all day long, then be used during the night to bomb fixed rebel positions.  In order to keep the Libyan Air Force out of the fight, the aircraft and/or crews will need to be eliminated.

So the U.N. has committed to bombing, shooting down, and destroying the armed forces of a sovereign nation so that they cannot be used in an entirely internal civil war. 

Will President Obama park a couple of our already overtasked aircraft carriers off the Libyan coast and start flying interdiction missions?  Or maybe he'll park a couple of fighter wings in the Egyptian desert to patrol Libya and be the target of every Jihadi in the neighborhood who hasn't met his quota for the month.  Then there's the option of occupying air bases in Libya and flying out of there, but I can't see becoming an occupier and target for not just the Jihadi's but also both sides of the civil war. 

Maybe he'll choose to just provide logistical support to those who actually do the shootdowns.  Imagine the pride he'll feel when he's pointing at that during the 2012 elections.  "I cared enough about meddling in the affairs of another country that I sent our fighting men and women to tanker fuel, food, and spare parts to the French and Italians!"

It appears that France and Great Britain may already be gearing up to do the initial strikes in the next few days.  Diplomatic horse trading and cajoling is already underway to get members of the Arab League,who have been screaming for someone to do something about Qaddafi since the first shots were fired, to actually put some skin in the game.  Imagine that, Muslim countries putting the lives of their own young men at risk to maintain security in the Mid-East. What a novel idea.

This is an internal Libyan conflict. There is precisely zero chance, if it's left alone, of it spilling over into neighboring countries.  Qaddafi, while a ruthless dictator, has broken no international norms of warfare by using the armed forces at his disposal, either native or freelance, to defeat an armed uprising in his country.  What are we going to do when Saudi Arabia has to use their F-16's and M-1 tanks to put down an insurrection?  Or the government we continue to prop up in Iraq?  Will we let an unelected international body declare war on them?

We are best served by letting the Libyan rebellion either win by its own merits or lose.  If enough of the Libyan people feel their cause is just, then a large part of the armed forces will either turn on Qaddafi or will refuse to attack their own people.  By poking our noses into a conflict that is none of our business, we risk being wrapped up in it for years to come.

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