Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Gift of Time

I don't wish to underestimate what our Navy and Air Force can do with our strategy of bombardment to compel the fall of Khaddafi's regime. But we are handicapped in achieving that objective with those means. It's early yet, but as time goes on, the chances of our victory go down. Why? The basic politics of Western intervention in an Arab state.

One, the coalition is divided on what our objective is and what resolution 1973 authorizes:

Then there is the potential quagmire in the tangle of countries that make up or are associated with the alliance against Gaddafi. Already, in Europe, there is disagreement between pro-intervention countries and nations like Germany and Italy on both the military operation and how to deal with Gaddafi.

Two, the cost in money and perceived Libyan loss of life will outweigh the objective in Western public opinion:

"Gaddafi has managed to group a large number of his forces within big cities, meaning air strikes to eliminate them aren't going to work unless you're willing to kill far greater numbers of the surrounding civilian population. This is why the air strategy was risky from the start... By consequence, fears are high that after a certain point, this could go on and on, and wear Western opinion down." ...

French public opinion could quickly develop mission fatigue especially with Paris already imposing a whole array of austerities to battle the domestic budget deficit. The moral imperative to help the Libyan rebels may bog down when the French people figure the money involved is better spent at home.

Three, just as the Arab League quickly backed away from their support of a no-fly zone when we started dropping bombs, the Arab public will sour (and with more anger than in the West) on the mission as reports of air strike-caused Libyan civilian casualties (whether actual or staged or made up) mount:

"If the military operation goes on far very long," says Bitar, "Arab public opinion will begin rapidly [to compare] it to Iraq, and start viewing it as another kind of invasion of an Arab country, rather than an attempt to let Libyans determine their fate in a fair fight. And that's not even considering the possibility of large numbers of Libyan civilians being killed as collateral damage in strikes, or if they get caught between opposing forces in what becomes and open-ended civil war. There, too, Arab public opinion will turn hostile to the intervention, and blame it for the unending violence and death."

Absent real determination by the West to persevere through that basic reality, the coalition will fragment and retreat before achieving the objective. This gift of time to the loyalists will likely prove to be decisive. Unless we get lucky with our current strategy, of course, as I've often mentioned.

I would like to add that my early preference of covertly arming and supporting the rebels to prepare them for a long civil war without putting our prestige on the line by openly calling for the defeat of Khaddafi probably wouldn't have worked.

While I suspected that Khaddafi could mount a counter-attack, the rebels are far weaker than I guessed at the time. I thought more defecting soldiers would give the rebels at least a framework of basic military structure that additional training, guidance, and weapons could flesh out in order to hold out. Then, over time, the rebels could gain strength and engage in a decisive campaign to win the civil war. Clearly, the loyalists could have beaten the rebels even if we did what I suggested.

Going forward, my plan wouldn't work, either. It could, if Western air support could be guaranteed for the rest of the year while we arm, train, and organize the rebels. But soon, the coalition will fragment and we will be in the position of having to intervene directly with ground troops--but after Western Europe and the Arab world have turned on the coalition operation. Wouldn't it be better to intervene now, while public support is higher, with a reinforced division of Western ground troops to land near Tripoli and capture the capital and hang that paper-hanging SOB from a lamp post?

UPDATE: Obama earning respect in the Arab world by bombing Khaddafi's forces? Get back to me in a couple months.

Oh, and this is rich:

A Saudi friend told me it was one of the rare occasions he’d seen a U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East align with America’s backing for human rights and democracy.

You mean other than suffering more than 4,500 killed in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom to free a country from a murderous and oppressive despot and defend the fledgling democracy we helped set up against vicious killers from the Sunni Arab world and Iran?

I mean, really, other than the aqueduct, what have the Romans done for us?