No-fly, No-drive, No Good

March 19th, 2011

By Tom Carter

UN Security Council VotingThe die is cast.  On March 17, the UN Security Council, by a vote of 10 in favor and 5 abstaining, imposed a no-fly zone in Libyan airspace and authorized member states “…to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country….”  It will most likely also include a no-drive zone to protect Libyan opponents of the regime from ground attacks.

This isn’t going to end well.  The world has been very slow to respond to events in Libya and in the region, and the U.S. has failed to lead.  Even if it’s not too late and the ever-weakening opposition in Libya can overthrow Qadhafi, the result could be a regime that’s worse — perhaps much worse — from the standpoint of Western interests.

After dithering for weeks, President Obama got on board once other countries, notably France and the UK, had taken the lead and the UN had authorized action.  However, he made one thing clear, that “Not one American boot could touch one grain of Libyan sand.”  That’s the same thing President Clinton did at the beginning of the NATO (mostly U.S.) bombing of Yugoslavia over the Kosovo issue — ruled out the use of ground forces from day one.  That’s certainly sure to ease the mind of any adversary.

There hasn’t been any serious preparation on the part of the U.S.  There’s an amphibious ready group in the Med right now, about to be replaced by a similar force.  That force could land Marines, but that’s already been ruled out by the President.  There is no aircraft carrier whose planes could fly attack missions over Libya.  To the extent the U.S. directly participates in the immediate future, it would be with cruise missiles or Air Force attack aircraft from bases in Europe.

According to news reports, the President of France has confirmed that French fighters are in already action over Libyan airspace.  CNN is reporting now that airstrikes, at this point, will be carried out by France, the UK, and Canada.  By all indications, the U.S. is going to take a mostly supporting role but will almost certainly employ cruise missiles, if not fighters.

Some see a no-fly, no-drive zone over Libya as the right thing to do, even though it’s being done very late.  But will it really work?  Both the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have have expressed doubt and reluctance.  When asked during a Senate hearing whether a no-fly zone would work, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force said, “A no-fly zone, sir, would not be sufficient.”  No matter whose weapons are employed, a direct attack on Libya is required.  This includes early attacks on air defense systems, shooting down Libyan aircraft, and attacking military equipment on the ground.

Can the Libyan opposition succeed in overthrowing the Qadhafi regime with the protection that comes from no-fly and no-drive zones?  Maybe, but there’s nothing certain about it.  This could turn into a long, drawn-out stalemate like the 12-year no-fly zone in Iraq.  We all know what was eventually required to get rid of the Saddam Hussein regime, and no rational person wants to go through that again.

If all this works and Qadhafi is thrown out or killed, what happens next in Libya may not be a major improvement.  Anyone who harbors the illusion that Libya will become a peaceful, freedom-loving, democratic state will be proven wrong.  Where in the Arab Muslim world has that ever happened?  History, reality, and common sense all combine to make it abundantly clear that the successor regime in Libya, if there is to be one, could be just another Islamic, terror-supporting thorn in the side of the rest of the world.

Is that worth what’s about to happen?  As far as the Muslim world is concerned, this is just another example of the West’s continuing war on Islam, even though the Great Satan is no longer the leader.  Never mind that the Arab League supports it; that’s purely self-serving, and the leaders of the states it represents do not represent their people.  Things are going to be broken, and people are going to be killed.  That’s what the military does, and rightly so.  But non-combatant civilians are going to be killed, homes are going to be destroyed, and even more refugees are going to be created.  Media in the U.S., Europe, and outlets like Al Jazeera will gleefully show the images, and more terrorism will result.

At some point it has to be understood that national sovereignty has meaning.  There is no “humanitarian exception.”  The West may not like how a country treats its people, but it’s not up to us to bomb countries until they start doing things in a way that meets our approval.  When things that happen constitute a direct threat to a nation’s interests, then military action can be appropriate.  Otherwise, we should stay out of domestic conflicts in other countries.

Maybe it’s a smart move on the part of President Obama to refuse to lead the international military effort against Libya.  I’d like to believe that, but the truth is it’s the result of indecision, craven fear of offending the Muslim world, and a firm lack of belief that the U.S. has any business leading the world in any respect.  It would have been better to have acted quickly, stating up-front that the U.S. would not participate in military action, or, conversely, leading the effort to try to force a desired outcome of the conflict in Libya, regardless of the limited chances of success.


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7 Responses to “No-fly, No-drive, No Good”



  1. Dan Miller |

    This article from STRATFOR about means and strategy in Libya deals with matters well within one of my fields of incompetence. However, it seems to make sense and to be worth reading. The thrust of it is that while the present means are fairly clear the strategy is not.

    I found this rather prescient:

    The question is the motivation of his troops: if they perceive that surrender is unacceptable or personally catastrophic, they may continue to fight. At that point the coalition must decide if it intends to engage and destroy Gadhafi’s ground forces from the air. This can be done, but it is never a foregone conclusion that it will work. Moreover, this is the phase at which civilian casualties begin to mount. It is a paradox of warfare instigated to end human suffering that the means of achieving this can sometimes impose substantial human suffering itself. This is not merely a theoretical statement. It is at this point at which supporters of the war who want to end suffering may turn on the political leaders for not ending suffering without cost. It should be remembered that Saddam Hussein was loathed universally but those who loathed him were frequently not willing to impose the price of overthrowing him. The Europeans in particular are sensitive to this issue.

    . . . .

    The decision has been made that the mission is regime change in Libya. The strategic sequence is the routine buildup to war since 1991, this time with a heavier European component. The early days will go extremely well but will not define whether or not the war is successful. The test will come if a war designed to stop human suffering begins to impose human suffering. That is when the difficult political decisions have to be made and when we will find out whether the strategy, the mission and the political will match up.

    It strikes me that similar problems have arisen in the not too distant to remember past.


  2. Tom Carter |

    I’m not sure what STRATFOR means when they say, “The decision has been made that the mission is regime change in Libya.” The UNSC resolution doesn’t say that; the purpose is to protect the Libyan people. Moreover, regime change forced through military action almost always requires forces on the ground, and the resolution specifically rules that out.

    The 1991 Gulf War was authorized under a UNSC resolution directed at ejecting Iraq from Kuwait. It did not authorize a general attack on Iraq and regime change, i.e., the removal of the Saddam Hussein government. That’s the principal reason U.S. and coalition forces didn’t continue on to Baghdad, that plus a good understanding of the concept that “if you break it, you own it.” As a result, we had 12 years of a no-fly zone eventually culminating in a war, after which we “owned” Iraq. Anyone up for going through that again?

    The law of unintended consequences is in full operation, and in this case we know what the consequences will most likely be. Non-combatants, including children, will die as “collateral damage” even when the right targets are hit. There will be cases when the target struck will be a mistake, and more non-combatants will die and property will be destroyed. Maybe a coalition strike will take out a wedding party — the media love stories like that.

    The Kosovo campaign in 1999 took 78 days of bombing before the Milosevic government in Yugoslavia cried uncle. But the regime didn’t change for more than a year afterward, and that happened through a mostly democratic process unrelated to the bombing. During the bombing, many non-military targets were hit intentionally, some were hit by accident, and many non-combatants died. The city of Belgrade, a European capital, was bombed for only the second time in the 20th century. The Nazis did it the first time; the U.S. (mostly) did it the second time. And the issues involved still aren’t resolved and can still cause further violence.

    The bombing of Yugoslavia accomplished something the Yugoslav government couldn’t do — it rallied the people around the Milosevic government, at least for a while. The same thing, to a degree, could happen in Libya. And once it’s over, there are only two possible outcomes (assuming foreign ground troops, including U.S. forces, don’t invade): Qadhafi will still be in power, or someone else will be in power. Who will that be? We don’t have a clue; but remembering that this isn’t Europe, it’s an Arab Muslim country, it could well be a terrorist-supporting islamist regime. From the standpoint of Western interests, we might end up wishing Qadhafi were still in power.


  3. Dan Miller |

    The Arab League, support from which lent legitimacy to the no-fly zone, now says through a spokesman,

    the military operations have gone beyond what the Arab League backed.

    Moussa has told reporters Sunday that “what happened differs from the no-fly zone objectives.” He says “what we want is civilians’ protection not shelling more civilians.”

    U.S. and European strikes overnight targeted mainly air defenses, the U.S. military said. Libya says 48 people were killed, including civilians.

    The prevention of all civilian casualties in the present context would probably be very difficult if not impossible, at least without the use of ground troops.

    I wonder how they would have preferred the no-fly zone to be implemented and enforced.


  4. Tom Carter |

    No big surprise. The Arab League is behaving exactly as should be expected. To think they would do otherwise is a denial of who and what they are.

    You’re exactly right, Dan, about civilian (non-combatant) casualties. The hard fact — I know from prolonged personal experience — is that non-combatants will always be killed and wounded during an armed conflict. The fact that civilized military forces (e.g., the U.S., Europe, Israel) try very hard to avoid it doesn’t make it any less real. When you add to that the fact that the forces of less civilized countries, including virtually all Arab Muslim countries, hide behind civilians during combat and use their deaths for propaganda, it just gets worse.


  5. Dan Miller |

    According to this BBC article, “The Pentagon expects to hand over control of allied military operations in Libya ‘in a matter of days,’ either to a UK-France coalition or to Nato, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates says.”

    While the US will continue to play a part in military operations against Col Gaddafi’s forces, Mr Gates says it “will not have the pre-eminent role”.

    “I think there is a sensitivity on the part of the Arab League to being seen to be operating under a Nato umbrella,” Mr Gates said. “And so the question is if there is a way we can work out Nato’s command and control machinery without it being a Nato mission and without a Nato flag, and so on.”

    Mr Gates also said a break-up of Libya would be a formula for instability. The east of the country, where the month-old revolt began, has historically been much more opposed to Col Gaddafi’s rule, while the west and the area around Tripoli constitute his heartland.

    Qatar is already playing an active part and

    Other Arab countries are also preparing to join the campaign against Col Gaddafi, Vice Adm Gortley said, adding that those governments would make their own announcements in due course.


  6. Dan Miller |

    Here are some thoughts from Daniel, an anti-Chávez blogger in Venezuela. He comments,

    The Arab League spokesjerk comes out saying that the Arab league did not approve of the raids, that they did not want bombs, that they only wanted to protect civilians.

    And how was the Arab league expecting to do that without bombing Qaddafi military targets?  Did we see Arab league soldiers land in Libya to interpose themselves between Qaddafi’s mercenaries and the civilians of Benghazi?  Did we hear of concrete plans in the next couple of days of these guys to land?

    Same story as always, they always manage to con the West into doing their dirty work and then they come out fast to defend their “people” from the crusaders…  and unfortunately we have no choice but to fall in their trap….

    As noted in a prior comment, it appears that the Arab League is thinking about maybe entering the fray.


  7. Dan Miller |

    According to the Financial Times (subscription may or may not be required), French sidestepping of NATO at the beginning of military operations in Libya has divided the no-fly-zone coalition. On March 21st, French and German ambassadors to NATO walked out after the secretary general faulted France for impeding NATO involvement and Germany for not participating actively.

    Turkey is said to be offended because her representatives had not been invited to a “summit” in Paris. There are also tensions between the United States and Britain on one hand and France on the other. One western official said,

    As we got closer and closer to closing the deal at Nato, France suddenly blocked everything, which confused us at first … But then it became clear – [French president Nicolas] Sarkozy wanted to announce strikes just as he was walking out of his meeting in Paris where he was leading the show.”

    France denied all charges.

    Quo vadis?


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