The Guns of March

“War is the unfolding of miscalculations” Barbara Tuchman

Libya Revolt (Al Jazeera)

In 1914 an assassination in Bosnia-Herzegovina led to the First World War. In 2011 a civil war in Libya may lead to the destabilization of an entire region and to a regional conflict. A few weeks ago many thought that Libya would take the same course as Egypt and Tunisia. That was before Muammar Gaddafi began to launch an organized campaign of slaughter against his own people using members of his clan as well as African, Arab and Eastern European mercenaries.  Now we wonder what will happen as many actors try to discern courses of action praying that their calculations are correct.

Defecting Libyan Soldiers with protesters (AFP Photo)

If we look at the players we see the Gaddafi clan and its allies who include mercenaries from Africa, other Middle Eastern nations and Eastern Europe battling in a life or death struggle with a disparate and not yet very organized revolutionary movement which has taken many key cities in Libya. Gaddafi’s forces have become quite brutal in their response even as Gaddafi denies attacking his own people and appear in some places to be gaining the upper hand. The rebels have a limited amount of arms and ammunition and few heavy weapons but have given a good account of themselves against Gaddafi’s forces.

The USS Enterprise CVN-65

The United States is really too heavily committed to do much and even if NATO and or the UN agree to establish a no-fly zone over Libya it is doubtful if it will do much to much good on the ground against Gaddafi’s mercenary army and party thugs.  President Obama has asked Saudi Arabia to help arm the rebels and the Saudis and the Gulf Cooperation Council states have asked the United States and NATO to establish a no fly zone to at least protect the rebels from Gaddafi’s helicopter gunships and attack aircraft. Gaddafi has stated that such a no-fly zone would be an act of war.

The words of Western leaders to include President Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and France’s Nicholas Sarkozy announcing that Gaddafi has to step down has hardened Gaddafi’s resolve and have whether we want it or not signaled that we are about to engage in another war. Military forces from NATO including the USS Enterprise Carrier Battle Group are being moved to positions that they can either enforce a no-fly zone or assist in humanitarian operations.

While the West debates what to do the fighting continues and Gaddafi’s military unhindered by anyone continues its attacks others in the region seek to gain from the Chaos. Syria has been supporting the Gaddafi regime and it is likely that Iran is seeking to gain more influence in Arab countries that have been hostile to it.  The presence of the two Iranian warships in the Eastern Mediterranean added to the tensions but those ships have now returned to the Red Sea after passing through the Suez Canal after exercises with the Syrians.

Refugee Crisis (AP Photo)

The fact is that this is a chaotic and ever changing situation. NATO will meet on Thursday to discuss possible courses of action.  Adding to the crisis is the specter of NATO’s abysmally slow response to the Bosnia crisis as well as the United Nation’s, American and European response to the Rwandan genocide. Since the ongoing battle in Libya to include Gaddafi’s slaughter of his own people and the massive refugee crisis on Libya’s borders is televised like the previous crises is in Bosnia and Rwanda Western Leaders are caught in a bind. They can turn a blind eye and chose to let the rebels die on the vine attempting to overthrow Gaddafi and be accused of ignoring crimes against humanity as were their predecessors during the Bosnian and Rwandan events.

There are many possibilities for the situation in Libya to get worse and potentially engulf the region in a war that no one wants or really is prepared for.

We can only see what develops but there are no good options only options of bad or worse. Will the region like Europe in 1914 be engulfed in war where there are no winners or will somehow the situation be resolved before it can get that far? Those are very real questions.


Padre Steve+



Filed under Foreign Policy, History, middle east, Military, national security

5 responses to “The Guns of March

  1. John Erickson

    Perhaps I’m not familiar enough with modern technology, but I find the complaints about a no-fly-zone’s difficulty are over-hyped. The military bigwigs are talking about ground attack and destruction of radar and AAA. I would think we could simply have a squadron of fighters (probably F-18s from Enterprise) stay outside of Libya’s borders, simply orbiting with AWACS control and top cover (more F-18s). Basically, anything that gets detected in the air over Libya is warned via radio from the AWACS, and if they don’t immediately land, shoot them down using AMRAAMs. The vast majority of Khaddafi’s Air Force are ground attack jets and helos; while the fixed-wings (MiGs or Sukhois, I forget which) do have some limited air-to-air capability, their pilots are notoriously unskilled (numerous bombing runs have been aborted due to clouds, despite the planes carrying both radar and infra-red targeting) and should be little threat to our air assets, especially if we have some EW aircraft among the patrol squadrons. And based on history, it would probably require only a handful of shootdowns to literally scare their air forces out of the skies. Yes, the helos could still fly nap-of-earth missions, but the rebels’ AA guns would stand MUCH more chance of hitting a slow, low helo than a high, fast bomber.
    Or have I committed that most of egregious military sins – playing armchair general? 😉

    • padresteve

      I think that killing off the Libyan Air Force probably wouldn’t take much but we’ll wait too late to do it and turn what is a bad situation into a worse one. I find it hard to believe that we are asking the Europeans to take the lead. Sarkozy is at least showing some balls by recognizing the rebel government. Obama never should have said that Gaddafi had to go if we were not willing to back it up. We are now caught between our words which encouraged the rebels and are actions which are damning them. Gaddafi is now taunting him as he kills his own people. It used to be that people feared us, they don’t now and we will only be challenged more because of it. If we to have any real say in a positive pro-Western and democratic movement for change we will lose it if we don’t back up our words. We have been playing like lawyers doing spin control on this for two weeks and it is coming back to bite us and those that believed that we would act on our principles as we did in Kosovo. I know that Libya is not as critical to our national and economic security as Saudi Arabia but it can be a watershed that signals the end of our leadership in world affairs and end up harming us when the shit finally starts flying. Gas prices will go through the roof and our fragile economy will tank. It is funny how a piss ant country like Libya can define us as a nation for a generation or more.

  2. John Erickson

    After I wrote that post this morning, I got a link in a newsletter to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, who had laid out 3 plans – full on air war to destroy the Government air force and air defenses; a limited no-fly-zone over the north, with destruction of attendant ground facilities, and my option – WHICH IS THE CHEAPEST! 🙂 But now the push is for some kind of missile assault, which will blow up some of the airplanes and their ground services.
    The real problem, as you so rightly point out, is the timidity. There are numerous interviews on the BBC news every morning, Libyans looking into the camera and BEGGING for help from the outside. By the time we get done running things past the EU, NATO, the African Union, and the Arab League, we’re not only going to lose Libya (which, though no great shakes to us, is 25% of Italy’s oil imports – and their economy is WAY worse off than ours), we’re liable to also lose Saudi Arabia. Kiss our bases goodbye, say hello to gas prices that would make current European rates look downright cheap, and add 2 years minimum to our recovery, if it happens at all. Right now, we need SOMETHING more than the RIGHT thing. Without that, we’re gonna have the entire North Africa and Middle East area ragingly pissed off at us. I pray to God that doesn’t happen – the casualty lists from Afghanistan and Iraq are heart-breaking enough.
    Thanks for the great back-and-forth, Padre. And a blessed Good Friday to you!

  3. Pingback: Damned if you do and Damned if you Don’t: The Allied Intervention in Libya | Padresteve's World…Musings of a Passionate Moderate

  4. Pingback: Padre Steve’s Arab Spring Articles: Tahir Square to Sirte | Padresteve's World…Musings of a Passionate Moderate

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