No End-Game Zone

Copyright © by Len Holman, 3/23/11


  What the American government likes to call “the international community” has approved what is being referred to as a “no-fly zone” over Libya.  Maybe it should be called a no-thought zone.  Yes, the media is chock-full of reports about the many, many meetings held “at the highest levels,” and there can be little doubt that this decision was dissected like a frog in a freshman anatomy class, but even so, the result for the frog is not good, and this decision bodes ill for the Forces of Justice.  The administration is very lucky (or very calculating) that it’s Qaddafi’s country it plans to chastise.  The Colonel is not well-liked by the Arab world—as witness those talking heads called “the Arab League” and their insistence that Qaddafi be turned into a charred corpse—and is thought to be dangerously unstable, and one Arab who embarrasses the rest of his fellows.  His antics and zigging and zagging make the Saudis nervous, for who wants some crazy relative to escape from the closet to frighten the customers you’re trying to convince to buy your product.  In this case the product isn’t just oil, it’s assurance for the Western world:  we are benign, we are not the Scary Terrorist, we are normal and can be trusted.  And if the Saudis are not happy, ain’t no one in the region happy.

  So the no-fly zone is a reality—at least as a concept, an unfinished concept, a compilation of barely-connected bones.  Unfinished because it can easily be started, can easily be spoken of, can easily wear the clothing of Compassion or Patriotism or Humanitarian, but underneath the costume, it’s a skeleton in search of flesh.  There is, admitted Western leaders (the title the NY Times gives them), no “end game,” which would stun even the lowliest of chess players and is certainly the first line in the recipe titled “A Losing Proposition.”  No matter that Qaddafi is virtually a pariah among Arabs, no matter that his country only produces about two percent of the world’s oil—which, if lost, will only force a few celebrities to take the bus and leave their limos in the garage, and no matter if he can’t fly his antiquated air force around.  When this is all said and done, when the Tomahawk and Cruise missiles take out his command and control centers, when his airfields are bombed, then what?  What happens if he continues his attack with what he already has, as he seems to be doing?  What happens if his troops get into Benghazi, and during the course of the battle, mingle with the population there?  Even those fancy drones the Pakistanis love so much are not surgical tools, but lead pipes, which deliver blunt-force trauma where the U.S. wanted a splinter removed.  In other words, after there is no Libyan fighter swooping down on some dented Toyota pickup with three guys in the back shooting BBs, and the skies are cleared and patrolled by the good guys, what then?

  The President has said flatly that there will be no American troops on the ground, and this has caused pundits all over the world to shake their heads, since it is a truism well-proved by countless decades of warfare that nothing is settled until a physical presence is established in the target country, but the president didn’t say there would be NO troops on the ground, just none of OURS, which doesn’t preclude the French, or even the Italians, from charging in and making the oil safe for democracy.  And if Quaddfi is left alive—because we have repeatedly stressed that isn’t the mission—and decides, fights, and succeeds in keeping his half of the country, who gets the Libyan seat at the U.N.? And not to put too fine a point on it, who ARE these “rebels,” the guys in eastern Libya who can’t figure out who will drive that pickup today?  Even if they CAN get it together, are these people the world will call the Libyan Government?  And if so, will Qaddafi be called…well, what WILL he be called?  And that missile that landed in Qaddafi’s compound: what was that, just a tap on the shoulder?  Just a reminder from the Kings of the World to say, “Hey, any time we want, you’re gone”?  The U.N. resolution simply says that the no-fly zone is for the protection of innocent victims.  It doesn’t say that bombing Qaddafi’s trucks and armor on the road is part of the deal. It doesn’t tell Allied pilots what to do if Benghazi is filled with both Qaddafi’s people and the so-called rebels, milling around, shooting at each other, or if rebels are spied by pilots carrying weapons or pro-Qaddafi forces are not (what to do, what to do?).  It doesn’t authorize outside forces to aid these rebels or to target the Colonel or to make war—just protect the good guys from the bad guys by flying over Libyan airspace and watching with some amusement as missiles from Qaddafi’s old soviet antiaircraft weapons whiz by.  It’s an “intervention,” but as Colin Powell warned Bush about the Iraq invasion:  “If you break it, you own it.”  Once we’re invested, then do we have some kind of obligation to fix it?  And how do we do THAT?  Congress is making rumbling noises about declarations of war and the Constitutional requirement of same, but Presidents have gone to war with just the slimmest of reasons without congressional approval, as Truman did in Korea and Clinton did in the Balkans—and troops are  STILL in Kosovo.  But the administration is slowly—and not too subtly—sliding backswords out of the line of fire, so to speak, with the President and everyone but the White House janitor telling the world it’s just going to be a few days (“Hey, WE didn’t break it and it’s not our job to clean it up”).  It has been repeatedly announced that we are turning over operations to our partners in the deed and that we will recede into the background—presumably hiding from Fox News.  But there’s still that nagging question:  what do we do about Libya?  What is worrisome is the apparent lack of foresight which shines like a beacon in the Libyan night.  What were we thinking—well, ok, we weren’t.  Is this a signal that the ghosts of Vietnam and Bush’s foray into world politics still haunt, color, and drives our decision-making?  We are going to spend a lot of blood, sweat and tears in the Muslim world, in the Middle East and Africa, in the coming years and I would like to know that we are also going to spend a lot of thought, too.  I’d like to know someone, somewhere is actually in charge of making long-range plans—I mean, plans BESIDES how to win in 2012.


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