So, how is that “no-fly zone” over Libya that we Canadians so enthusiastically joined last March working out? You know, the bombing campaign a certain set of bloodthirsty “liberals” argued was an example of a good war in the Middle East that we westerners could guiltlessly take part in?
I distinctly recall us being given the impression from the media that with the power of the air forces of NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, supposedly, an alliance set up to defend against a Soviet Bloc that literally no longer exists – it was only a matter of minutes before Libya’s unsavoury dictator, Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi, would be toppled.
But regular readers of this blog will recall that I wrote on March 20, the day after the bombing campaign began, “there is no guarantee the no-fly zone alone will result in the overthrow of Col. Gaddafi, whose armed forces do not depend on air power alone for their advantage on the battlefield.”
I wondered then what would we do if Col. Gaddafi defied our charming faith in our deadly airborne technology and managed to keep fighting? Would we give up, or escalate? I answered: “What we will do is escalate, of course, because no foolish politician wants to admit that he is a fool, and thus we never consider backing down until it is too late.”
Well, here we are, and look what’s happening: 68 days after the start of our bombing campaign, Col. Gaddafi remains doggedly in power. Apparently he has some allies among the population of his country and our easy little war to topple him has turned into a bloody stalemate.
Quelle surprise, the rebels we are backing turn out to be a rag-tag band of militants, with motives we don’t know or understand, incapable of making tactical gains against even the battered Gaddafi regime. Civilians are now undoubtedly dying beneath our precision-guided bombs, which turn out to be just as dumb as all the West’s other “smart” bombs before them.
And what are we doing? Escalating, of course.
The day before yesterday, according to the Globe and Mail, “NATO warplanes unleashed their most intense bombardment yet on Libya’s capital.” The New York Times reports we’re now throwing attack helicopters into the fight.
And as Thomas Walkom reported in today’s Toronto Star, the West’s war on Libya “was billed as a military action aimed at protecting civilians. But it has evolved into a bombing campaign that threatens the very civilians it claims to support.” In addition, a huge refugee problem has been created on Libya’s borders.
“While technically avoiding attacks on the country’s civilian infrastructure,” Mr. Walkom wrote, “NATO is gradually expanding the definition of what it calls military command-and-control centres to include any building that supporters of (Gaddafi) might use.”
With the stepped-up bombing campaign failing to produce results, there is naturally more pressure to escalate further, with U.K. Chief of Defence Staff Gen. David Richards calling for NATO “to go further and start bombing installations such as bridges and electric power stations.” Meaning, inevitably, there will be more civilian deaths.
It follows naturally that, whatever we are being told now, if the latest series of escalations continue to fail – as air force bombing campaigns usually do – pressure will begin to build to a ground invasion.
As I wrote on March 20, “how long will that resolve persist in the face of our Western hubris if the Libyans do not roll over, or if, God forbid, they manage to strike back in the Mediterranean or Europe? Faced with failure, the pressure for boots on the ground will grow.”
As previously noted, Western politicians like no-fly zones because, while they are acts of war, they sound like something more benign to the Western public. Alas, as we should have figured out by now, they seldom deliver as promised.
Human nature being what it is, bomb victims seldom side with the bombers, even if they are trying to bring them “democracy,” as we claim in Libya. Even if Col. Gaddafi gives up soon, with no credible alternative government available, we will never really subdue Libya without boots on the ground and bayonets at the Libyans’ throats. This will cost us, in lives, and treasure and reputation, long into the future.
Air force generals are, in the end, just successful bureaucrats justifying the purchase of incredibly expensive technology by promising results that are, literally, incredible.
In other words, the promise that we can achieve strategic goals on the ground using tactics that keep our hands clean and our soldiers far away are fantasy.
The pathetic lies of air force generals have been a consistent pattern since men started firing pistols and throwing bricks out of airplanes. It’s unclear why we never figure this out.
Well, we haven’t, and we’re waist deep in the Big Muddy, and the big fools say to push on.
This post also appears on rabble.ca.