Libya: Military Necessity or Adventure?

On the face of it the military operation sponsored by Britain and France, with America as reluctant partner and the Arab league a somewhat fair-weather supporter, is going well. The technology is working well, the weapons appear far more accurate than in the Iraq war and civilian casualties appear minimal, in spite of the claims of Gaddafi T.V. The advance on Benghazi was stopped in the nick of time. Armoured columns have been turned to cinders. The no fly zone is in place. Yet all is far from over.

Worse, nobody knows what over is, when it happens. There is disagreement at every level of command as to who should be in charge and what the mission goal is. Within this confusion the military are doing a very good job, sticking rigidly to the letter of U.N. 1973. But, if stuck to, 1973, as a narrow  military mission,  is without a political objective, an exit strategy or even a coherent purpose. As has been said here before, you cannot engage in a civil war to stop killing as a narrow aim. You can engage on one side against the other, but then you are sucked into the maelstrom. The rule is you never engage in other people’s civil wars. You can send volunteers, as we did to the American and Spanish civil wars to both sides, but you stay neutral. Likewise, the Congo and Nigeria. Remember Katanga and Biafra?

The problems now are these. Unlike initial appearances, the rebels have no military capacity to win a civil war. They need help to hold onto what they have. It is not clear whether they have a sustainable political system, or even who they actually are. One moment army units are defecting to them, next this military backbone has melted away. Meanwhile organised into infantry units embedded into towns they have recaptured, Gaddafi forces are proving difficult for the Allies to dislodge, without civilian casualties. To shift them would require some considerable degree of bombardment with collateral damage of innocent lives, or ground troops. Both are a no go.

So what happens? The rebels are too weak to win. Gaddafi is too strong to lose. Is it to be two Libyas? The Allies hope that Gaddafi will jack it in or fall victim to a cruise missile while taking his evening promenade. Even then there is no guarantee that there would not be chaos to follow with rival factions forming militias and fighting all over the place. The truth is that hatred of Gaddafi has clouded judgement and hijacked statecraft and common sense. Obama and Gates could see this coming. This is why they held back. This is why America, having shown willing, wants to hand over command.

Amid the argument raging as to who this new commander should be, one question rises above all others. Command of what exactly? If Cameron comes out of this well and does not end up looking a fool, he will be one of the luckiest politicians in history.

29 Responses to “Libya: Military Necessity or Adventure?”

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  18. Susannah says:

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  20. Mircea says:

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  21. Eddie says:

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  22. You know what, I never thought of it that way. Makes plenty of sense now. Thanks for explaining it so clearly, it really helped me and I’m sure it will help plenty of other people too. All the best!

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