Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Libya: Oh Fer Gawd's Sake

Belgrade or Tripoli?
One week ago, the Great Kinetic Action of 2011 passed the 78-day mark, meaning it's lasted longer than the air campaign to drive Yugoslavia out of Kosovo. And yesterday we heard from "one senior offical" who, like the rest of us, has no idea how this ends:
Almost three months into the campaign of air strikes, Britain and its Nato allies no longer believe bombing alone will end the conflict in Libya, well-placed government officials have told the Guardian. 
Instead, they are pinning their hopes on the defection of Muammar Gaddafi's closest aides, or the Libyan leader's agreement to flee the country. 
"No one is envisaging a military victory," said one senior official who echoed Tuesday's warnings by Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, head of the navy, that the bombing cannot continue much beyond the summer.
Oh fer Gawd's sake. Is it just me, or are military and political strategists supposed to work out some sort of endgame before it starts?

I particularly liked this line: "There is concern, meanwhile, that the longer the conflict goes on, the greater the risk of civilian casualties as Nato commanders succumb to political pressure to step up the bombing campaign." You think?

Go ahead and file that in the bulging "Nobody Could Have Predicted" file. But it's worth noting that there are other parallels to the Kosovo campaign besides sheer duration. There, too, there was political pressure to step up the bombing campaign – pressure that did not exactly meet with stiff resistance. In Kosovo, too, there was little thought given to the endgame – just a set of maximalist demands that were later scaled down as it became increasingly clear that air power alone could not do the trick.

In the end, despite the "stepped-up" pace of death from above (and the concomitant risk of civilian casualties), it was diplomacy that ended the conflict. Milosevic responded not to the air power of the NATO alliance, but to the persuasive power of the Russians. As noted earlier, the US had to give up a lot of its demands in order to bring the campaign to a conclusion – which raises the question of whether armed force was strictly necessary in the first place.

If any of this sounds familiar, just remember what Mark Twain said: history may not repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes.

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