Libya and Discrete Military Operations

Not surprisingly, the challenges of setting up a no-fly zone are a bit deeper than most would think:

“Enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya would first require bombing the north African nation’s air defense systems, top US commander General James Mattis warned on Tuesday. A no-fly zone would require removing “the air defense capability first,” Mattis, the head of Central Command, told a Senate hearing. …Although [Qaddafi’s] military is badly outgunned by US and NATO aircraft, the regime has dozens of surface-to-air missiles that could shoot down allied warplanes.”

The issue is not really Libyan air defense networks–it seems that they are mostly obsolete , never entirely worked 20 years ago during Operation El Dorado Canyon, and increasingly falling into the hands of the opposition. Rather, the issue is that setting up a no-fly zone involves more than simply intercepting planes. It is a military operation against the remnants of the Libyan government designed to support the ground operations of the various factions arrayed against Qaddafi. And embarking on it may lead to other political and military commitments down the line–just look at the decade-long interregnum between the two Gulf Wars and the Northern Iraq no-fly zone. Even if the Libyan government is on its last legs, that might not be the end of the conflict.

Regional analysts warn that Qaddafi’s total centralization of power has created a vacuum that will make the conflict’s aftermath totally different from what went on in Egypt and Tunisia:

If Qaddafi’s demise only entailed the dissolution of his regime, it would be tempting to declare good riddance and hail the good fortune of the Libyan people in freeing themselves of the old regime in one blow, without having to deal with its remnants, as Tunisians and Egyptians are struggling to do. Unfortunately for Libya, the fall of the House of Qaddafi will not only put an end to his regime, but risks causing the collapse of the Libyan state. Qaddafi’s long reign did nothing to forge institutions that can ensure the continuity of the state beyond regime change. There is no well-organized bureaucracy to ensure administrative continuity. The military and security forces—the institutions of last recourse in weak states—were deliberately fragmented by Qaddafi into militias and special brigades led by his sons and counterbalanced by a large praetorian guard and various paramilitary groups.

It is understandable that the idea of a no-fly zone appeals to humanitarians because it represents a middle ground between a large-scale military intervention and what many largely see as toothless economic and diplomatic action. One of the more useful pieces of the Libya debate for analysis is the light in shines on the issue of gradations of force short of general war–and their role in post-Cold War international politics. Humanitarians share with civilian policy analysts in general a faith in what Micah Zenko calls “discrete military operations” (DMOs).

DMOs are attractive because they seemingly imply little long-term commitment, and rely on technological or purely military advantages that would appear to be devastatingly effective against grossly underpowered foes. Perhaps the classic example of this is the scene in Iron Man in which the title character blows away a dozen marauding Afghan militants without harming a single innocent, like a high-tech version of Dirty Harry.

Moral shame is often an effective tool for gaining support for DMOs. If the United States military is so vastly superior to the rest, humanitarians claim, why can’t it use a tiny fraction of its force to wipe out a pack of Sudanese janjaweed or Qaddafi militiamen? Especially when juxtaposed with media images of large-scale suffering, calls for DMOs can motivate policymakers to make rash decisions about the use of force.

The problem with DMOs, as Zenko catalogs in his book on the subject, is that the use of military force–period–is much more complex than most people imagine. Technical matters of logistics and tactics often have larger political implications. Even the technical requirements tend to be routinely under-estimated by advocates of DMOs. Moreover, DMOs tend to have an extremely mixed track record of achieving both political and military objectives.

Ultimately, technical excellence cannot substitute for sound policy and strategy. And DMOs tend to be utilized as exactly that–a substitute for a sound policy because policymakers are reluctant to get militarily involved but feel a pressure to “do something.”

Thus, formulating sound policy based on national interest, morality, and practicality is of greater concern at present than hastily establishing a no-fly zone simply to react to events.


Ridin’ Dirty

Having promised Lauren that I would find some way to work this glorious YouTube video into a post, I will now do so.

Observe this helpless and terrified cat, trapped on a Roomba vacuum careening around a kitchen. This cat definitely is not going to get a cheezburger, no matter how many times it asks. Matter of fact, I’m not quite sure how it will get off the Roomba that it has been precariously perched on.

This is the vision of strategy that sometimes is offered as a criticism of Clausewitzian views of strategy–e.g. in practice strategy is as confused and irrational as a cute cat trapped on a Roomba moving around a kitchen while gangsta rap plays in the background. Eliot Cohen dubs this view “strategic nihilism.” Such a view, Cohen observes, denies the purposefulness of war and substitutes rampaging warriors for professional soldiers.

Cohen critiques this view, advanced mainly by Russell F. Weigley and John Keegan, as short-sighted. Beyond A Clockwork Orange-style gang violence, large-scale conflict is rarely simply waged for war’s sake. As Clausewitz observed, wars have political (in the full sense of the word) origins and are organized and limited by political, moral, and material factors. While debate continues about the form and process of strategy, it is certainly possible for strategies to be created.

Now will somebody please get that poor cat off the Roomba and hand it a cheezburger?

From COIN to “Bags of Money”

For a man derided as the “Mayor of Kabul,” President Hamid Karzai is quite the G. His cousin, Ahmed Wali Karzai, is out there grinding with an intensity that would put even champion trap stars like Young Jeezy or The Clipse to shame (although I suspect that Alex of i-Con might disagree with me on The Clipse). Then he threatened to join the Taliban when the West told him that he would have to slow his roll. Now, Karzai is boasting that he gets “bags of money” from Iran. I’m not sure what’s next–perhaps an 1990’s Shiny Suit rap-style video featuring Diddy, Ma$e as well as Kat Stacks dancing on the hood of a Maybach.

In any event, as Robert Haddick observes that Karzai is attempting to undermine the United States counterinsurgency strategy, preserve his own power, and shift the war’s endgame. Furthermore, none of these behaviors were necessarily all that new. Karzai has been a G for quite a while.

In an article for World Affairs Journal, Steven Metz explains why:

In protecting [Cold War-era] dictators and using them as regional proxies, Washington was not concerned with the retention of power by a particular individual or group, but with the construction of stable, sustainable economic and political systems. Americans believed that, over the long term, only open governance, market economies, and the rule of law would lead to stability and limit the anger and frustration that Communists exploited. Thus the United States pushed its clients toward controlled economic and political reform. The authoritarian governments that received U.S. backing saw things differently. Their objective was retaining power and maintaining access to congressional aid packages. They resolutely resisted policies that might undermine their power, often including the very economic and political changes that the United States tried to promote. Reform was a threat, not a goal. The partners might, under pressure, make limited or token changes to keep Washington sweet, but only so long as they left intact the political and economic systems that rewarded them so generously.

The new post-Cold War threat environment features a similar arrangement, Metz explains, this time based on a more stringent arrangement: the dictator or supremo in question must not only reform but exercise complete control over his territory and reform enough to remove grievances that would produce violent Islamist terrorism or insurgency. But this is beyond the ability, inclination, and legal and organizational culture of many of the states we partner with. So as Metz points out, are we going to continue our dependence on strategies that require such unrealistic relationships?

Meanwhile, Karzai will continue to get bags of money from Tehran.

“Stop Snitchin”

Sez Vladimir Putin:

Putin also said he knew the names of those who betrayed the agents. “It was the result of treason,” he said, predicting a grim future for those responsible. “It always ends badly for traitors: as a rule, their end comes from drink or drugs, lying in a ditch. And for what?”

I’m reminded now of Cam’ron’s glorious TV appearance.


Robert Haddick already pointed out that our dependence on overland supplies routed through Pakistan gives Islamabad an effective veto on our strategy:

Pakistan’s closure of the Torkham crossing has revealed that the large buildup of U.S. and coalition forces inside Afghanistan has removed the option of applying pressure on Pakistan. Although the United States has negotiated with Russia to obtain an additional supply line into Afghanistan from the north, the tripling of U.S. forces in Afghanistan since Obama took office means that there is no escaping Pakistan’s strong leverage, amounting to a veto, over U.S. military operations. …100,000 U.S. troops [are] dependent on a fragile supply line through Pakistan. Pakistan’s closure of the Torkham crossing shows that it will allow NATO to execute any military operations it wants just as long as these operations don’t serious threaten the Afghan Taliban, Pakistan’s invaluable proxy ally. Obama and his generals would no doubt like to wield the leverage that Pakistan wields over them. But creating such a reversal of fortune would require a military strategy that doesn’t require endless daily supply convoys snaking through Pakistani territory.

This might seem to be strategy 101 (after all, Martin Van Creveld wrote a book about it!), logistics seems to be the sub-elephant in the room beyond the larger elephant comprised by the general Pakistan issue. But what many US policy analysts seem to ignore is the safety of the supply line as well. The costs of this ignorance were brought into sharp focus today, as militants attacked bunched-up convoys waiting for Pakistan to reverse its decisions to close the Torkham supply route.

While the overall damage was minimal, this sentence is rather chilling: “Nato supplies have little or no security. Islamabad police chief Kalim Imam said the entire supply operation was ‘very vulnerable’ to such attacks and it was impossible to provide constant protection.” So Pakistan either is incapable or unwilling to provide security for a crucial strategic supply line that has already proven itself to be vulnerable to Pakistani Taliban and criminal gangs. And in the event of serious Pakistani political instability, what happens?

And most importantly, why is this not a big political issue at home? It seems we would rather gossip about whatever DC gossip Woodward dredges up than focus on how to secure the lifeline of our armed forces in Afghanistan.

Realism Pt. 2: The Soundtrack

What to listen to while you read your Thucydides and the other books I recommended? I’ve given some thought to the issue.

1. “Advance Pawns” by GZA ft. RZA

The classical realist anthem. RZA declares that “In this high tech world of fire wire and microchip/
We still keep the four-five clip, filled with the spiral tip.” No Information Dominance for the Wu-Tang–fear, honor, and interest prevail in all circumstances.

2. “Da Glock” by the Wu-Tang Clan.

In this song, the RZA, Ghostface, and others enumerate a host of sticky situations that made them glad that they had, in fact, brought their Glocks with them. In a world of anarchy, self-help is the rule.

3. “Warning” by Notorious B.I.G.

Richard K. Betts and Roberta Wohlsetter tell us that the key to preventing strategic surprise lies in deciphering signal from “noise” as well as putting the proper procedures in place to respond and break the assault in progress. In this song, B.I.G. not only correctly identifies a plot to stick him for his paper but ambushes them with seconds to spare. As Alex of i-Con points out, Betts would see B.I.G. as a model of recognition-primed decisionmaking in progress.

4. “Takeover” by Jay-Z.

It is one thing to read your Mearsheimer and talk about Offensive Realism, but this classic from The Blueprint is a great visualization of it. Jay-Z in this song launches a massive war against strategic competitors Nas and Mobb Deep in order to preserve his position as dominant hegemon of the rap game.

5. “We Takin’ Over” by DJ Khaled ft. Akon, T.I, Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Baby, and Lil’ Wayne

While I recall that at least one blogger (can’t remember who though) said the song was about counterinsurgency, but this song is a description of the logic of criminal insurgency: “If you want to, we can supply you/got enough work to feed the whole town/they won’t shoot you unless you try to/come around and try to stomp on our ground.” Of course, this ground is also expanding, as the rappers enumerate the ever-growing list of cities they are expanding their operations to.

Formative Experiences?

What are the formative foreign policy experiences of “Millennials?” Probably none. Why?

Most Americans of all ages do not pay too much attention to foreign policy, outside a small community of policy wonks. It is rather laughable to assume that a large mass of people would consciously describe a foreign policy event as a significant influence on their worldview. The end of a first romantic relationship is probably a great deal more important to most people than the equally messy breakup of the Soviet Union.

If foreign policy matters, it is as a pure extension of partisan domestic politics or narrow controversial issues. Relations with Latin America as a whole, for example ( if they matter to most Americans at all) are seen through the prism of illegal immigration from Mexico. Events like 9/11 or Iraq tend to confirm or challenge partisan or cultural views most Americans already have.

I think that commentators take the Cold War–which tended to buck the general trend in some ways (e.g. apathy was impossible in the face of nuclear annihilation, although partisan politics was still the same as it always was) and then imagine that most people today still see the world the same way.