March 19, 2011

Canada sends F18s to Lybian NFZ operation

We are sending six F18s and roughly 140 pers. to assist in the Lybian No Fly Zone.

To be sure, this marks a surprising shift from words to action. However the purpose of this action remains unclear to many. Military operations shouldn't be goals in and of themselves. Hence, the NFZ should not be it's own purpose. We may derive quite obviously from this that the operation, which denies Tripoli the chance to utilizing its airforce to decimate the rebel force, that our purpose is to protect the rebels. So what happens once Tripoli stops sending aircraft, and resorts to sending armored forces down the road to Benghazi?

We will face a new choice. Either we, the West, fail at our evident goal, or we commit to further operations. Some have called for a "No Drive Zone", which is a ludicrously disinginuous way to say we are commiting to the destrution or capitulation of the Tripoli regime.

Every knowledgeable general or analyst should scream in despair at these words. Does this mean we have our warplanes bomb all of Ghadaffi's forces? In accordance with the principles of war, there is no way we could conclusively affect the conditions on the ground - who wins - without having boots on the ground. That means an invasion force.

And what do we know about invasion forces, even when they win against opponents as weak as Lybia's military?  To guarantee that we "win the war", we have to also guarantee that we "win the peace", or remain behind to guarantee security during transition, and gently nudge Lybia in a conveniently democratic and liberal direction.

To underline the importance of this last statement; imagine if we had bombed the Taliban out of power, but had declined to impose our will on Kabul after the initial fight. The Taliban would have walked back in, and our investment in treasure and blood would have been likened to a brief vacation from power by the Taliban.

In Lybia, we could possibly succeed in eliminating the current regime from the air, or weakening it to the point that it can no longer return. However, even if this is the case (not a guarantee), we cannot guarantee that what comes next is not a period of anarchy which makes Kadhaffi look like a national hero, or perhaps a brutal regime making Khadaffi look like a Saint. One thing is certain, we would have no say in the matter.

To reiterate: Getting involved in "limited gains" operations when these conclude with open-ended scenarios is, in my humble opinion irresponsible policy-making. So I hope dearly that our governments have access to information which we do not, and are commiting our forces to conflict for a rational goal.

March 05, 2011

Thinking Over the Horizon About the Arab Revolts

The Arab world has been engulfed in unrest for roughly a month now. As the situation unfolds, Western positions on the matter are taking shape. Non-intervention, cautious statements, and measured efforts at protecting our assets appear to be the rule of the day.

These are the politics of status quo; attempting not to position ourselves against Arab democrats, while also not removing our support for the dictatorships they oppose. Sadly these politics of caution and care also ensure that we harm our interests in the future by priotizing the short-term.

Should dictators win the majority of these conflicts, they will be bitter that their international backers did not lend a helping hand. Worst yet, if the democrats win - and we should hope so - they will rightly feel that when push came to shove, we did not act upon our oh-so-stated ideals of human dignity and democracy.

When wars end, generals do not retire. They are voted into office. Those who fought are celebrated and lead their nations into peace. Those who were recalcitrant to fight, or worst yet were hedging their bets against their peers, are cast out of the new order. In '79 the US found itself on the wrong side of a national revolution in Iran. That guaranteed an anti-American slant to whatever came next. We do NOT want that to happen all over the Middle East. We want to actively support a side, and assist them in organizing themselves. Most notably because most of these revolutions do not have coherent structures and power centers. This power vacuum in the middle of temporarily galvanized societies means that if the West does not step in, someone else will. Do we want China to come accross as an agent of democratic change in oil producing countries? Or more likely, do we want Islamic elements of those societies (who represent the only organized civil society groups) to effectively carry the flag of the oppressed? What an ironic situation that would be.

These words are not meant to be alarmist. 2011 is not 1979, and Egypt is not Iran. But where water does not flow, air will. We cannot afford to be left out of this historic event. The Arab world is finally following in our democratic footsteps. Why on earth would we not want to be a part of this?

The cautious analysts would tell us that there is a simple answer: We do not want to shake the board on these late turns of the Great Game. We have established interests in these societies, and risking everything means, well, risking everything.

With all due respect, I oppose these opinions. Our civilization has a powerful political tradition of democratic government and human rights. These are inextricably linked to our legitimacy throughout the world. We cannot afford to be hypocrites in the eyes of those who wish to emulate our institutions. We must cheer them on, then become eager mentors as they embark on the perilous road to democracy.