March 01, 2011

And today's prize for Biggest Cup of Ice Water goes to ...

... Jim Mattis of CENTCOM!

AFP - 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.

"It would be a military operation," the general said.

The United States and its allies are weighing possible military
action, including a no-fly zone, as Libya's Moamer Kadhafi used his
forces to crush mounting opposition.


Although Kadhafi'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.


As the head of US Central Commnad, Mattis overseas American forces in
the Middle East and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


US military doctrine usually requires knocking out an adversary's air
defense missiles and radar any time air power is used.

I have been working under the suspicion that most of the good-natured people clamoring for a no-fly zone in Libya have not thought very hard about what, exactly, that might entail. Most of the people insisting the United States DO SOMETHING are either ignorant about the risks and complexities of contemporary military operations or gloss over those risks and complexities. [For more on no-fly zones, read this informative piece by my old colleague Michael Knights.]

There is an entirely different question about whether or not the Libyans even want us to intervene militarily. I suspect that if the question is phased, "Would you like us to make sure planes and helicopters cannot attack you?" the answer would be a resounding yes. But if the question was instead, "Would you be in favor of a U.S. bombing campaign in Libya if it hastened the fall of the Gaddafi Regime?" the answer would likely be no. The problem, as Gen. Mattis nicely illustrated, is that you might need to do the latter to do the former. I may be wrong about the opinions of Libyans on this matter, of course. This op-ed by "Muhammed" from Libya in the Guardian doesn't clear up much except lend support to the idea that Libyans very much do not want a ground intervention. (SEE UPDATE)

Anyone who has been reading my blog or following my Twitter feed, though, knows that I have been more than a little unnerved by the ease with which people have suggested the United States should intervene militarily in Libya.

I found this Leon Wieseltier piece, with its glib assumptions about both the Arabic-speaking world ("I do not see a Middle East rising up in anger at the prospect of
American intervention") and the ease with which military operations could be conducted ("let NATO planes fly over Tripoli to shoot down any Libyan aircraft that
make war on the Libyan population") to be the worst of the genre and entirely deserving of the scorn with which it was greeted. As a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who has also spent much of my adult life living in and studying the Arabic-speaking world, it just scares the crap out of me that people can still talk so casually about military interventions in the Middle East.

Update: Libyans very much appear to be debating whether or not to request foreign air strikes:

Three committee members later said they would make the request for
airstrikes soon, reversing earlier pledges not to seek foreign military
intervention. They said they now understand that they cannot match the
military capacity or money that Gaddafi has at his disposal. But they
stipulated that they still do not want any foreign ground troops in