Robert Haddick has predictions:
From a military perspective, the coalition air campaign looks to be ahead of plan – the burning tanks near Benghazi show that. But without a quick collapse of the Qaddafi regime, coalition policymakers haven’t defined a proper end-state and don’t seem to have a theory of success. Qaddafi, on the other hand, does have a theory of success. He will switch to irregular warfare, using civilians to mask his military operations from coalition air power. Libya’s eastern cities are likely to become the key terrain for both sides, both for cover and for support. And coalition policymakers should expect Qaddafi to improve his propaganda skills as he attempts to use the global media and perhaps a new Oil-for-Food program to fracture international support for the intervention. The Libya conflict presents Western policymakers with one more opportunity to fight an irregular war, a skill they have yet to convincingly master.
Again, I quite hope that Gaddafi will just die or something and that everything will work out. I have a hard time seeing that happen, though.
Well, this doesn’t seem very bloody impressive:
As the military operation continued over Libya on Monday, there was some confusion about which country or organization is actually leading it, and for how long. France, Britain and the United States are in charge of their own operations, which each have different code names.
The participants are being “coordinated” by the United States, but not commanded by it, according to the French Defense Ministry. The Americans, with the most assets, seem to be the lead coordinator, but Washington has said it wants to step back after the initial phase and have NATO take charge of maintaining a no-fly zone and arms embargo.
Britain wants NATO to take over but France does not, and Italy is threatening to rethink its participation unless NATO takes command.
Apparently, some of the early French attacks weren’t coordinated with the UK and US attacks, which is why we saw French planes hitting Libyan tanks before US cruise missiles hit the air defense network. It’s becoming clear that there’s no agreement whatsoever regarding the goals of the war, and that there’s not even much agreement on how it should be conducted.
…and to be sure, the behavior of the Arab League should have been utterly predictable to anyone vaguely familiar with either the politics of the League or the incentives facing its members.
Grover Cleveland asks what he asked in our comments, namely what we should make about the lack of congressional involvement in the decision to attack Libya. A few points:
- Obama’s argument as a senator that his actions as president would violate the Constitution is a perfectly plausible reading of the text, but (as he must have known) not a plausible account of recent practices. There’s certainly nothing unusual about these actions.
- The same is true, only more so, about Richard Lugar’s claim that establishing a no-fly zone requires a declaration of war. In the abstract, it’s perfectly plausible. As a description of contemporary practice, it’s an anachronism, and indeed going back to Jefferson’s attacks on pirates I don’t think this has ever been an accurate description of practices. Certainly, given that even Vietnam and the second Iraq war didn’t involve declarations of war, it’s not really tenable to say that one was needed here. Under current practices, the AUMF George W. Bush obtained prior to the Iraq disaster was constitutionally sufficient, and for short-term smaller-scale conflict congressional approval probably isn’t required.
- As for why power has migrated so much towards the executive branch, I think Matt gets it right: it’s how a majority of members of Congress generally wants it. Posner and Vermeule have a good extended argument about this, but essentially attempts to assert more congressional authority (such as the War Powers Act) will work only to the extent that Congress actually asserts its authority, and there’s no indication that it will.
- As to whether this is a good thing…I’m inclined to agree that it isn’t. Once you get outside of actual direct threats to American security (as opposed to oblique, longer-term threats to American national interests) the claim that the dispatch and secrecy inherent to the executive branch is suitable for defense decision-making strikes me as highly dubious. The decision-making under the president’s contemporary war-making powers has been rife with extremely costly false positives, and it’s all-too-likely that Libya will be another one.
Gaddafi Loyalist forces falling back:
Rebel forces, battered and routed by loyalist fighters just the day before, began to regroup in the east as allied warplanes destroyed dozens of government armored vehicles near the rebel capital, Benghazi, leaving a field of burned wreckage along the coastal road to the city. By nightfall, the rebels had pressed almost 40 miles back west toward the strategic crossroads city of Ajdabiya, witnesses and rebel forces said. And they seemed to consolidate control of Benghazi despite heavy fighting there against loyalist forces on Saturday.
There was evidence, too, that the allies were striking more targets in and around Tripoli, the capital. More explosions could be seen or heard near the city center, where an international press corps was kept under tight security constraints. Recurring bursts of antiaircraft guns and a prolonged shower of tracers arced over the capital on Sunday night.
Also B-2 strikes near Misurata. The hope now appears to be for mass defections from the Gaddafi Loyalist forces, which would presumably eliminate the need for an advance against Tripoli and a bloody seizure of the capitol. Both outcomes remain possible. At the very least, it seems clear that the operation has succeeded in preventing Gaddafi’s seizure of Benghazi. And the rebels seem happy:
A spokesman for the rebels told the television network al-Jazeera on Sunday that more than 8,000 Libyans who had joined their movement had been killed in the revolt. There was anger among residents and rebel fighters at what they called the international community’s slowness in authorizing a no-fly zone and other measures to stop the growing tide of civilian casualties.
But after the missiles landed, such sentiments evaporated.
“The French planes did this,” yelled Walid Abdsalam Houas, a 25-year-old fighter who waved his Kalashnikov in triumph. “I feel so good. This is the best feeling I have had in a long time.”
We can hope that those sentiments are widespread, and that they last.
All very much worth reading, and although we’ve already been discussing it I think he’s especially good on the “but then what?” question:
Launching air strikes is the easiest, most exciting, and most dependably successful stage of a modern war, from the US / Western perspective. TV coverage is wall-to-wall and awestruck. The tech advantages are all on our side. Few Americans, or none at all, are hurt. It takes a while to see who is hurt on the ground.
But after this spectacular first stage of air war, what happens then? If the airstrikes persuade Qaddafi and his forces just to quit, great! But what if they don’t? What happens when a bomb lands in the “wrong” place? As one inevitably will. When Arab League supporters of the effort see emerging “flaws” and “abuses” in its execution? As they will. When the fighting goes on and the casualties mount up and a commitment meant to be “days, not weeks” cannot “decently” be abandoned, after mere days, with so many lives newly at stake? When the French, the Brits, and other allies reach the end of their military resources — or their domestic support — and more of the work naturally shifts to the country with more weapons than the rest of the world combined?
I’d put my reasons for being extremely skeptical this way: if American involvement will be limited to a brief bombing campaign, it’s hard to see it accomplishing anything useful; if it isn’t, it’s hard to see the chances of producing a good outcome being worth the cost.
…see also JMM.
As I suggested in a previous post, the Libya operation makes comments like this even more on point:
Amongst the most desperately short-sighted decisions of the SDSR was the frankly inexplicable decision to jettison the country’s maritime air capabilities in favour of retaining RAF Tornados. I welcome the letter published in the Daily Telegraph today ‘Military experts warning over defence spending review‘ from a group of distinguished officers and academics, including my colleague Professor Andrew Lambert, urging the Minister to reconsider the decision and suggesting a more strategically sound and cost-effective alternative
It’s not just the Harriers and HMS Ark Royal. The loss of the Nimrod R1 patrol aircraft and the cancellation of the Nimrod MRA4 maritime patrol aircraft will make British participation in operations like the Libya NFZ much more difficult. That wouldn’t be such a problem were it not clear that the UK was very interested in participating in such operations.
Bryan McGrath is quite right; current operations in Libya are geared not toward creating a “no fly zone,” but rather towards establishing air supremacy. The difference between the two is that the former would deny Gaddafi the use of the air to support military operations against the rebels, while the latter enables coalition forces to use airpower in support of the rebels. Operationally, the establishment of air supremacy requires attacks against Libyan air defenses and against Libyan airbases, which are not necessarily part of a no fly zone. In Operation Northern Watch (the no fly zone over northern Iraq) US aircraft normally only fired upon air defenses if those defenses engaged the US planes, and only shot down Iraqi aircraft when they strayed across the line.
Odyssey Dawn is a far more ambitious operation, as has already been indicated by the coalition airstrikes in support of rebel fighters.
Peggy Noonan said something insightful. This may well be the most shocking event of 2011 thus far.
The biggest takeaway, the biggest foreign-policy fact, of the past decade is this: America has to be very careful where it goes in the world, because the minute it’s there—the minute there are boots on the ground, the minute we leave a footprint—there will spring up, immediately, 15 reasons America cannot leave. The next day there will be 30 reasons, and the day after that 45. They are often serious and legitimate reasons.
So we wind up in long, drawn-out struggles when we didn’t mean to, when it wasn’t the plan, or the hope, or the expectation.
Some notes from yesterday:
- As noted in several places, French fighter aircraft appear to have taken the lead in attacking Libyan armor approaching Benghazi. This apparently happened before the air defense suppression attacks launched by the United States. Gutsy.
- US enforcement of the no fly zone appears to be of the maximalist variant. Libyan air defense assets have been hit, along with Libyan airbases. No indication yet that the US has used F-22s, but B-2s were involved.
- The cruise missile strikes were launched by US submarines, including the USS Florida, an Ohio class SSBN converted to SSGN duty.
- I wonder if the British are already regretting the retirement of Ark Royal and the Harrier contingent. USMC Harriers have participated from the USS Kearsarge.
The real action won’t come in the form of the no fly zone per se, as airpower wasn’t particularly critical to Gaddafi’s progress. Rather, the no fly zone indicates a strong Western preference for Gaddafi’s exit, which might incline further elements of his regime to abandon him. We’ll see how that works out. In a military sense, the real action happens with the ground support/attrition actions like the French attacks. Airpower can have a devastating effect on poorly trained forces, both because they don’t know how to conceal themselves from attacks, and because the airstrikes can break morale. There’s every indication that while Gaddafi’s forces are better led and equipped than their rebel counterparts, they’re not prepared to deal with Western tactical airpower. While the focus lately has been on Benghazi, rebels hold several other areas in the country, which means that airstrikes in support would have to be widely dispersed.