Monday, March 21, 2011

I am uncomfortable with the situation in Libya

It has taken me a while to articulate to myself why I feel such discomfort with the armed intervention in Libya.

Although Qaddafi certainly deserves to be removed, my problem is that the Western world does not have the stomach to fight the battle in the way that it needs to be waged.

You have to look at the big picture. Qaddafi fought back against an insurgency that erupted in his country.

However justified these insurgents were in opposing this tyrant, they were clearly not up to the job. Not even close.

The truth is: they should not have engaged in this battle unless they were reasonably certain of winning the fight. That is one of the main conditions of a just revolution, as defined by the natural law. But you don’t need to be Catholic to realize this. It’s just plain common sense. If you go into battle, you make sure you have enough people, arms and an adequate strategy to overcome the enemy, otherwise you stay home. Because it’s unconscionable to fight a war that you’re not even sure you can win.

When you see the ragtag bunch leading the insurgency, there’s no way they could win, even against a crappy army like Libya’s.

Now, the Western leaders were justified in intervening. But their whole strategy is just half-assed. If the West *really* wanted to, they could take over Libya, occupy it and eventually set up a native regime.

The problem is: they don’t really want to.

They have only agreed on performing the strict minimum: enforcing a no-fly zone.

What is that going to do for the insurgency?

Sure, it stops the aerial bombardments, but how does that actually advance their goal of removing the Libyan leader? They’re still a ragtag bunch with virtually no fighting capacity.

The no-fly zone isn’t really doing a whole lot.

And now a number of people have amassed around potential air targets hoping their presence would deter the West from striking them. Good strategy on their part. (I suspect many if not most of them were pressed into service for this, but that’s just speculation.)

So now what?

This is just so half-assed. When you decided to engage in armed conflict, you can’t be milquetoast about it. You either go in and throw every you have at it, or stay home.

But the West doesn’t want to do that. They want a certain result—the removal of Qaddafi —without putting into it the blood, sweat and tears that really goes into it.

They want a nice clean war where no one gets hurt and things get done and they don’t want their lily-white hands to be soiled with the blood.

Although we of course want to reduce casualties, the reality is, you have to decide if it’s worth the cost of the potential causalities, including those of the innocent. And if the war is not worth it, if the threat, the evil, the pain generated by this regime is not so overwhelming that it’s not worth a well-planned overpowering invasion with a potential occupation of several years, then it’s probably better not to fight it.

Again: I repeat, be prepared to throw everything at it, like in World War II, or stay home.

I know that people will object that freedom is at stake, and that Qaddafi is a tyrant and so on.

I realize that. But sometimes you have to tolerate evil in order to save human life. That’s not to say you don’t try to stop it in some other means. But you can’t risk people’s lives if you don’t have the stomach for war. That might sound paradoxical. If your heart is not in this war, if this is not do or die, then don’t go there.

I’m adamant about this because when you wage war without that necessary hunger to win—and that hunger must be felt just as much on the home front as among the troops—then you’re setting yourself up for defeat, or at least for a longer conflict than necessary. Decision-making becomes wishy-washy. The whims of the people eventually dictate the course of the war whether we like it or not. And if the people aren’t in it, they will want the troops to come home before the job is done. The troops also get battle fatigue and start wondering about their purpose in fighting. It should be obvious why they are there. If it’s not, then they’re not going to make the effort.

I’m writing this because I’m not happy with the way the US has waged war in the last 20 years (and Canada either, for that matter). The Allies went into Afghanistan in 2003, toppled the Taliban, but didn’t really conquer the rest of the country. They haggled over troop deployments, and there really weren’t enough boots on the ground to keep the peace and impose a rational law on the people. I know that sounds like an occupying force, but frankly, Afghanistan needed (and still needs) someone to set some basic rules of conduct and enforce them. It’s a travesty that there are still girls being attacked for attending school. Where are the forces to protect these girls? We didn’t have enough forces to stop it. The West was very reluctant to throw everything at this war. It just wanted to get in, get out. That’s not how you win a war.

And then, to make matters worse, we opened another front in Iraq on dubious grounds. I know Saddam was a horrible despot. But the truth is: more people would have lived if the US had not gone in. He was pushing 70 when he was hanged, and it I suspect he would have been dead in ten years. Now, perhaps if the US and other allies had thrown all they had at Iraq, at lot of sectarian violence could have been prevented. But we know that’s impossible because their attention was already divided in Afghanistan.

I do not want a repeat of the mistakes of the past. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan lasted too long, and the pain of those wars could have been markedly diminished if the ground forces had been ridiculously overwhelming—as they could have been, if the West had not been half-hearted in its approach.

You can’t fight wars half-hearted. You only increase the pain and the conflict when you do so. You have to make your presence so overpowering that no one will want to fight and you can start establishing some rule of law.

And some people might object that that’s a lot to ask from the West. That is what people have to decide before they go into war: whether it’s worth it. Sometimes it’s not. As I think the case is in Libya. The insurgency is a led by a bunch of military midgets. There is no obvious pool of leaders from which to form the leadership of the country when the regime falls. It’s all so very ad hoc, and ad hoc is not good. It leaves the situation open to takeover by even more nefarious powers. We don’t know who might be hiding in the shadows to take advantage of this power vacuum.