"I came here to drink milk and kick ass. And I've just finished my milk." - Moss, The IT Crowd

Monday, March 21, 2011

Here we go again

So, back on March 8th, I posted my thoughts about why implementing a "no-fly zone" in Libya would not be a good idea. The U.S. government proceeded to promptly ignore my advice. (Apparently, I am not one of our lizard overlords. Damn.)

I don't take much consolation from the fact that the U.S. is at least doing this in support of a U.N. resolution, rather than unilaterally. Yes, the Arab League initially favored a no-fly zone for Libya (although not, as the Foreign Policy Journal notes, for Yemen or Bahrain); but, predictably, that support has withered now that the reality has set in of what it actually means to enforce a no-fly zone. And, as far as I know, Arab League nations have not made any arrangements to help defray the costs of a no-fly zone in Libya. (For once, Dick Lugar and I agree on something.)

When people hear "no-fly zone," they tend to think it means that U.S. fighter jets will be quietly patrolling the skies and once in a while shooting at any Libyan military aircraft which is foolhardy enough to attempt to take to the skies. Well, not so much. If you read this article in the Christian Science Monitor from March 9th, it is clear that implementing the no-fly zone option always involved use of missiles and bombs against Libya's anti-aircraft defenses. In our initial assault, we launched more than 110 Tomahawk missiles. And that is the correct implementation from a military perspective: otherwise you are unnecessarily risking troops (in the case of manned aircraft) and materiel by sending them directly into harm's way. Unfortunately, there is no way to perform bombing of ground targets without collateral damage. You can attempt to make air strikes as "surgical" as you like; but when aerial bombardments are performed rapidly in the confusing and fluid situations that are characteristic of ground warfare, civilians will still die.

The U.S. cannot afford to be seen as the cause of yet more civilian deaths, to say nothing of destroyed infrastructure, in yet more Middle Eastern countries. If we have concerns about anti-American sentiment leading to acts of terrorism, maybe we should stop selling arms to warlords and then subsequently bombing the people who have the misfortune of sharing a country with said warlords. We did it in Iraq. We did it in Afghanistan. Now we're doing it in Libya. (Although I admit that the U.S. did not arm Qaddafi with anywhere near the same level of enthusiasm shown by our EU allies. We did, however, have a special intelligence relationship.) Given our prior support for Mubarak, the Egyptian people should consider themselves lucky.

Honestly, the U.S government just can't afford this military action, period. The first day of this operation cost over $100 million in missiles alone. Back in September, the Congressional Research Service toted up war-related appropriations to date of $1.12 trillion across our current actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus "enhanced security." The forecast U.S. federal budget deficit for 2011? $1.4 trillion. The U.S. national debt stands at more than $14 trillion at this writing. And remember what we did before we started the current Iraq war? We enforced a no-fly zone there. Our government didn't acknowledge that was a prelude to war either.

You know who makes a profit from all this, though? Arms manufacturers and military contractors. Guess which country's corporations have the most revenue from weapons sales? (Hint: We're #1!) Know how much General Dynamics spent on lobbying in the U.S. last year? $10.8 million. Frankly, the campaign contributions of the big banks make the defense industry look like a bunch of pikers. However, defense contractors tend to exercise outsize influence due to the job creation that they can wield in the districts of influential members of Congress. While I don't dispute that we need job creation in the U.S., is this the best we can do?

There's no question that the situation in Libya is deplorable. Muammar Qaddafi (once trenchantly referred to by Henry Davenport as "that mad git in Libya") has ruled through fear for decades and is slaughtering and torturing his own citizens. Clearly Qaddafi needs to go. But his own people need to remove him. If we didn't want him to have aircraft and tanks to use on his own people, perhaps we should have spoken up when Italy pledged to pay the Libyan government $5 billion in exchange for  Qaddafi cracking down on Libyans attempting to immigrate to Italy without visas. (I'm sure you can imagine how those migrants were treated.)

If we were serious about concern for human rights, we would not be sending billions of dollars' worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Yemen, all of whom brutally repress protests and dissent by their own citizens. But cutting off military aid to those regimes would require the U.S. government to confront the fact that the Arab allies whom we have cultivated in the Middle East (and on whom we are dependent for much of our nation's energy supply) are primarily corrupt ruling families who have only the faintest regard for human rights or for the well-being of their countries' citizens. Instead, it's easier to bomb Libya from above and pretend like we give a damn.

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