Why do politicians continue to believe that air power on its own can get results?
Air power is clean, technical – a surgeon’s blade applied to nation states to cut out all the bad without affecting its people. We count them out, then count them back in again. Nobody except the bad guys gets killed, and ‘smart’ weapons are so smart that this really is true.
More to the point, the USA has all the technology, and like a surgeon looking at an infected leg, is going to operate – as opposed to all the other options . With all those boots in Afghanistan, the USA doesn’t have much else that could be useful with regard to Libya.
But air power isn’t working – air power on its own never does.
We need a Clausewitz able to combine military action with diplomatic strategy. Unfortunately this is what air power folks tell you they do. Looking at the Google Earth screens in a warm command bunker in Washington DC, planning decisive air strikes that will get all your guys in and out in a few hours, is the kind of war presidents prefer.
But as we re-discover every time, it doesn’t work – and never will, because air strikes don’t take any account of the humanity causing the problems. To continue my medical analogy, rather than surgeons who only do surgery – in the same way that the US Army famously declared after the Iraq invasion “we don’t do nation-building” – we need ‘differential diagnosis’ – people able to think laterally – a physician like Dr Greg House.
The USA isn’t much bothered about Libya: it’s quite happy that the UK lead the way aided and abetted by France. Being in charge of this one would be huge hassle; having to obtain concensus from so many sad little countries that can’t be bothered to spend the money on modern command and control assets, and aircraft (everyone in NATO); who want to be involved but not actually fire at anything (Italy and the Scandinavians), or simply refuse to be involved at all (the other NATIO countries headed up by Germany). In any case Libyan oil is more of a European thing, so let the Europeans take responsibility – as soon as possible.
But the USA is looking towards the end game in Libya. Yesterday’s statement by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates that Gadhafi never posed a threat to the USA, and regime change was never on the US agenda, has send a chill wave through the coalition.
Immediately Germany and Italy offered a ceasefire and ‘peace-building’ – presumably with Gadhafi, and to get Germany to join in. Turkey, seeking to maximise its advantage from the situation, is offering to negotiate with Gadhafi. All this leaving Britain and France on their own, on a limb created by those who persuaded the two prime ministers that air power could sort this one out…
But the USA isn’t bothered. Britain released the Lockerbie bomber in return for oil and UK trade advantages. The UK isn’t going to remain shoulder to shoulder with the USA in Afghanistan, and is very rapidly-defence cutting itself out of any kind of serious military consideration.
Soon Britain will have a special relationship with … well France. But at least the French still have an aircraft carrier – and it’s one with proper aircraft.