Who is Watching in Libya, What are They Learning, and What Does That Mean To Us?

By Jay Holmes

China, Syria, and Iran are watching the military operations being conducted by NATO forces in Libya with great attention.

China sent the 4,000 ton frigate, Xuzhou, into Libyan waters, supposedly to assist in evacuations of Chinese citizens from Libya. However, its real mission was likely an ad-hock attempt at quietly conducting SIGINT (SIGnals INTelligence) and ELINT (ELectronic INTelligence) operations against the Western powers involved in air operations in Libya. China will invest massive human resources into the analysis of any information it gathers, but it will use that information for long term planning and development rather than in any political decision making.

China expects no conflict with Western nations in the near future, and there is no reason to panic about China’s SIGINT efforts. Great Britain, Japan, and the United States conduct SIGINT and ELINT operations against China from international waters and air space every day of the week. In the last half century, China has come to understand that these operations do not foretell a pending invasion by Western powers. At the same time, we realize that any attempt by China to take possession of Hawaii will be conducted with real estate agents and stock brokers rather than frigates.

In the case of Syria, what they will learn is simple. They are (re)learning what their defeat would look like if NATO ever decided to invade Syria. The air power and missile barrage brought to bear in Libya are very minimal as compared to what a NATO launched attack could be. In Damascus, even the most politically connected, untalented general will have realized that moving or supplying Syrian forces anywhere in Syria will be nearly impossible with NATO air forces present.

The Syrian Air Force is far larger, better equipped, and better trained than the Libyan Air Force. But Syria is aware that the air power NATO is using in Libya is a token force by the standards of alliance, and that in any major conflict with NATO, the missile attack on Syria would be approximately four times larger and would destroy much of Syria’s air force within the first hour of war.

What Syria observes from the Libyan conflict will cause no major change in its strategy. It will simply continue with its sensible course of not provoking the West to invade, which, given the West’s generally defensive strategic stance, will not be difficult. The lessons learned from Libya will simply confirm the validity of that current strategic stance.

What Syria has newly learned from watching Libya is that it should avoid public threats to conduct genocide against its own citizens as protests are arising in Syria. That is a lesson that Gadhafi and his overconfident gangsters learned too late.

In the case of Iran, the Iranians will analyze information gained by observing the Libyan conflict with great interest. Unlike Syria and China, Iran does not assume there will be no conflict between itself and Western nations.

The two things about the tactical aspects of NATO operations that most interest Iran are the command and control methods of NATO air forces, and the effectiveness of the upgraded Tomahawk missiles employed against Libya. The strategic question of even greater interest to Iran concerns the fact that Western powers mobilized military force against Libya without waiting for the Western political tortoise race to conclude.

While the effectiveness of the air power of NATO nations and of the Tomahawk missiles will cause no great shock in Tehran, the fact that an attack took place in spite of the lack of complete agreement by Western powers is bad news for the ayatollahs and their generals. Iran may find itself recalculating the exact position of the “line in the sand” in their neighborhood.

In the twisted minds of the junta in Tehran, a military conflict with the West may seem like a glorious opportunity to be relished, rather than a threat to be feared. They see that as an improving opportunity over time as Iran improves its military capacity and accomplishes its goal of obtaining a nuclear weapon.

It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall in the weekly ayatollah update meetings in northern Iran this week. I would absolutely love to hear the well-educated Iranian generals trying to explain the implications of the conflict in Libya to the mostly-functionally-illiterate Supreme Council. Nothing in their years of memorizing the Koran and debating its obscure aspects have prepared the mullahs for leading a near nuclear power like Iran.

The Revolutionary Guard leaders are, no doubt, well-practiced in the art of smoothing over the most awkward of conversations between the megalomaniac ayatollahs and the frightened generals. After all, disagreeing with an ayatollah can cause spontaneous separation of the head from the neck.

I wonder how they draw lots to pick the poor fools that have to deliver the report to the all powerful and none-too-wise mullahs? Perhaps the medals that we see on the chests of Iranian admirals and generals were awarded for surviving some number of meetings with their political leadership. As long as Iran is unequipped by nuclear weapons I can enjoy laughing at their internal leadership situation. A nuclear weapon in the hands of the ignorant ayatollahs would not be quite so laughable.

Special Edition Libya: A Coalition of the Hesitant

By Jay Holmes

As the Coalition of the Hesitant continues to exercise a “we fly, you no fly” zone over Libya today, several ironies and opportunities seem apparent to me.

Before the ink was dry on the German surrender document that ended the European phase of WWII in 1945, Western European nations started realizing that they wanted less American leadership in European affairs. The US-financed Marshall Plan that brought economic salvation to Western Europe was welcomed, but being in the position of  the recipient clarified for many Europeans the need for strong leadership in Western Europe.

France and De Gaulle tried to fill that need by distancing themselves from the NATO command structure, and by developing nuclear weapons independently of the US. England, having enjoyed a closer relationship with the US, pursued a stronger and more inclusive NATO, and most NATO member states followed that example. For one thing, the cost benefits of unified defense were undeniable, and as the Soviets grew a massive military presence in Eastern Europe, no single Western European nation was in a position to defend itself from a Soviet invasion.

In the decades since, the European desire to exercise its own foreign policy has grown increasingly strong. The lack of a massive Soviet military presence in Eastern Germany since the collapse of the Soviet Union has left Europeans understandably more willing to voice their desire for equality (or, in their view, “inherent superiority”) in world statesmanship. European governments are vigorously resisting a major opportunity for European states to exercise their leadership this week. Apparently, no Western European state is yet willing to take over political or military leadership for the coalition of forces currently arrayed against Uncle Momo Gadhafi.

Many American taxpayers are rooting for some “European Superior Statesmanship” this week. Count me in that group. From my viewpoint, it would be a triumph for world peace if Europe steps up and takes charge of the coalition that exercises the “we fly, you no fly” zone. My desire to see this happen is without my usual sarcasm and free of any negative feelings for European governments. My personal estimate is that between Sarkozy and Cameron, Europe has what it needs to lead events successfully. Though an ideal outcome may not occur in Libya, Europe has much to gain by taking control of the situation. If Europe fails to exercise leadership in the current crisis on its southern doorstep, Mideastern and African nations will be unable to ignore the message and to interpret that “message” to their own liking. Leaving someone else to blame also leaves someone else in charge.

Another opportunity that seems obvious is the opportunity for direct diplomacy with Gadhafi today. One crucial difference between Mubarak and Gadhafi is that Uncle Momo lacks an easy way out. I suggest we offer him one. Gadhafi’s absence from power in Libya would be a possible benefit to Libyans, but his carcass, itself, has no inherent value to anyone. He likely would not easily accept an extended vacation to Venezuela, or perhaps a villa in South Africa, but at some point, he might accept it as a better alternative to incineration. We have nothing to lose by making an offer. If Western European leaders wish, they could simultaneously begin to shape some simple rules for the rebels in exchange for their continued survival at the grace of Western powers. A two-page guide to the future formation of a Libyan constitution could greatly decrease Al Qaeda’s opportunity to take control in Libya.

The current “non war” in Libya need not end in chaos for Libya. A modest investment of political courage by European governments will not likely lead us all to the Garden of Eden, but it could easily avoid a decline into hell for Libya and its neighbors.

Ignore the pundits of doom. Failure is NOT preordained. As that crazy English army officer T.E. Lawrence said to his Bedouin friends, “Nothing is written.”  The price has, by and large, already been paid. Let the benefits be harvested for the betterment of Libyans and Westerners. Success is available and can be purchased with bold statesmanship.

T.E. Lawrence — “Nothing is written.”

Special Edition Libya: Will the Libyan Rebels Hold On?

By Jay Holmes

Western governments have, thus far, declined to use any portion of their massive military superiority to intervene on behalf of the anti-Gadhafi rebels in Libya. It appears that, after their initial, timid response to the rebels, Gadhafi’s loyalists have used their limited military ability effectively against the rebels. As for the rebels, they have chosen a static defense against weapons that they cannot match. Their instincts were understandable, but, given their lack of firepower and training, that tactical decision has allowed Gadhafi to concentrate his attacking forces at the point and time of his choosing. The rebels’ failure to utilize mobility and flexibility has cost them dearly.

It appears (from my distant desk) that the West will not act with anything more than “condemnations” and embargoes. What did the President of the United States mean when he said that the noose was tightening? I can understand our apparent reluctance to act due to our inability to predict what might replace Gadhafi, but, if the US was not going to act, such statements would have been better off left unspoken.

Also, if France was not prepared to crush the Libyan Air Force, then why did Sarkozy choose to recognize as legitimate the leaders of a Libya rebel group that he was not ready to trust? I suspect the answer to this question is in Egypt and Tunisia rather than Libya. It is too easy for politicians and voters to assume that “Case A = Case B = Case C.” This natural and strong human instinct to generalize cases can lead to erroneous conclusions in formulating policy.

It appears that Obama overestimated the impact of his words on Gadhafi. I believe it is best to refrain from announcing hangings until we are sure that the intended victim will, indeed, be brought to the gallows. If the West continues to refrain from military support, and Gadhafi triumphs after being declared “on his way out,” it will constitute an “Arab victory” in the eyes of the Islamic propaganda machinery and those that listen to that machine’s output.

One of the more laughable responses to this dark comedy has come from NATO Command. NATO announced that it not only needs “support from the region” (they got that when the Arab League endorsed a no-fly zone) and an indication that a no-fly zone would help, but it also needs permission from the UN.

The time has come for me to unchain a monstrous question that I have kept locked up for years in my often incautious mouth. Since NATO cannot act without the UN, why is there a NATO, and how soon can we cut that massive expense from the US budget? I can accept NATO’s decision to act or not act. I cannot accept NATO’s declaration that it now takes orders from the UN.

When the Arab League decided to support the no-fly zone concept, their “support” apparently did not include actually lifting a finger for the people of Libya. The prevention of the slaughter of innocent Islamic women and children is apparently the responsibility of the non-Islamic West. So much for that much vaunted illusion of “Arab unity.” The Arab states appear to be united only in their intent on letting someone else take care of the problems faced by the people of Libya.

Given the level of brutality that Gadhafi has inflicted on Libyans in the past, the tribes that have taken part in the rebellion might see horrible reprisals. Gadhafi has much to lose by throwing off his “reformist” costume again and putting on his jackal costume. The West’s reluctance to act against him during the last seven years has been, in part, because he was willing to present to the world an almost believable facade of reform. If the rebels collapse, and Gadhafi opts for the “joy of vengeance,” the people of Benghazi might pay dearly for their military failure. This time, there may well be more than twenty dead at the soccer stadium. And, if a genocidal operation is conducted in Benghazi, Gadhafi will surely claim that the imaginary “outsiders” were the ones responsible.

The rebellion in Libya is not dead yet, but they are fast running out of options. Unless they quickly organize and change tactics, or the west decides to intervene, they will likely be doomed.

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Our Salute

On another topic, Piper and I salute the courageous power company workers and emergency responders in Japan. I lack the information and the expertise to quantify the actual risk, but the workers that are marching into the reactor to try to cool down the fuel reactor cores must be taking tremendous risks. Obviously, they are doing it in hopes of saving other people’s lives. I hope that I am mistaken, but I am very fearful about their prospects for survival.

If a massive evacuation of Tokyo becomes a reality, I wonder if it would be possible for some Japanese to relocate to the United States? If we look at the history of immigrants by nationality, it appears that, as a group, Japanese immigrants in the United States have a great record of becoming good neighbors and responsible citizens.

The reporting from Japan and the editorializing outside of Japan are both being pursued vigorously, so given my lack of expertise in civil defense matters in general and nuclear disasters in particular, I will restrain myself from further comment, other than to say that we offer our sympathy and our best hopes for the people of Japan.