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Libya – starting to have doubts about my noninterventionist position.

Back in 2003 I was unconvinced by the case for going into Iraq.

Surely (if Saddam was going to be overthrown) 1991 was the moment – when Bush (the first) had called upon the people of Iraq to overthrow Saddam. Both the Kurds and the Shia had risen – and the West betrayed them (George Herbert let them be defeated – although he did have a pang of conscience when they were being slaughtered and established, much too late, the “no fly zones”), they would never forgive such a betrayal, at least the Shia never would, so doing anthing now was pointless……..

This was not because I thought the war was illegal (I am not intestested in the modern definition of “international law” as I am opposed to such organizations as the United Nations and the modern definition of “international law” is bound up with them) – on the contrary, as there was no formal peace at the end of the 1991 conflict (and Saddam repeatedly broke the ceasefire terms – by fireing upon British and American aircraft) both the United Kingdom Parliament and the U.S. Congress were well within their rights to vote to overthrow Saddam.

For those who say “they did not vote for WAR”, the word was indeed not used – but everyone knew they were voting for armed conflict. Indeed in the British context it is very rare to have Parliament vote before the conflict – normally the Prime Minister of the day acts for the Monarch without needing a formal Parliamentary vote.

Of course in the case of the United States there was already an Act of Congress (passed back in the 1990s) ordering the President to overthrow Saddam Hussain. It was hoped the CIA would do the job – but the CIA (which has never really recovered from its gutting in the early 1970s) repeatedly failed to overthrow Saddam.

Still less did I have any love for the mass murderer Saddam Hussain – on the contrary I always detested the life long socialist, even back in the 1980s when it was fashionable to see him as a shield against the Islamic nuttyness of Iran.

I had no problem with the morality of overthrowing Saddam, or with the legality of doing so (see above), my problem with the 2003 operation was that it seemed to make no sense to me as POLICY.

I thought that war and occupation in Iraq would cost vastly more in terms of money and LIVES than Blair and Bush believed (none of their basic assumptions made any sense to me) and I was totally unclear what “democracy” would produce in place of Saddam.

Some sort of pro Iranian Shia government? Would that be better – or even worse, than Saddam? Or would there be total chaos?

As recently as 1998 the above was the position of the arch limpwristed anti interventionists – Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

But after the attacks of 9/11 both men seemed to be totally converted to the “DO SOMETHING” school of policy. That the United States should lash out (without any clear plan) on the grounds that the Middle East was so horrible that any intervention must improve it.

The Neocon School did have a plan – “democracy” (as a solution to all problems), but certainly Donald Rumsfeld never really signed on to this position (he could not put his brain to sleep – which is what one has to do in order to accept the neocon position), but he had become convinced that the Status Que (which, I agree with the neocons, was evil) was so bad that any change MUST be for the better…….

On this I was filled with doubt.

However, I was deeply disturbed by the sort of people who also opposed the war.

Not just the Communists (of various different groups some admitting they were Reds, and some trying to cover it up, – although a couple of the smaller Communist factions actually supported the war, the RCP “Living Marxism” crowd I seem to remember… but it is some years ago). But also the anti American (and anti Israel) British ultra nationalists. The blackshirt types – whether Fascists, or more moderate ultra nationalists (some of the Daily Mail crowd) and their friends.

So I took no active part in opposition to the war – and once war had actually started I hoped (like all loyal people) that things would turn out for the best.

On Libya I find myself in a similar position. This time with a socialist dictator (Gaddafi) so extreme he makes Saddam look moderate – indeed Gaddafi is so bad that only a university academic could like him. But just because the regime is terrible does not automatically mean intervention is the correct policy….

The locals do not want an armed intervention on the ground – they keep saying that (to anyone who will listen), they say that an armed intervention would turn into another Iraq, with Islamic radicals comming in from everywhere to fight the “Crusaders” and the locals being slaughtered in the cross fire. It is often forgotten that civilians are STILL being killed in Iraq every day (by bombs and so on) indeed at a worse rate than happened under Saddam.

So my antinterventionist gut instinct would seem to be sound, but………

Yet again I find myself in bad company (so I have doubts).

For example, yesterday I bought a copy of what Nick calls the “Daily Fail”. As a person of part Jewish ancestry I always feel a bit uncomfortable with the Daily Mail (although they have Jewish staff and so on) due to its history. However, it had story on yet more leftist academics (this time from the London School of Economics – Ed Milliband pals) who were in love with Gaddafi and his Islamic Socialism, and I do not like reading pages of a newspaper without actually buying it.

However, when I read the newspaper there were some nasty things in it. For example, an article on why there should be no intervention in Libya, by Max Hastings…….

I despise Max Hastings (for various reasons) – I feel very uncomfortable being on the same side as him, on anything…..

But this was not the worst of it – there was also Mr Andrew Alexander.

Mr Alexander linked Libya to Vietnam – claiming that the Vietnam war was not about Communism, but about “nationalism” (the old bullshit line produced by that moron Robert McNamara – as a cover up for his tactical and strategic blunders) and how evil America “invevitably” lost.

No examination (by the way “examination” does not mean going to a place and farting around as a journalist – it means the application of miliary science) of the military situation (for example the failure to put large scale ground forces into Laos – which allowed the left flank, in the Korean case guarded by sea, to be turned by the Communists, allowing them free use of the network of supply lines called the “Ho Ch Minh” trail, with only air attack, and CIA and tribal raids, to worry about).

If Mr Alexander actually bothered to study (I use the word “study” deliberatly – see above) the Vietnam war he would find that defeat was anything but “inevitable”, the Communist forces did NOT have the support of most civilians (as with the “war was about nationalism” bullshit, – in fact the civilians always tended to run AWAY from what Mr Alexander would call their “nationalist liberators”), and the Communists were not the supermen in combat of popular mythology.

Indeed even 19 year old American conscripts with no experience in jungle warfare were often more than a match for the Communists – one on one, hand to hand, or in marksmanship. The same is true of Australian and other allied troops, and also of the much attacked ordinary soldiers of the ARVN (however hopeless and corrupt their senior officers were), of whom 250,000 died in the war (many times more South Vietnamese soldiers died fighting the Communists than Americans did).

A whole series of strategic blunders (such as the one examined above) and tactical blunders (the endless regulations imposed upon the United States military and allied forces generally – for example the crippling of air power by making air operations a POLITICAL matter, with the best military targets ruled off limits, and all offensive operations banned for periods due to absurd “talks” with the enemy) led to the fall of IndoChina.

To the extermination of a third of the population of Cambodia by the pro Chinese Marxists, and the murder of millions of people in Vietnam (leading to the “Boat People” and so on) by the pro Soviet Marxists (both the P.R.C. and the Soviet Union giving vast support to the Marxist forces in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam).

But, of course, to Mr Alexander none of this happened – the war was about “nationalism” not Communism at all.

But Mr Alexander did not stop there.

He went on (on the same page) to rant on about how Israel was to blame for all the problems in the Middle East. As if, for example, the existance of Israel is responsible for the deeds of Muhammed, or what was written in the Koran (and so on) after his death, or for more than a thousand years of Islamic attacks upon Europe.

I would NOT say that Mr Andrew Alexander is an extremist of the type I have recently had experience of, but I certainly feel very uncomfortable being on the same side as Mr Alexander.

If a man can be so wrong about Vietnam and about Israel and Islam (and Mr Alexander is wrong – about all these matters) – can his judgement be trusted concerning Libya?


  1. Smoking Hot says:

    One has to question the role of the media in this. With them it’s either all or nothing. Tunisia is all but forgotten despite things there not being well at all. lt’s certainly not all rosy there as it isn’t in Egypt.

    And unless we forget … what about all the other current conflicts going on?

    Politicians are attracted to the media like hyenas to a dead carcass … and it seems the media choose the carcass.

  2. Ian B says:

    I am inclined to wonder what the Egyptian forces are doing- that is, why they are doing nothing- when there is a revolutionary struggle going on next door. They have the world’s 11th largest military (so I am told) which has been lavishly funded by the USA.

    I was watching Al Jazeera a few days ago and it was full of Libyans asking why the West isn’t doing anything. But I can understand the USA etc being reluctant. War is a messy business. You can’t fight one without collateral damage, and there is bound to be a cruise missile that ploughs into a civilian building with mass casualties, and so on.

    It would seem to me that the Orient needs to look closer to home for solutions, at least initially.

  3. john in cheshire says:

    Paul, I agree with just about everything you say. I remember when I was 18, in 1970, having an argument with in interviewer at one of the Universities I was attending, for possible admission. I thought the Vietnam war was against Communism and though very unpleasant, was unfortunately necessary. He thought the opposite; and I wasn’t offered a place as I recall.
    As for Libya, I think we should keep out of whatever is happening. That’s it, really; do nothing. It will be very bloody and very unpleasant for those over there, but it’s none of our business. Once the fighting is over, the new rulers will want to sell their oil so let them sort themselves out. Wouldn’t that be a refreshing change?

  4. Laird says:

    “If a man can be so wrong about Vietnam and about Israel and Islam (and Mr Alexander is wrong – about all these matters) – can his judgement be trusted concerning Libya?”

    Paul, you don’t have to worry about Andrew Alexander’s judgment, only your own. He’s the proverbial stopped clock who’s right twice a day. Your judgment has proven pretty sound. It’s not that you’re agreeing with him, he is agreeing with you. Enjoy the moment!

  5. Paul Marks says:

    Right you are Laird.

    Although I like what Mr Alexander says about financial matters.

    John – remember just how badly commanded, at the politcial level, Vietnam was.

    And I do NOT give the miltary a pass on this – both General Westmoreland and Admiral Sharpe should have resigned (not left their defene for their retirement books).

    Nor is anything I wrote a matter of being clever with hidesight – it was all known at the time, indeed before.

    Back in the 1950s Ike and the others knew that if the political choice was made to go into Vietnam – Laos was going to be the key.

    The Tenth Mountain Division (with massive support) would have had to have been brought back into existance and sent to hold the hill country, to cut enemy supply lines into Cambodia and South Vietnam.

    There was no way a few CIA people could do that – even with tribal support.

    McNamara, Johnson, Nixon (the whole gang) should have been flogged.

    They could not even get the “minor” tactical things right – things they should NOT have been deciding anyway.

    For example, the main battle rifle should have been an army choice – not a poltical choice by McNamara.

    M14 (a young man can take the weight) not an M16 – certainly not the M16 as it was back in the 1960s.

    No good hiding behind a bush or small tree thing – if someone shooting at you with an M14.

    Of course the Navy Seals had their own weapons (rather more powerful than even an M14).

    Four man team (that few) back to back – shoot in all directions, and shoot low.

    Area cleared. So much for the enemy ambush.


    I had not thought of Egypt.

    Yes what is going on?

  6. wh00ps says:

    It’s odd. the situation in north africa has completely AFFIRMED my sometimes-shaky belief in non-intervention. The peoples there have shown they are more than capable of throwing off nasty men with guns on their own. in fact, it is inspiring for us in the west, should the time come.

    Nor am I ‘down’ with spreading democracy in the middle east. If the Libyans got to choose between Gaddafi and soneone very similar to Gadaffi but wearing a sharper suit every four years, the peasants may have not been quite so revilting as they are now.

    As far as the media goes… has anyone noticed how, with very little fanfare, the ‘protesters’ became ‘rebels?’ I believe it happened overnight on tuesday. I’m still not sure what I make of it, although I,m sure it marks a shift in propoganda of some description.

  7. Sunfish says:

    M14-vs-M16 is a bad club to beat McNamara with.

    The latter was not ready for prime time in 1966. The former was a mistake from beginning to end, adopted only because the FAL failed the “not invented here” test and because the M14 was an evolutionary change from the Garand, which in turn was a fine service rifle for WWII but not for 1956.

  8. NickM says:

    I know little about the ‘Nam part from the fact that it seemed to be vacillation about actually trying to win the bloody thing. I’m surprised nobody has mention Tet when the NVA came out as a field army and got panelled. Wasn’t it Cronkite who mislead the US people that the US victory was a defeat?

    what I do know is a bit about the use of air-power. Where to start. I could write a small book on this. But much of the problem goes back to the Key West agreement. It divvied up responsibilities amongst the services. The new USAF saw it’s big shining light as being SAC. Indeed through the 50′s TAC increasingly saw it’s role as tac-nuking Russians in the Fulda Gap. Why bomb bays on Thunderchiefs and F-111s? Bomb bays that carry relatively small weapons though the planes could in principle lug more? Tac nukes – bang for pounds. The reason for this is – wll one of the big reasons – is that the air force being and air force saw combat as about winning from the air. They essentially turned themselves into a 1930s RAF type organisation. CAS was forgotten because that would make them an adjunct to the grunts. The KW agreement of course severely limited Army fixed wing operations. It is perhaps interesting to consider that the Marines of course had retained A-1 Skyraiders because the Marines are a single integrated force. You wouldn’t see a USAF jock dead in something like that. Bloody effective CAS plane though. Then the Bronco was stetted, the Cheyenne was spiked and before anyone says it the A-10 is not a CAS aircraft. It’s a tank killer. Republic wanted to sell USAF an improved two seater with sensors suitable for CAS. No. USAF had their eyes on the F-16.

    The US Military is still titting around trying to find a CAS aircraft. Fave appears to be the Embraer Super Tucano. Excelent aircraft for the job (I’d prefer two engines but…) They could have ordered these in number (it’s tried, tested and I think about USD5mill a throw) straight off the line in Brazil (or got a license) years ago. Very useful in Afghanistan or Iraq. We should have done not least because we operate a version of the Tuc as an intermediate trainer so conversion to the new one would be smooth. Instead we’re bombing blokes who still thing the flip-flop is hich tech with supercruising Typhoons.

    PS. That’s my call on the retirement of the Harriers. They were bloody useless in the ‘stan. Lacking range, endurance weapon load. All important things for CAS. The grunt doesn’t need some flyboy shrieking in at 600 knots dropping a JDAM and then bingo. Wants someone who can orbit the area

  9. Paul Marks says:

    Sunfish – I have so many other clubs to beat McNamara with……..

    M14 versus the FN FAL – well the proof is in the eating (at it were), when people had the choice the bought the FN FAL.

    That is also the basic response to the FN FAL versus G3 debate – people (in combat around the world) tended to prefer the FN FAL.

    However in America in the 1960s that was not the choice – it was M14 versus M16 (apart from for special units with special weapons). And McNamara made the wrong choice – in the time and place (although the wooden stock would have had to go).

    Still the classic Cold War conflict is between human beings armed with the FN FAL and those armed with the AK47.

    Nick – yes it was freaking “Uncle Walter” of CBS.

    He did not even have the courage to say “let us surrender”.

    It was “this reporter sees that honorable talks are the only way out” or something like that. American journalists love talking about themselves in the third person.

    It is all part of the “scientific objective journalism” BS (and it was BS – right from the start).

    Marines versus the specialized services………….

    It is a different way of seeing war – and not just in the air.

    For example, U.S. Marines and U.S. Army use different tactics.

    Who is right – Marines or the specialist services?

    I am too ignorant to be able to make a real judgement.

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