March 29, 2011

Bashar al-Asad's attempts to placate the Syrians

Syria's President Bashar al-Asad has been in power for over ten years. He has survived numerous political crises, but nothing compared to what appears to be the beginnings of a popular uprising no doubt fueled by revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, and a host of uprisings across the Arab world. Demonstrations in Yemen, Jordan and Saudi Arabia were met with promises of reform and increased government salaries, an attempt to placate the population and maintain the leaders' grips on power.

Syria has a different tactic - the use of heavily armed police, internal security and military units to break up peaceful demonstrations. It was only a day after the initial protests broke out in the southern Syrian city of Dara' that special regime security troops were helicoptered to the city where they brutally stopped the protests with lethal force. Although it is difficult to obtain reliable information on just how many protesters were killed, the numbers may be in the hundreds.

Having seen what happened in other Arab countries over the past months, al-Asad thought he might try the carrot approach after using the stick. His spokesperson, the polished Dr. Butaynah Sha'ban* claimed that the Syrian president had ordered that a committee be established to talk to "our brothers in Dara'" and bring to justice those officials responsible for killing protesters. She continued that the al-Asad government would raise wages, reform the health care system, open election to more political parties, fight corruption and relax tight restrictions on the media.

The claim that action would be taken against those responsible for killing protesters is disingenuous. They were no doubt acting on orders coming directly from the Presidential office. The troops who were dispatched by helicopter were what we at the embassy called "regime protection units."

There are two separate units charged with regime protection, both based in Damascus, but completely separate organizations to make sure the other is not a threat to the regime it is charged to protect. These units do not normally deploy outside Damascus since that is the seat of government and the likely venue for a coup attempt. When they deployed to Dara', they did so with Presidential authority and direction.

The Syrians have a history with handling demonstrators - that history is not lost on the population. In one defining event, the Syrians learned what their government will tolerate and what it will not. It was in 1982 in the northern city of Hamah, the fourth largest city in the country. The Muslim Brotherhood had decided to defy the Syrian government. President Hafiz al-Asad deployed elements of the Syrian army under the command of his ruthless brother Rifa't. Syrian artillery flattened the center of the city and killed upwards of 25,000 people. The Syrian response has become notorious around the world as "The Hamah Rules.

The Syrians learned the rules. Up until now, they really haven't broken the rules. Occasionally, though, in the early and mid-1990's we would hear gunshots in Damascus. Being the inquisitive military attache that I was, I would try to find the source of the gunfire. More often than not, it was a group of Muslim Brotherhood fighters holed up in a house. After a few cursory shots of return fire, the Syrian internal security forces would set the house on fire. I asked one of the officers why they resorted to such drastic action so quickly. He explained that the ikhwan ("brothers") will not surrender, they had to be killed.

It is that history that causes many Middle East observers to be surprised at the tenacity and courage of the protesters. it should have come as no surprise that at the first hint of an uprising, the al-Asad regime put soldiers from its protection units on the streets of Dara' with obvious orders to use whatever force was necessary to put an end to the demonstrations.

It did not. Within days, there were more protests in Dara', but also in the northern coastal city of Latakia, close to the al-Asad family home city of al-Qardahah. Troops were dispatched to both cities and demonstrators were killed.

Al-Asad knew he had to do something to halt the momentum of the protesters. He did two things - he fired his cabinet and orchestrated massive pro-government demonstrations in Damascus.

The Syrian government is good at putting on massive demonstrations comprising hundreds of thousands of people in the street. I was in Damascus when Bashar's late older brother and then-heir apparent was killed in an automobile accident. The Syrians organized huge demonstrations by mobilizing unions and trade organizations - you can do that in a socialist country. A doctor friend was told at work that he was to be present for the doctors' union "spontaneous outpouring of grief" at at specific time and place. What you are seeing on Syrian television is just more of the same organized propaganda.

Firing the cabinet is just another meaningless machination. None of the ministers have any actual power - they do what Bashar al-Asad tells them to do. He will merely replace this batch of yes-men (and women) with a new batch. Nothing will change.

For the Syrian government to react the way it has indicates to me that al-Asad is concerned that at some point his forces, be they police, internal security or military, might well follow the lead of Egyptian military and refuse to act against the civilian population. Or he might fear that the civilian population will continue to rise up as the Libyans have. In any case, he's probably not sleeping well.


* I say "the polished Dr. Butaynah Sha'ban" for a reason. She holds a minister-level position as the Political and Media Advisor for the Office of the Presidency. She has a Ph.D in English literature and is attractive and charming. She is perfect for the job. I know her from the time when I was the Air Attache at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus and she was the presidential interpreter; I worked with her on several occasions.

March 24, 2011

Amateur Hour at the White House - Take 2

CAVEAT: If you think the President is handling the Libya crisis well, you may find these comments offensive yet enlightening.

I have tried to understand why President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seem to ignore every principle of foreign policy taught at leading international relations schools and military institutions, not just in this country but around the world. I might give Mrs. Clinton a pass since she may be in the position of having to represent an ill-conceived position as she works for the President. Then again, if she does not agree with the Obama policy, she can resign - it merely takes a phone call and she doesn't need the money.

Where do I start? I was astounded by the earlier bifurcation of the President's policy and his military strategy. As I said in a previous article, any graduate of our professional military education institutions understands that military power and its application is but one component, one tool of foreign policy, just as is diplomacy. Both are used to advance foreign policy objectives. Stated another way, diplomacy and military power are both used to achieve foreign policy goals.

Applying that theory to reality, President Obama has stated that U.S. policy is the removal of Mu'amar al-Qadhafi from power. The President has made that clear (he is big on clarity) on more than one occasion. If that is the goal, then American diplomacy should be geared toward that. If diplomacy fails, the President also has the military option to achieve that aim.

Inexplicably, that did not happen. The President, for reasons that most of us cannot understand, has separated foreign policy goals from its components. When he articulated the reasons the United States supported the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, the President stated that although it was U.S. policy to support the removal of Qadhafi from power, the use of force under the resolution was not to achieve that goal. If you are not using military force to achieve a stated policy objective, why are you placing young American men and women in harm's way? That is inexcusable.

That said, perhaps the most egregious failure to grasp the realities of what is happening in Libya is the bifurcation of the military operation. Since the beginning of the military campaign on March 19, Obama has tried to downplay the leading role of the U.S. armed forces and was looking for a way to pass off leadership to another entity, in this case NATO.

That's okay in and of itself, but it was the convoluted agreement reached by the leaders of the NATO nations that is dangerous and confusing. NATO works on a consensus basis - all 28 nations must agree. In its haste to transfer leadership, the Obama Administration violated one of the key precepts of military operations - unity of command. What Obama and Clinton agreed to comes as a shock to any professional military officer.

Under what I will call the "Obama Abdication," the President agreed to cede command and control of the no-fly zone enforcement portion of UNSCR 1973 to NATO, but retains (via the U.S. Africa Command) responsibility for the portion of the resolution that applies to the protection of Libyan citizens from the brutality of the Qadhafi regime.

This is a formula for disaster. NATO forces operating under one chain of command will enforce the no-fly zone, while at the same time in the same air space American forces, possibly with other allies, in a separate chain of command will enforce the protection of civilians portion of the resolution.

Two command structures in the same space at the same time? This is dangerous work under ideal circumstances. There will be young men and women operating high-performance lethal weapons systems in close proximity against one enemy who has, through no machinations of its own, retained a key tenet of military operations - unity of command. There needs to be one commander focused on one set of military goals. Today's agreement does not do that.

It is obvious that the two-tier agreement took some arm twisting, otherwise Mrs. Clinton would have been on time for her announcement, rather than spending time on the phone begging and cajoling her counterparts at the last minute. This is probably the best she could do in an attempt to execute the wishes of the President to abdicate leadership of the operation.

The fact that the President of the United States and the Secretary of State agreed to ignore a basic military concept underscores their lack of understanding of the military option. Neither one of them have the background or experience to be making these decisions. What they did today is dangerous for our troops and our country.

Mr. Obama, the next time the phone rings at 3:00am, please don't answer it. The caller will understand - you can explain that you were appearing with Ted Mack on Amateur Hour.

March 21, 2011

Mr. Obama - please define our mission in Libya

We are not yet three days into Operation Odyssey Dawn, the United Nations mandated enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent the forces of Mu'amar al-Qadhafi from killing Libyan civilians. Already there are issues with a clear definition of our mission. What exactly are we, the United States, hoping to accomplish?

First, to borrow a phrase from the President, let me be clear. I support the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya. I called for it weeks ago. I am also on record stating that in the absence of a no-fly zone, the Libyan rebellion would have failed and Qadhafi would remain in power. I defended Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper when he made that same assessment in a Congressional hearing.

My reasons for supporting a no-fly zone were also clear: to give the rebellion a chance to succeed. Three weeks ago, the imposition of a no-fly zone may have led to the overthrow of the Qadhafi regime. Military units and government officials were defecting on a daily basis. As President Obama "dithered" and equivocated on why not to push for action, the momentum of the rebellion stalled and Qadhafi regrouped. By the time the United Nations, moving glacially as usual, got its act together, the no-fly zone was necessary to prevent wholesale slaughter in the remaining rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

Since the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1973, there seems to be confusion in the Obama administration about what we are trying to accomplish. Most of us Middle East specialists took the President and Secretary of State Clinton at their word: Qadhafi must go. They both said it; I assume they meant it. When the President and Secretary rallied the Europeans and the United Nations to unite against what was happening in Libya, I thought they were being true to their word. When the President of the United States and his chief foreign policy architect advocate regime change, it stands to reason that subsequent diplomatic and military action is in support of that policy.

Yet today in Chile, the President sought to bifurcate the ongoing military operation from American policy. According to his remarks, American policy was that Qadhafi no longer had legitimacy and needed to go, but that the objective of Operation Odyssey Dawn was to protect Libyan civilians from Qadhafi's forces.

What we have here, as my wife describes it, is "it's 'Amateur Hour' at the White House." Policy and actions should not be separate issues. Policy drives the actions and operations. Committing American military power to an operation that is not in line with stated policy is ludicrous. We have sent hundreds of young American airmen, sailors and Marines into harm's way, so why are they not operating toward the achievement of our stated policy goals?

Do I not recall Mrs. Clinton telling us she was "ready on day one" to lead the country? Here we are over two years into this administration and they still don't get it. When you order American armed forces into action, you need to delineate the mission. As graduates of any of our command and staff or war colleges know, military force is an element of foreign policy, just as diplomacy is. The standard phrase in the military about the application of military power is "when diplomacy fails."

Here is the dilemma. We have now engineered a United Nations resolution authorizing "all available means" to prevent Qadhafi's forces from killing civilians. Nowhere in that resolution is authorization for the removal of the Qadhafi regime from power. So, Mr. President, just what would you have General Carter Ham, commander of the U.S. Africa Command, do? Shall he merely prevent loss of civilian life, or shall he maneuver forces for the removal of the regime?

If this was an American foreign policy issue, the answer is obvious. Apply the military force in a manner that destroys the centers of gravity of the regime while ensuring that pro-Qadhafi forces cannot attack rebel forces or civilian populations. Oh yeah, you might want to make sure Qadhafi does not try to torch the oil fields like Saddam Husayn did in 1991.

You see where this is going. There is no clear mandate from the President. The American military will do whatever you order them to do. Trust me, the armed forces are capable of that, but you have to articulate what you want them to do. Thus far, it's too ambiguous.

The bifurcation of policy and mandate is a recipe for disaster. When the civilian population and the rebels are safe from the Qadhafi regime but the regime is still firmly in power, there will be a stalemate. What then?

Be the commander in chief - issue the orders that execute American policy as you have defined it. You cannot have it both ways.

Welcome to the real world.

March 20, 2011

Operation Odyssey Dawn - who's on first?

U.S. Navy ship launches a Tomahawk missile

Operation Odyssey Dawn began on March 19 to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and protect Libyan civilians from the military forces still loyal to Mu'amar al-Qadhafi. There is, rightfully so, much confusion as to who is in charge, who is doing what and where the operation is heading. Much of that is by design.

The Obama Administration, being sensitive, overly in my opinion, to the perception of the United States in the Arab and Muslim worlds, is reluctant to be seen as attacking or leading attacks on an Arab country, when in reality that is exactly what is happening. For this reason, the United States delayed, or "dithered" according to some analysts, taking unilateral action against Libya, preferring to secure Arab League and United Nations sanctions for the attacks. In the President's thinking, if the attacks have a European and even better, an Arab face, it might pose less of an image problem for Obama and the United States.

It was also this thinking that determined the makeup of the initial attack package. The first shots in Odyssey Dawn were fired by French pilots, followed by British pilots. Only then did the United States Navy join the fray with a massive barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles. The attacks by the French and British pilots, while effective, were not the opening attacks to establish a no-fly zone; the missile strikes were.

The scores of Tomahawk missiles were aimed at the initial target set in any no-fly zone operation, the integrated air defense system. To effectively deny Libya the use of its own skies, you must take control of those skies. To do that, you must destroy or otherwise neutralize the ability of the Libyans to challenge your control of their skies. The missiles struck surface to air missile sites, radar facilities, and the command and control communications centers that manage the system.

The Tomahawks were followed by four B-2 stealth bombers, able to fly undetected should any radars remain operational, dropping 64 MK-84 2000-pound GPS-guided bombs on other air defense system targets. Those bombers flew from and returned to their base in Missouri.

Initial reports indicate that the integrated Libyan air defense system has been largely destroyed. That said, there are still many air defense weapons in the country. These are the antiaircraft artillery guns seen firing in the news reports emanating from Tripoli. These guns are not tied into the integrated system and act independently. Most of this fire can be avoided by staying at medium to high altitude.

Likewise, the Libyan army possesses a large number of short-range SA-6, SA-8, SA-9, SA-13 and Crotale missile systems, as well as the man-portable shoulder-fired SA-7/-14/-18 family. These operate under local army control and not the integrated national air defense system. Most of these weapons will have to be destroyed or neutralized before complete control of the skies is assured.

I am not sure the Arabs and Muslims whose perceptions Mr. Obama seems concerned about were fooled. The reality of the operation is becoming clear - the French fired the first shots. With apologies to the Bard, a friend described it as "Cry havoc and let slip the 'frogs' of war...."

Since then, the majority of the ordnance is being delivered by the American military using Navy T-LAMs, Air Force B-2 bombers, and Air Force F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft. I did see a U.S. (Navy or Marine, not sure which) F-18 at Sigonella; they may be providing electronic warfare support, something at which the Navy excels.

Taking down an integrated air defense system like the one in Libya requires a certain amount of expertise. The most experienced and effective military in the world at doing this is that of the United States. We have done it in other places and are quite good at it. We possess the weapons, the intelligence and surveillance assets, and the requisite know-how to do it effectively. The world knows who did this, regardless of how it is being portrayed. As in most of these so-called "coalition" operations, the heavy lifting is done by the American armed forces.

The Arabs know it's us doing the damage. Then again, the Arab League did call for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya; the vote was unanimous. As to be expected from the Arab League, we are now seeing some "buyer's remorse." Secretary General 'Amr Musa complained today that the group had only agreed to a no-fly zone, not attacks on Libyan installations, or as he put it, "bombardment of civilians."

What hypocrisy. Both Secretary of Defense Bob Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were quite clear that the establishment of a no-fly zone begins with attacks on Libya's air defenses.

Given the seeming waffling on the part of the Arab League, it will be interesting to see if Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan follow through on their commitment to provide fighter aircraft for the no-fly zone over Libya. It would be useful to see an armed fighter aircraft bearing the flag of an Arab nation on patrol in the skies of Libya.

As I have said in the past, when all is said and done, the majority of the operations will be done by young Americans. We've always been on first.

March 18, 2011

Libya - Is UNSCR 1973 too little, too late?

Libyans celebrate in Benghazi

After almost a month of what some pundits have called "dithering," U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have now hailed a diplomatic victory, the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. The resolution establishes a no-fly zone over Libya and requires member states to take all necessary action to prevent Libyan leader Mu'amar al-Qadhafi from continuing to slaughter his own people. It remains to be seen if the lack of American leadership in the form of Obama and Clinton is too late for the people of Libya.

The good news is that the resolution was passed pursuant to Chapter VII of the United Nations charter. That chapter authorizes and requires member states to enforce the resolution. Already, a coalition is forming around France and Great Britain, whose leaders were among those with the foresight and courage to call for action weeks ago. It appears that the United States will be an unwilling, but necessary, participant.

A Chapter VII resolution theoretically has teeth. That is what drove Qadhafi to announce a ceasefire and halt to military operations almost immediately after the resolution was passed. However, Al-Jazeera television has reported that Libyan forces continued their push towards the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. That push was accompanied by artillery fire, a violation of the Qadhafi-declared ceasefire, not to mention the UN resolution.

Now the test. There is a Chapter VII resolution in force, and a ceasefire declared by the Libyan government. If the UN resolution is violated, as it surely will be if it has not been already, there must be consequences. Those consequences must be swift and punishing, such as a wave of airstrikes against key Libyan military command and control facilities.

Unfortunately, President Obama has taken many of the best options off the table. As it stands now, American strike aircraft will not participate; the role of American cruise missiles and naval gunfire support is still in question. One might ask why the United States is bothering to show up. Hopefully, the nations that have the courage to participate in a meaningful way can mount a significant enough attack to convince Qadhafi to change his ways and abide by international demands.

There is a problem. If Qadhafi can take Benghazi in the next day or so, he may just be able to once again declare a ceasefire, which at that time will hold since he will have crushed the rebellion. It is doubtfuul whether the coalition will attack Libya if there is no fighting left to stop, no rebels left to protect.

It did not have to come to this. Had the United States in the persons of the President and Secretary of State acted forcefully when it might have made a difference, Qadhafi might have been driven from power. After all, that was the outcome called for by President Obama. Now, the consequences of that failure to act reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The President is a fan of "March Madness" (the NCAA basketball tournament). Unfortunately, he has caused some March Madness of his own. He makes statements such as, "Let me be clear, these terms are not negotiable... If [Qadhafi] does not comply ... the resolution will be enforced through military action." Whose military action? It seems the President is ready to commit military force, just not his.

Instead of the possibility of quick and rather bloodless regime change - that ship has sailed - we are now likely heading for a long stalemate in which Qadhafi stays in power.

Of course, the President doesn't care what I have to say - he's too busy filling out his NCAA brackets while packing for a trip to Brazil, when he should be in the White House - he is about to send young Americans into harm's way. I said it in an earlier piece, what a disgrace.

March 16, 2011

Pakistan's release of CIA contractor a sensible solution

Ray Davis is now back in American custody. That's the good news, and long overdue. It was only a matter of time before the Pakistani government engineered a way to release Davis before the issue created a real rift between Islamabad and Washington. The Pakistanis also ran the risk of having their country branded as a pariah nation for refusing to adhere to provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961.

The Vienna Convention covers diplomatic immunity, but it is not always clear exactly who is covered. I have served at American embassies and have had diplomatic immunity, yet I have never technically been a diplomat. In most cases, I was assigned as a military attaché or as an advisor assigned to the military attaché office. I was issued a diplomatic passport (also called in the American system a black passport because of its color) by the State Department.

Having a diplomatic passport in and of itself does not confer diplomatic immunity, contrary to what many people think. Normally, when you are assigned to an embassy, your name is submitted to the host government, who issues you a local identification card. In the Arabic-speaking countries, it is called an iqamah, or residence permit. If you are in a position entitled to diplomatic immunity, your name is added to the diplomatic list. Once your name is added to that list, or in my case, when my credentials were accepted by the host military intelligence service*, you have diplomatic immunity.

Ray Davis fell into a gray area of the diplomatic immunity protocol. As a contractor for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) - carrying a Glock sidearm gave him away; the military carries Berettas - not only was he not a diplomat, he was not even a U.S. government employee. He was assigned on a temporary basis to the American embassy in Islamabad, more specifically to the CIA station. As a former U.S. Army Special Forces soldier, his skills are in great demand by the CIA Special Activities Division. His skills would be in especially great demand in Pakistan, safe haven of many al-Qa'idah and Taliban fighters.

Since Davis was in Pakistan for a short period, it is doubtful that he presented any credentials to the local government. He was probably listed as a technician working at the embassy of one of the U.S. consulates in the country. The technician position would not necessarily carry diplomatic immunity, and he most certainly would not have been on the diplomatic list.

That said, all countries do this. They assign intelligence and special operations personnel to their embassies to conduct operations that at times contravene local laws, particularly laws that govern espionage. They, and we, expect that diplomatic immunity extends to these personnel, even those assigned on a temporary basis. It is one of those "understandings" between intelligence services.

Normally, the issues do not involve the shooting of local nationals. That not only creates a legal problem for the host government, but an emotional issue for the local population. In Lahore, Pakistan, where Americans are not viewed with favor, the killing of two locals caused an uproar that put the government in an impossible position. Of course, no one mentions that the two locals were armed and possibly trying to rob, or who knows, kill Davis.

Because of local sensitivities, the Pakistanis felt that they had to take Davis into custody as though they were going to prosecute him. I am guessing that they were trying to figure a way out of this dilemma as soon as it happened, thinking, "How do we get out of this diplomatic situation without appearing to placate the Americans and their billions of dollars of assistance?"

What the Pakistanis came up with is probably as good as it was going to get. Davis's notoriety after killing two locals demanded something more than releasing him because of diplomatic immunity. Had he been on the diplomatic list, there would have been no question, but he was not.

According to some media reports, the Pakistani intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, scooped up the families of the two persons who had been killed by Davis. The families were brought to the prison where he was being held, and in front of a judge pardoned the American. According to Islamic law, Davis had to be freed.

It appears to me that the ISI engineered this whole kabuki dance to allow Davis to be released without just letting him go. There was probably "blood money," an accepted Islamic practice, paid to the families. Fine, it served both countries. The United States got its man released, and the families received what passes for justice in northeast Pakistan.

The ISI probably had to get involved since there were Islamist groups demanding that Davis be tried and executed. In the end, though, it was probably the best solution we could hope for. Actually, it was pretty resourceful, whoever thought of it. Pakistan realized that holding an American who carried a diplomatic passport was a nonstarter and needed a way out.

* In most countries, military attachés are assigned to the military intelligence service, and are accredited to the host nation military intelligence service. In the United States, all military attachés are assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency. Foreign military attachés in Washington are accredited to the Director, DIA.

March 15, 2011

Libya - an American and European disgrace

In an unconscionable and unbelievable abdication of foreign policy leadership, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have joined their European counterparts in condemning the Libyan people to continue to live under the oppressive government of Mu'amar al-Qadhafi. The United States refused to support a British and French call for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya, and instead referred the issue to the United Nations Security Council.

Referring the issue to the United Nations Security Council is the diplomatic equivalent of doing nothing. It's going through the motions, making it appear that you are doing something when in effect you have decided to ignore the situation and hide behind the institution that is the poster child for inaction.

Perhaps I am being too hard on Obama and Clinton. After all, Mrs. Clinton flew to Paris to meet with a senior Libyan opposition official. Of course, she made vague promises of support, but not any commitment to concrete action. Now that the no-fly zone is almost certainly off the table, she is now joining calls for the United Nations to come down hard on the Libyan leader. She even raised the notion of tougher economic sanctions. Whoa - you can almost hear al-Qadhafi's screams of fear all the way to New York. Oh wait, that's not fear, it is contemptuous laughter.

For his part, the French foreign minister chimed in and asked the Security Council "to increase the pressure, including through economic measures, for [al-Qadhafi] to leave." He further welcomed "measures under way at the Security Council as a matter of urgency to protect Libyans from the fighting between rebels and forces loyal to [al-Qadhafi]." The minister hoped for a resolution by the end of the week.

Here's a news flash for the Frenchman. Nothing the Security Council does in New York this week will protect Libyans. The time line is also a joke. By the end of the week, it will likely be over. Government forces flanked the rebels in the city of al-Ajdabiyah and cut the road behind them, cutting them off from the main rebel group in Banghazi.

The opportunity to support a group of Libyan rebels with the courage to stand up to al-Qadhafi's superior forces is fast slipping away, if it has not already. While Clinton and her counterparts are drafting words, al-Qadhafi's pilots are dropping ordnance. His forces have cut the road between al-Ajdbiyah and Banghazi, and are moving to the east. When Banghazi falls, the rebellion will be over.

At that point, the world will witness the results of its failure to act. It will be a bloodbath, despite al-Qadhafi's offers of amnesty. There is almost no independent reporting allowed from inside the country. The world will have no way of accurately assessing just how dire the situation will be for those who dared to fight for freedom.

The absolute fecklessness of the U.S. government, in the persons of Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, has signed the death warrants of hundreds, even thousands of the rebels who waited in vain for help from the West. Despite unprecedented support from the Arab League for the imposition of a U.S. and NATO-enforced no-fly zone over Libya, these so-called leaders sat on their hands, effectively doing nothing until it was too late. The two Americans talk a good game, but come up short when it's time to actually craft coherent foreign policy.

The Democratic campaign rhetoric of the 3:00am phone call keeps coming back to haunt both Obama and Clinton. Either they forgot to pick up the phone, or they keep passing it back and saying, "It's for you."

The failure of the United States and NATO to act has led to a higher body count in Libya. President Obama's demands that al-Qadhafi step down, and repeated statements that al-Qadhafi must be removed emboldened the rebels to fight on in the face of overwhelming odds. Just who did Obama think was going to support the rebels?

If the President of the United States is going to make these kinds of statements, he needs to have the courage to back them up with effective action. He watched and waited as al-Qadhafi took advantage of his control of the skies and superior weaponry. The blood of Libyan patriots is, and will be, on his hands.

It is not our finest hour. What a disgrace.

March 10, 2011

In defense of Director of National Intelligence Clapper

Director of National Intelligence retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Jim Clapper is being criticized for his analysis at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 10. He described, correctly in the context of his statements, China and Russia as "mortal threats" to the United States.

Several Senators expressed concern that General Clapper did not cite either Iran or North Korea as "mortal threats." Given the general's long background - almost five decades - in the intelligence community, his remarks are understandable. Russia and China possess the capability to strike the continental United States with nuclear weapons. As he also stated, there currently does not appear to be any intent on behalf of either nation to exercise that capability against the United States.

Intelligence analysts deal with two factors: capability and intent. Clapper addressed both, accurately in my opinion. Both nations have the capability to pose a "mortal threat," but there is no indications of hostile intent at this time. Conversely, Iran and North Korea, with limited capabilities, may pose a threat to U.S. interests in the Middle East and East Asia respectively, but neither country's capability rise to the level of a mortal threat to this country, regardless of their hostile intent. Israeli analysts have described Iran in different terms, however, labeling the Persian Gulf power an "existential threat" to the State of Israel. We are not Israel, we are not within range of Iranian missiles (yet).

It was after Clapper offered his analysis on the situation in Libya that some Senators called for his resignation. I am not sure why - perhaps his analysis was not what they wanted to hear. In defense of Jim Clapper, what he said was entirely accurate. Clapper's assessment is not what the President wishes the situation to be, it is the situation as it is on the ground. None of the Senators has the military or intelligence background to challenge that assessment.

Before I continue, a disclaimer. Jim Clapper is both a professional colleague and a personal friend. I have worked for the general on several occasions, and have participated in professional fora with him. His experience is broad and his accomplishments are many.

Let's take a look at General Clapper's assessment of the Libyan situation. You can watch the general's remarks here.

CLAPPER: So, I just think from a standpoint of attrition —


GEN. CLAPPER: — that over time, I mean — this is kind of a stalemate back and forth, but I think over the longer term that the regime will prevail.

The general is absolutely correct. No military analyst worthy of the title will tell you differently. In the absence of external support, Libyan military forces loyal to Mu'amar al-Qadhafi will defeat the rebels. The Libyan leader has shown no reticence, reluctance or remorse to use air power, armor and artillery against the opposition forces. The ruthless application of orchestrated military power against poorly armed and untrained rebels, regardless of their commitment and fervor, will ultimately prevail. General Clapper's assessment is accurate; I said the same thing a few days earlier. (See my article, Libya: No Fly Zone or Qadhafi.)

In response to calls from Senator Lindsey Graham for Clapper's resignation, the White House tried to rehabilitate Clapper's analysis. They should not have done so - Clapper was right. Senator Graham should stick to that part of the military he understands, that of the judge advocate general corps, basically the lawyers. We need good military lawyers and we appreciate his service, but before he criticizes General Clapper, he might want to learn something of desert warfare, air power, insurgencies and the Libyan armed forces.

Just because President Obama has called for al-Qadhafi's removal, words will not make it so. In the absence of external support, such as the imposition of a no-fly zone over the country, General Clapper's assessment that the al-Qadhafi regime will prevail is spot on.

March 8, 2011

Libya: No Fly Zone or Qadhafi

(This should be read in conjunction with my earlier No-Fly Zone Libya - some considerations.)

The situation in Libya is deteriorating into a civil war. Unless Libyan leader Mu'amar al-Qadhafi relinquishes his position and accedes to the demands of the opposition, the fighting shows no signs of ending anytime soon. Such a move by al-Qadhafi is unlikely, especially now that his forces have mounted what appears to be a coordinated counteroffensive.

What appeared to be a wave of earlier opposition successes has slowed to a stalemate. As the pro-government forces now begin combined arms military operations against the opposition, the tide may actually be turning against the rebels. Untrained rebels fighting with unfamiliar light weapons are no match for tanks and aircraft operating in concert, especially in the open desert terrain of northern Libya.

Key to al-Qadhafi's forces military operations is complete control of Libyan airspace. The opposition forces have only older anti-aircraft artillery and possibly some shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. Both systems are limited to relatively low-altitude coverage. When these systems are manned by poorly or untrained operators, they are fairly easily avoided by fighter bombers. While the heavily armed and armored Mi-24 helicopter gunships are more vulnerable to these systems, Libyan air force pilots are making devastating strikes on rebels in the oil refinery and port city of Ra's Lanuf to the west of Tripoli, and in Az-Zawiyah to the east of Tripoli, in each case forcing the rebels to give up hard-gotten gains.

If the Libyan air force continues these effective air strikes against the lightly defended opposition forces in combination with armored assaults, the pro-al-Qadhafi forces will likely be able to push the rebels further east to Banghazi. If Banghazi is retaken by government forces, the rebellion is over.

It may come down to this. Either the United Nations authorizes the imposition and enforcement a no-fly zone over Libya, or Mu'amar al-Qadhafi remains in power.

The most likely organization to enforce a proposed no-fly zone is NATO, of which the United States in the key member. NATO has experience conducting integrated air operations - it did so effectively in the Balkans - and member nation Italy has air bases within range of Libyan airspace. As I said in my earlier piece, if and when NATO begins these operations, the bulk of the flying will probably be done by American aircrews, including the reconnaissance, refueling and logistics sorties.

NATO's normally timid political leadership and cumbersome military command structure may make the whole issue moot. NATO is not scheduled to meet until Thursday to even discuss enforcement of a no-fly zone, and will not consider it unless there is a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing it. Libyan government forces are not waiting for that resolution or NATO's decision. They will continue to mount their coordinated air strikes, helicopter attacks and armored assaults, hoping to end the rebellion before the outside world can act.

President Barack Obama has invested some political capital in the removal of Mu'amar al-Qadhadi. The President and British prime minister have both called for the removal of al-Qadhafi. Refusal to support or participate in no-fly zone imposition or enforcement negates that investment and likely ensures the survival of the regime in Tripoli.

It's another 3:00am phone call. What's your answer going to be, Mr. President?

March 4, 2011

"From Saigon to Baghdad" - a conversation with Rick Francona

Click on image to open article

Author and journalist Michael Totten and I met on a trip to Israel during the Gaza conflict in 2009; he and I sat down for a conversation about the current situations across the Middle East. Click here or on the image to read the transcript of the conversation.

Michael's latest book, The Road to Fatima Gate - the Beirut Spring, the Rise of Hezbollah, and the Iranian War Against Israel, has just been released.

March 2, 2011

No-Fly Zone Libya - some considerations

There have been calls and suggestions, or what Secretary of Defense Bob Gates describes as "loose talk," for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya, similar to that imposed over Iraq in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War in 1991. That no-fly zone was in place until the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Could a no-fly zone be successfully imposed over the vast expanses of Libya? Yes, but not without cost. It is one thing to pass a United Nations Security Council resolution declaring a no-fly zone; it is quite another to enforce it. Demanding that the Libyan air force stop flying in its own airspace does not mean that they will comply. There will have to be credible military force available to impose such a zone.

The major component of that "credible military force" will almost certainly be aircraft and pilots of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force, operating from carriers in the Mediterranean (the USS Enterprise is en route) and air bases in "friendly countries," most likely Egypt but possibly Italy as well. No doubt there will be participation from other countries to put an international face on it, but in the end, most of the serious flying will be done by young Americans.

What are the considerations involved with enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya? The obvious consideration is the capability of the Libyan air force and air defense system. Given the rhetoric emanating from Tripoli in a series of rambling nonsensical speeches, it is doubtful that Libyan leader Mu'amar al-Qadhafi will order his aircraft to stand down, nor will he order his air defense units to refrain from engaging foreign aircraft operating in Libyan air space.

On paper, Libya's air and air defence forces appear to be formidable, but in reality are not. While the fighter aircraft inventory tops 200, most are older Soviet jets such as the MiG-23 (NATO: Flogger); most are likely no longer in service. There are possibly a few French-built Mirage F-1 fighters operational as well. Two of these were flown to Malta by pilots who chose to defect rather than launch air strikes on their own citizens. There are dozens of heavily-armed Russian Mi-24 (NATO: Hind) attack helicopters that can inflict massive casualties on civilian populations, as we well know from Iraq's use of these very effective weapons platforms to put down the Shi'a rebellion in 1991. It is these helicopters that need to be grounded, or if the pro-Qadhafi forces insist, destroyed.

Neither the aircraft nor pilots of the al-quwat al-jawiyah al-libiyah, the Libyan Air Force, are capable of taking on state-of-the-art American F-15, F-16, F-18 and F-22 fighters flown by well-trained, combat-experienced pilots. The Americans can sweep the skies of any Libyan aircraft whose pilots are foolish enough to attempt a challenge. That is not the issue. The issue is first destroying the Libyan air defense system.

Like most former Soviet client states, Libyan air defenses are multi-layered, dense and redundant, combining long and short range missile systems integrated with anti-aircraft artillery guns under a centralized command and control system fed by a network of surveillance radars. The first task of imposing a no-fly zone is to neutralize that air defense system. Although it is possible to jam radars and some communications systems using non-lethal means, that is only a temporary solution. To provide the security the pilots will need to conduct effective no-fly zone enforcement, the air defense system needs to be crippled.

Those who favor the imposition of a no-fly zone need to understand clearly that it will begin with air strikes on Libyan air defenses. When that happens, there will be images beamed all over the Middle East and Muslim world by media outlets such as Al-Jazeera and al-'Arabiyah of American aircraft dropping bombs on an Arab and Muslim country. Arabs and Muslims will die at the hands of American pilots; the media in the Arab and Muslim world will make sure it is well covered.

For the record, I am in favor of a no-fly zone. I am in favor of anything that hastens the removal of Mu'amar al-Qadhafi from power. I am in favor of protecting any Libyan with the courage to face al-Qadhafi's armed forces in hopes of freedom and a better life. We just need to make sure we know what we are getting ourselves into.