Tag Archives: NATO

Nation Building

21 Oct

Libya’s Gadhafi was the bin Laden of the 80s. Yesterday, thanks to a Libyan rebellion and NATO help, Gadhafi met the fate he had long deserved, not only for murdering innocents abroad, but those at home as well.

As a partisan Democrat, I’ll point out that bin Laden and Gadhafi were both eliminated either by America or with American help, yet with no American casualties. In the 90s, NATO made quick work of ending the Serb nationalist socialist expansionism throughout the Balkans.

As we wind down in Iraq, and build up for the eventual wind down in Afghanistan, it’s time to re-visit the Powell Doctrine and, perhaps, codify it. War isn’t just dangerous, it’s expensive – we’re spending $300 million per day in Afghanistan. Almost $110 billion per year – it would be better if that money was being spent by the government domestically on infrastructure or education.

The Arab Spring reminds me of the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, and the way in which each country’s specific personality or situation dictated the way in which its revolution came about. Tunisia deposed its ruler, while Libya’s was shot. The Poles, Czechs & Slovaks, East Germans, and others peacefully built a mass movement, the Romanians had to take up arms – while Husak and Honecker and Krenz retired, went on trial, and/or were exiled, Ceausescu and his wife were shot like dogs – an altogether reasonable way for those two to go.

Now that Gaddafi is gone, Saleh in Yemen and Assad in Syria cling to power in the face of popular uprisings. Iran’s people tried valiantly, but were defeated once the secret police began killing them. Once the people in these countries bring change about and rid themselves of their oppressors, there is hope that regional peace might again have a chance. Without cynical authoritarian dictators at the helm, there’s hope that the new governments will stop blaming Israel for all their people’s woes and start building a modern, free, prosperous, and democratic Arab world.  I’ve always believed that, for the most part, average people in most countries just want to have a job, a home, a family, some vacation time, and the ability to drive to that country’s version of Denny’s for a Grand Slam every once in a while. They don’t want to live like serfs, and they don’t want to fight endless wars. (Neither should Americans, by the way).

You’ll note that the Arab Spring hasn’t brought about Talibanesque Islamic Republics; these people don’t seem eager to replace one form of despotism for another. Maybe the United States will have learned from its recent successes and failures in nation building and provide needed assistance, if invited to do so.

I know it’s unlikely, but one can always hope.

Unexpected Failures in Libya

20 Apr

It’s been a month, and we’re still bombing Libya. I know this may come as a shock to you – you would not know unless you listened deep into Morning Edition or read page 7 of the daily paper. Sandwiched between tsunamis, melting nuclear reactors, and Congressional budget battles, Libya only briefly captured America’s fickle attention.

Ignoring the opportunistic and blatantly political backlash by Republican Presidential contenders (faux and real), the legitimate critique of President Obama’s Libya policy has fallen into one of three basic camps: our plan is non-existent or unrealistic, the plan wasn’t communicated or Constitutional, and why this plan (Libya) and not other plans (Sudan). Me, I fell into all three camps – I admit I didn’t like the smell of this from the start.

But no matter which camp you fell in, the conventional wisdom also generally stated that while we can win the purely military phase of such wars (see: Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq), the trouble would come once the rockets stopped flying, and the long, troubled, national building, elections and government phase began. Turns out the conventional wisdom misunderestimated our conventional military might – don’t look now, but we’re struggling in the shooting war part too.

With a messy mandate to protect civilians, defend rebel territory but only kinda attack the Gaddafi regime, NATO is stumbling. While still bombing select targets in Tripoli to seemingly little effect, in Misrata, last rebel stronghold in the west, and throughout eastern Libya, occasional NATO strikes from the air are not enough to make a tangible difference on the ground. Gaddafi’s forces have moved into the cities and dispersed with civilians, stymieing NATO attacks by ensuring that any bombing will break the West’s Hippocratic Oath. The rebels can gain no ground, Gaddafi’s forces continue their shelling, and a bloody stalemate endures. Internally, NATO continues to squabble. While NATO’s Danish secretary-general called for more precision bombing aircraft, French military commanders claimed plenty of aircraft were available, but more trustworthy target intel was needed. Meanwhile, the US is pulling out A-10’s and AC-130’s, exactly the kind of precision ground-pounders NATO says it wants.

Let me clear – winning militarily in Libya is a matter of political will, not capability. George Friedman notes the fallacy of the Immaculate Intervention – humanitarian wars, those that substitute sentiment for tangible goals, have an expectation of near zero cost to the invading force or the civilians to be assisted. NATO could (and to some small degree, must certainly be) send in terminal controllers and special forces to collect ground intelligence and direct strikes. NATO could also send arms and advisors to assist the rebels. Then they could send in security to defend the advisors. We have seen this movie before. We may be replaying it again – the Brits are talking about sending senior military strategists, and the EU humanitarian aid guards, a la Somalia ’93 Redux. The West does not like to lose wars once we’re in them. But Libya is Limbo – enough will to stay, not enough to “win” even the conventional military portion where our strength lies.      

How long will the average Libyan civilian be supportive of Western involvement if it proves ineffectual? The latest reports are troublesome:

Frustration was growing among residents in Misrata, where Gadhafi’s troops have intensified their long siege of the city in recent days. The doctor criticized NATO for failing to break the assault with its month-old campaign of air strikes. “We have not seen any protection of civilians,” the doctor said. “NATO air strikes are not enough, and the proof is that there are civilians killed every day here,” he said.

The theme was echoed in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, where spokesman Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga said at a news conference: “There’s no more room for hesitation or for not standing with determination against what is happening in Misrata and other Libyan cities, because the destruction that Moammar Gadhafi is causing in Libyan cities is great and extensive.”

This is where the United States loses. Early in his latest book, Travels in Siberia, Ian Frazier tells the story of visiting a Russian in a decrepit Soviet-era apartment block, utilitarian concrete and humorless. The man is proud of his meager furnishings, and excitedly shows off each stick of furniture and modern convenience. But when the tour arrives in the kitchen, the solitary incandescent bulb hanging from the ceiling fails to light when the switch is thrown. The man, visibly annoyed, fiddles with the switch, and then, after retrieving a step-ladder, the wiring around the light itself. Finally, the man fetches a new bulb and changes it with several deliberate turns. He flips the switch again, and the light turns on. Opening his arms wide and gesturing to the whole of the now well-lighted room, the man proudly exclaims, “Ahhhhh. America!”

Vice-President Cheney infamously predicted that US troops would be greeted as liberators in Iraq, and they were . . . at first. It did not take long for the lights to not turn on fast enough, and the warm glow of America to dim. America may now be coming too slow to Libyan dissenters and rebels. We, with NATO, are the greatest military force on the planet. How can we not have “won” yet? And upon winning, how can we not make everything work right away?

Kosovo Declares Independence. Again.

18 Feb

Kosovo actually declared independence in 1990. As Wikipedia explains,

Albanians organized a peaceful separatist movement. State institutions and elections were boycotted and separate Albanian schools and political institutions were established. On July 2, 1990 Kosovo Parliament declared Kosovo an independent country, the Republic of Kosovo, this was only recognized by Albania. In September of that year, the parliament, meeting in secrecy in the town of Kaçanik, adopted the Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo. Two years later, in 1992, the parliament organized an unofficial referendum which was observed by international organizations but was not recognized internationally. With an 80% turnout, 98% voted for Kosovo to be independent.

Kosovo’s declaration of independence has been inevitable since the late 70s and early 80s, when riots first broke out in Prishtina, protesting oppression at the hands of the then-communist Belgrade authorities. A post-Titoist power struggle was ultimately filled in Serbia by Slobodan Milosevic, who appealed to long-dormant Serbian nationalism and sense of primacy in the region. As Milosevic abolished the Titoist autonomy for Kosovo, and stirred anti-Albanianism among the local Kosovar Serb population, the Kosovar Albanians – now 90% of the population – fought back with their own brand of nationalist extremism.

But that didn’t happen until the late 90s; not until after Dayton.

After the settlement of the wars to Serbia’s west in Dayton, Ohio, Milosevic was able to use all the power of the Serbian state and independent militias towards the South, engaging in the type of ethnic cleansing there that they had conducted in Bosnia and Croatia 8 years earlier. Well over a million Albanian refugees escaped to Albania or Macedonia, creating a massive, almost unprecedented post-WWII European refugee crisis. (edit)

This time, however, the West had had enough of this war criminal’s shenanigans, and repelled the Serbian onslaught with a 78-day air war.

On the subject of Kosovo, caution and negotiation is most necessary. This inevitable step – and a plebiscite on joining with Albania proper is probably coming down the pike – is a result of hundreds of years’ worth of social engineering dating to the mass conversion of Orthodox Christians to Islam due to the discriminatory taxation policies of the Ottoman empire, right up to the west’s border-drawing in the post-Ottoman, post-Hapsburg era. This was aggravated by ethnic clashes during World War II, Communist oppression, and ethnic provocations by both sides.

Excluding the former Soviet Union, Kosovo represents the last of the European post-Communist struggles, and represents a continuation of a thread that Milosevic began in 1987 to destroy Yugoslavia and consolidate his power. In the process, he created a national socialist kleptocracy that enriched itself at its people’s expense, and started or aggravated wars for territorial gain. When Yugoslav republics and provinces clamored within Yugoslavia’s legal system for increased autonomy and confederation, Milosevic refused, demanded further centralization, and hastened the breakup of that country. He was truly the monster everyone made him out to be. Seriously – even worse.

Don’t permit the politically gullible and ignorant to try and convince you that this is a massive struggle of Muslims against Christians, or al Qaeda west, or that the aggressors are the victims and vice-versa. Like Bosnians, Kosovars are among the most westernized and secular Muslims in the world.

While Prishtina celebrates and Belgrade riots, I hope that a fifth Balkan war since 1990 can be averted and cooler heads can prevail, as they did when Montenegro did the same thing in 2006. Belgrade is concerned about a 10% Serbian minority in Kosovo, and obviously its safety and rights must be guaranteed, the issue is a highly emotional one for Serbs because the Serb Kingdom was defeated by the Ottomans at Kosovo Polje in the year 1389; that field is considered to be the heart of the Serbian nation. 2007 is far different from 1389. It’s also much different from 1945, 1964, 1987, 1989, and 1999.

Frankly, I think a fascist Putinist Russia is much scarier than an independent Kosovo, which has a per capita GNP lower than Rwanda’s.