March 24, 2011
The Optics of Odyssey Dawn
By Asia Times Online's Pepe Escobar:
Odyssey Dawn, at least for now, is the first United States Africom war. The Pentagon, via Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, dispelled any doubts as he stressed that the "leading edge" is American. Homer is played by General Carter Ham, out of his headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany (no African country bothered to host Africom). And Ulysses - in what looks and sounds more like an Iliad than an Odyssey - is commander of Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn Admiral Sam Locklear, on board USS Mount Whitney somewhere in the Mediterranean.
The White House and the Pentagon war planners bet their "unique capabilities" on a mini-remix of the "shock and awe" of the Iraq war. The problem is Colonel Muammar Gaddafi appears to be neither shocked nor awed; he may be angry - as in his photo op this Tuesday at the Bab al-Aziziya compound - but he hasn't cracked up. And his regime is fighting back, not turning against the colonel.
Still, Washington is publicly projecting the illusion of being desperate to get rid of this war sold as a "limited mission". But communications are jammed. As in the masters of war having a hard time to, in Pentagon lingo, "transition it to a coalition command".
Washington should have evaluated the "optics" before evoking Homer. Forget about mission creep (ongoing), friendly fire (it will come), collateral damage (already happened), axis of evil (a perennial favorite); the new Beltway neologism of choice is "optics". As in US military types and pundits carping that the "emotional optics" of cruise missiles plus coalition briefings reminds everyone of Iraq 2003. Or widespread fears about the "optics of waging war" in yet another Muslim country.
Even among the "allies", the "optics" is positively of the basket case variety. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an ungodly mess. Turkey wants dialogue - not bombs. Germany is against a NATO intervention - stressing only bombing won't do. France - clinging to neo-Napoleonic President Nicolas Sarkozy's megalomania - wants to keep the illusion it is in command.
Scared that France would usurp its place as Libya's prime trading partner and scrambling not to let Mediterranean policy be dictated in Paris, the Italian government of Gaddafi pal, Prime Minister Silvio "Bunga Bunga" Berlusconi, reluctantly joined the "coalition" (and now, in private, Bunga Bunga is viciously trashing Sarko). Italian energy giant ENI has invested US$50 billion in Libya; thus ENI is keen on getting rid of Gaddafi after the colonel threatened to open Libyan oil and gas to BRIC members Russia, India and China.
The top four BRIC members (South Africa is the fifth) wisely skipped the whole Odyssey. Brazil called for a ceasefire and dialogue. China expressed "deep concern" and warned of a "humanitarian disaster". India said "no external powers should interfere" in Libya. And Russia, via Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, dismissed the "allow everything" resolution.
The same applies for the 53-nation African Union (AU). The AU wants a diplomatic solution. Gaddafi has plenty of historical allies among AU countries. It helps that he pays most of the AU's bills.
Algeria - also a member of the Arab League - said the intervention was "disproportionate". In Chad, President Idriss Deby remains in power to a great extent due to Gaddafi's deep pockets. Deby returned the favor sending mercenaries and weapons to Tripoli. There's more; if the no-fly zone is not extended to southern Libya (it covers just the north and the Mediterranean coast), Gaddafi is still able to receive military and manpower help from Chad, Mali, Niger and Algeria (see Fly me a Tuareg on time Asia Times Online, March 8, 2011). It has not dawned on Odyssey Dawn's planners that a coalition without explicit AU support means the AU is free to keep helping Gaddafi's regime.
Then there's the meat in the coalition's kebab - the Arab League. Washington ordering the embattled kings of Morocco and Jordan and the wealthy emirs in Doha and Abu Dhabi to engage as "allies" - besides the astonishing grotesquerie of these dictators posing as humanitarian saviors of democracy - does not mean the Arab League is fully on board Odyssey Dawn.
Oh yes. Unless we count the then they were six, then they were four, now they're only two Qatar Air Force Mirage 2000 - plus a C-17 cargo plane - to be deployed probably this coming weekend as the glorious Arab League fighting contribution to the "coalition".
The "coalition" never even came close to exhausting "all necessary measures" stressed by United Nations resolution 1953 to seek a diplomatic solution before the American Ulysses started Tomahawking Libya. What all these unwilling, no-coalition countries are essentially asking is for an international team - Arab League, African Union, United Nations - to go to Tripoli and negotiate a package; a real ceasefire, mechanisms to protect civilians, and a political process leading to elections.
As if the faulty "optics" was not enough, Odyssey Dawn is not a full success - apart from having prevented a hypothetical massacre in Benghazi. The horrible accounts from Zawiya and Misurata tell of civilians being attacked by tanks and armored vehicles, as well as militias - Gaddafi's "irregulars" - in jeeps and pick-up trucks. This proves that no-fly - which for the moment basically translates as shock and awe lite - is not protecting a whole lot of civilians.
United States President Barack Obama now seems to be sure he has successfully tweaked the "optics". The official spin is that Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Sarko have all agreed that NATO should play "a key role" in Odyssey Dawn. Like in projecting the "optics" that it won't be in charge of the military wing of no-fly - when it eventually will (the 28 NATO members must approve it unanimously). Such optical saturation leads to what was obvious from the beginning; this will "transition" from a "coalition of the three willing" (US, Britain, France) to a NATO war.
If the Pentagon really applied its fabled "unique capabilities", the whole Gaddafi regime would be reduced to rubble in minutes. But that's a "limited mission" conducted by a "coalition" - not "regime change", although that's exactly what the president, the Europeans and most Arab dictators want. Talk about an "optics" red alert.
The Washington establishment is beaming that for the first time "the Arab public" is supporting an American intervention. Beware of the "optics" you pick. The "Arab public" is also making the connection that if Gaddafi shoots his own people and then gets bombed by the West, why should not the same thing happen to the dictators in Yemen and Bahrain? The "Arab public" can also clearly identify which methods Washington and the Europeans are using to try to appropriate the great 2011 Arab revolt to themselves.
For the moment, with so much fuzzy "optics", no think-tank dares predicting what the "coalition" will come up with if no-fly does not stop Gaddafi. Arming the rag-tag but very brave and ultra-motivated "rebels" - something already in effect - is mandated by UN resolution 1953. Washington, London and Paris pray that soon the rebels may switch from defense to attack, march over Tripoli, topple the tyrant and provide everyone with a Hollywood ending.
It won't happen. The transitional council in Benghazi asked for a no-fly zone - not a foreign intervention. What Odyssey Dawn is providing is most of all heavy bombing of Tripoli - on the other side of the country. The people of Tripoli are starting to see this as the beginning of a new colonial war. This means that a post-Gaddafi political transition cannot possibly be peaceful. Perversely, Odyssey Dawn is laying the groundwork for the partition of Libya. Balkanization looms.
Any decent military analyst worth his single malt on the rocks knows nobody wins a war from the air. The humanitarian yearning is a smokescreen (why Libya and not Yemen, Bahrain, Gaza?) This is more like a new, very dangerous war theater in the Orientalist-named MENA (Middle East, Northern Africa), a warped Odyssey with no endgame and no end in sight. Now you see it, now you don't.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009)