by Austin Bay
March 8, 2011
In 1941, air power gave Japan significant military and
psychological advantages in its war against China. Japanese bombers pounded
Chinese ground forces. They also targeted defenseless civilians. The Nanking
Massacre (1937) demonstrated that the thugs running Tokyo's China war regarded
terror, atrocity and mass murder as tools to intimidate and control the Chinese
Imposing a no-fly zone wasn't an option for President
Franklin D. Roosevelt -- Japanese military might eliminated the choice. FDR
opted for a covert operation: the 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG), better
known as the Flying Tigers. The AVG would give China a nominal air defense
capability and signal U.S. political sympathy for its war-savaged people. Now
for the overt fact: Most AVG pilots were U.S. Army and Marine officers who
conveniently resigned their commissions. However, their public status as volunteers
provided a thin veil of deniability that made the operation politically
feasible. It wasn't a black op, to use the jargon for covert action, but a gray
The differences between Libya 2011 and China 1941 are
glaringly obvious. However, the vulnerability of Libyan civilians to attacks
delivered by Moammar Gadhafi's air force is comparable, as is the moral dilemma
of giving the defenseless and terrorized a degree of protection. I would
venture Gadhafi's views on atrocity as a tool to cow a population are similar
to Japan's emperor-worshipping generals.
As for U.S. policy regarding Libya's anti-Gadhafi revolt,
diplomatic silence is no longer an option. President Barack Obama said Gadhafi
must go. Translation: Gadhafi's survival now represents an American diplomatic
defeat. Obama advocates economic sanctions to pressure the dictator. Gadhafi,
however, has money, he's counter-attacked, and he vows to fight to the bloody
Nudged by Sen. John McCain, the Obama administration now
says it is considering imposing a no-fly zone, though Secretary of Defense
Robert Gates argues, correctly, that a no-fly zone is an act of war.
U.N. authorization would make a no-fly zone more politically
palatable, but China (in 2011) has a Security Council veto. China isn't keen on
intervention. Its ruling communist oligarchs are clamping down on Chinese
dissidents because they fear the democratic shockwave unleashed by Tunisia's
Jasmine Revolution. Having Gadhafi suppress his rebels may serve Beijing's
The Obama administration itself has sent conflicting signals
since Tunisia rebelled. Recall Vice President Joe Biden said Egypt's Hosni
Mubarak wasn't a dictator. Obama's Libyan reluctance follows that script.
Rhetorically he demands Gadhafi's ouster, but overt military options to achieve
this goal languish as he seeks multilateral consent.
Conflicting signals and chronic indecisiveness suggest the
Obama administration hasn't decided what U.S. interests are at stake in 2011's
remarkable revolts against corrupt dictatorships.
Here's a clue: 2011 finds America representing history's
winners at the strategic, long-term level. The demands for freedom in the
streets of Tunis and Cairo echo the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
Ironically, 2011 also finds an American government that is tactically alienated
from these energized democratic forces because it is convinced of America's
past agency in what its left-wing academic gurus call imperialism, racism,
reactionary-ism, et cetera. For these toffs, the hint of U.S. involvement in an
event taints its historical purity, or some equivalent balderdash.
But the world isn't a faculty lounge. In Libya, as President
Obama mulls, Gadhafi's air force mauls.
OK, overt intervention makes Obama look like George W. Bush,
and his leftist voters can't stomach that (heck, Gitmo's still open). But
Libyan civilians are dying, right now. A Gadhafi victory does not serve Libya's
or America's best interest. A Gadhafi victory serves the interests of autocrats
-- which bodes ill for long-term stability.
Obama ought to pursue a gray op (like FDR's AVG) that sends
the overt, undeniable political message that America has a stake in promoting
21st century liberty. Given the information porosity of today's battlefield
(cell phones, twitter), a sustained covert op will be exposed, so leverage it
by advancing a pro-liberation diplomatic agenda.
Have the CIA and Green Berets -- ideally working with
Tunisian and Egyptian special forces -- identify rebel leaders who wish to
emulate Tunisia and Egypt; supply their fighters with arms, medicine and
communications gear; provide them with intelligence.
Who knows? Gadhafi's pilots may impose their own no-fly zone
after special operations commandos armed with Stinger shoulder-fired anti-aircraft
missiles nail a couple of jets.