On Point: Calculated Covert Action Against Gadhafi

by Austin Bay
March 8, 2011

In 1941, air power gave Japan significant military andpsychological advantages in its war against China. Japanese bombers poundedChinese ground forces. They also targeted defenseless civilians. The NankingMassacre (1937) demonstrated that the thugs running Tokyo's China war regardedterror, atrocity and mass murder as tools to intimidate and control the Chinesepopulace.

Imposing a no-fly zone wasn't an option for PresidentFranklin D. Roosevelt -- Japanese military might eliminated the choice. FDRopted for a covert operation: the 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG), betterknown as the Flying Tigers. The AVG would give China a nominal air defensecapability and signal U.S. political sympathy for its war-savaged people. Nowfor the overt fact: Most AVG pilots were U.S. Army and Marine officers whoconveniently resigned their commissions. However, their public status as volunteersprovided a thin veil of deniability that made the operation politicallyfeasible. It wasn't a black op, to use the jargon for covert action, but a grayop.

The differences between Libya 2011 and China 1941 areglaringly obvious. However, the vulnerability of Libyan civilians to attacksdelivered by Moammar Gadhafi's air force is comparable, as is the moral dilemmaof giving the defenseless and terrorized a degree of protection. I wouldventure Gadhafi's views on atrocity as a tool to cow a population are similarto 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 Gadhafimust go. Translation: Gadhafi's survival now represents an American diplomaticdefeat. Obama advocates economic sanctions to pressure the dictator. Gadhafi,however, has money, he's counter-attacked, and he vows to fight to the bloodyend.

Nudged by Sen. John McCain, the Obama administration nowsays it is considering imposing a no-fly zone, though Secretary of DefenseRobert Gates argues, correctly, that a no-fly zone is an act of war.

U.N. authorization would make a no-fly zone more politicallypalatable, but China (in 2011) has a Security Council veto. China isn't keen onintervention. Its ruling communist oligarchs are clamping down on Chinesedissidents because they fear the democratic shockwave unleashed by Tunisia'sJasmine Revolution. Having Gadhafi suppress his rebels may serve Beijing'sdomestic interests.

The Obama administration itself has sent conflicting signalssince Tunisia rebelled. Recall Vice President Joe Biden said Egypt's HosniMubarak wasn't a dictator. Obama's Libyan reluctance follows that script.Rhetorically he demands Gadhafi's ouster, but overt military options to achievethis goal languish as he seeks multilateral consent.

Conflicting signals and chronic indecisiveness suggest theObama administration hasn't decided what U.S. interests are at stake in 2011'sremarkable revolts against corrupt dictatorships.

Here's a clue: 2011 finds America representing history'swinners at the strategic, long-term level. The demands for freedom in thestreets of Tunis and Cairo echo the U.S. Declaration of Independence.Ironically, 2011 also finds an American government that is tactically alienatedfrom these energized democratic forces because it is convinced of America'spast 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 anevent taints its historical purity, or some equivalent balderdash.

But the world isn't a faculty lounge. In Libya, as PresidentObama 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). ButLibyan civilians are dying, right now. A Gadhafi victory does not serve Libya'sor 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 sendsthe overt, undeniable political message that America has a stake in promoting21st century liberty. Given the information porosity of today's battlefield(cell phones, twitter), a sustained covert op will be exposed, so leverage itby advancing a pro-liberation diplomatic agenda.

Have the CIA and Green Berets -- ideally working withTunisian and Egyptian special forces -- identify rebel leaders who wish toemulate Tunisia and Egypt; supply their fighters with arms, medicine andcommunications gear; provide them with intelligence.

Who knows? Gadhafi's pilots may impose their own no-fly zoneafter special operations commandos armed with Stinger shoulder-fired anti-aircraftmissiles nail a couple of jets. 

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To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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