No There, There.

You are ten kilometres above the earth moving westward at a thousand kilometres an hour. Through your canopy you can see the whole central Mediterranean from this altitude. The sky is a blazing dark blue as it always is. The earth is a glaring sand-ochre as it always is. Your bladder is already full — damn that second mug of coffee! — and your g-suit is chafing at the back of your neck when you turn your head, pointlessly, to search for something that isn’t there.
You are the Master of the Universe for as long as you are here, which, although you have a big drop-tank on the centreline, is still only forty more minutes at cruising speed and far less if you have to throttle up for some reason, although this won’t happen. You can destroy anything in Libya that you can see. Touch a key and the display from your radar in ground-surveillance mode shows a marching mob of little dots. Metallic things. Huts? Cars? Mechanised infantry combat vehicles carrying infra-red-homing surface-to-air missiles, backed by search-and-track radar not yet switched on? (Your radar warning receivers are silent, as they always are.) You have no way of knowing.
You could blow them apart with three keystrokes and a trigger-squeeze. Four of them, anyway, since you have only four air-to-ground missiles (you are carrying air-to-air missiles to enforce the no-fly zone, of course, though you have seen nothing in the air west of the Benghazi bomb-line since you came here). But you would have to account for that when you got home. Here over enemy territory you can theoretically kill anyone you want with no comebacks, unless your target is unbeknownst to you an inserted SAS snatch- or spy-team or a band of rebels who lost their way in the desert and are blundering into enemy territory, which apparently happens all the time. In either of those cases you will get your own rocket from the squadron commander and a reprimand on your record which will ensure that you will never command your own squadron.
And what is the point of going to war if you don’t get promoted for it?
You are not allowed to go down and have a look-see. The sky chariot you are riding cost a significant fraction of the MoD budget and if it is lost, you will have to account for it if you survive. Those people far below might have something to hit you if you fly below ten thousand feet. Much safer to stay at thirty thousand, and it saves fuel, too; the lower you go, the less efficient your two throbbing engines pushing against all that nasty air. But from up here you can’t read a slogan or recognise a flag, so how can you know whom to kill? There are no free-fire zones. You talked of the bomb-line, but that’s a joke; the rebels are losing towns all the time and then lying about it, and sometimes they take towns and forget to tell anyone about it. You can apparently learn more about the war from watching al-Jazeera than you can from your intelligence summaries.
But you don’t watch al-Jazeera, although one of the junior people in the squadron does, on his laptop, and sometimes he mutters under his breath about just how crazy this all is, even though al-Jazeera is on our side now, which is funny because when you did a tour at Baghram, a bit of top cover for the Green Jackets who were helping the Yanks out with — what was it — Operation Typhoon Challenge, that was it — well, back then, al-Jazeera were the enemy. No, to be on the safe side, you scorn the Sun which is always on the wardroom table, but you read the Standard instead, even though they say it’s run by a Russian now. Doesn’t seem to have changed much. At least it’s not the bloody Guardian. Anyway, what the papers say is that you’re doing a good job, carry on.
You’re going to have to turn round soon, you and your wingman Woolly the Welshman. You’re nearly approaching Tripoli, which is someone else’s sector.
God, you’re bored.
This must be approximately what it is like to be participating in David Cameron and Nikolas Sarkozy’s war. Apparently there are only about fifty fighters, all operating out of Sicily because Algeria won’t provide basing rights (they are not happy at having political chaos on their eastern border, particularly not Islamist chaos) and so they have to fly across half the Mediterranean to get there. And when they get there, where are they? These are supersonic multi-role combat aircraft, mostly designed to penetrate Eastern European airspace for the purposes of fighting World War Three. They are ludicrously unsuited to counter-insurgency operations, which is essentially what is going on in Libya; a rabble of incompetent guerrillas fighting against a disciplined citizen army stripped of its heavy artillery and armour and thus supported chiefly by mortars and the BM-21 122mm truck-mounted multiple rocket-launcher. It’s impossible to distinguish a BM-21 from a regular truck unless you go in close, and not even then, if the bastards have thrown canvas over the rocket tubes. Take it out, and what if it turns out to be a civilian transport, laden to the axles with orphans no doubt?
It’s not like the original invasion of Afghanistan, when the people you were supporting were a trained and disciplined army and providing them with air cover was the tipping-factor in the civil war. Also, the whole USAF was involved in that bombing and by the sheer law of averages, firing kilotons of munitions into enemy territory had to make some difference. Fifty fighters means only about a dozen will be in the air at any moment and even if they were continually bombing it would take a long time for them to degrade resistance. They aren’t, and even with the arms embargo the Libyan government will probably be able to sneak enough weapons in to make up for any losses.
It’s interesting to compare and contrast this war with the Falklands affair, because there is little doubt that Cameron hoped (with his natural xenophobic hatred for dusky-skinned brethren ramped up to psychopathic rage) for a Falklands Factor. Our Boys Swat Sand Niggers Like Flies. It’s expensive enough; those planes are costly to keep aloft, and the Navy sails hither and yon, and the SAS and SIS tramp up and down the desert looking for something to do. But nothing actually happens.
There are obvious differences; in the Falklands there was a legitimate cause for a war, and in the Falklands there was actual diplomacy going on, whereas in Libya the British and French are simply launching aggression without limit because Barack said they could, and are avoiding all diplomatic contact with their enemy of choice because any such contact would expose the utter emptiness of their casus belli. But in a sense this is almost unimportant. What is really weird about this war is not that it is a brutal act of unprovoked aggression. That is nothing really new, although Western imperialists like to pretend that it is something extraordinary which only their enemies do.
No, what is weird is just how incompetently it is being carried out. Recall that in the time that it has taken for the Anglo-French Grand Alliance to buzz up and down Libya looking for something to do and watch the rebels triumphantly retreating before a demoralised enemy advancing in utter disorder, Maggie reconquered the Falklands. It was just five weeks from the sinking of the Belgrano to the striking of the Argentinean flag. Cameron may be more effective at ruining the British economy than Maggie was (admittedly, Cameron can’t take all the credit since Gordon Brown had done most of the spadework) but he can’t, it seems, be trusted to play by himself; his war badly needs CIA and US DOD assistance. The failure of the war is a fairly epic failure; it makes Bush’s military bungling look positively Napoleonic.
What the hell are they doing there? Presumably they could deploy enough troops backing the rebels around Benghazi to hold off the government troops 150 kilometres to the south. However, this leaves the government holding about ninety percent of the country including a lot of the oil fields. If the government takes the port at Misrata (and the fact that the rebels are evacuating by sea suggests that its fall is imminent) then the government will be in control of virtually all of the country except the not terribly big town where the uprising started. It is not difficult to sabotage oil pipelines, meaning that if the West denies the Libyan government the right to sell oil, the Libyan government can deny the rebels the capacity to sell it either. In which case, what are the rebels fighting about? And what does anybody gain from supporting them, given that the prospect of kicking Mad Dog Gaddaffi out of Tripoli is looking less credible by the day no matter how much propaganda is pumped out of London and Paris and Washington?
Meanwhile, we all know what kind of an impression this is making on everybody who isn’t being paid to tell lies about it. It’s difficult to believe that the professional soldiers and spooks and flyboys involved in supporting the rebels can have any real respect for them. (Part of the problem is that the Americans immediately installed some corporate elite in Benghazi the moment the dust and gunsmoke had drifted away, as if they thought they were in the Green Zone in Baghdad and could privatise the oil fields right away. The rebels are now left with an intricate structure for serving Western financial interests in Libya, but unfortunately they don’t have Libya, which leaves the structure with little to do. Meanwhile they still lack an army capable of taking on the Dayton, Ohio Little League junior baseball team.) Meanwhile, without the capacity to do anything effective, the West is also failing to develop political legitimacy for deploying such a capacity. So far, the Libyan government is looking like the most successful anti-imperialist resistance movement since Hugo Chavez blocked the coup against him nine years ago. Everybody who is hysterically denouncing them is looking dumber by the day.
Of course, many lefties jumped on the revolutionary bandwagon, no doubt figuring that since the West was going to win anyway, they might as well gain some pretend credit from the victory. Nobody expected the Libyan government to survive so long. Nobody expected the Americans to bottle out — but then, Obama always was timid (and the Powell Doctrine requires that Americans only fight when they are not only sure of winning easily, but of making a profit from the victory). Now everybody’s twisting in the wind, including clowns like Gilbert Achcar, who blew his Trot credentials on an imaginary anti-Gaddaffi struggle without even leaving himself an escape clause. Nothing sad there; none of those lefties will be missed. But meanwhile the weirdness goes on, leaving no sanity in its wake.


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