Steve Sailer has written on the 20th anniversary of the Highway of Death, and the awesome power of American air power. Which is undeniably potent. But also an undeniable failure, in achieving American national security goals. Obama’s war but not war, against Libya and Khadaffi, and removal but not removal, of Khadaffi from power, is only the latest failure (and possibly the largest one yet) of American power in the Middle East. To put it bluntly, every President from Carter onwards has failed, in different ways, in achieving national security goals in the Middle East. They have failed, because they did not appreciate the need for infantry power, and the limits of American Air power, no matter how magnificent that power might be. It is still, limited. And as such, relying upon it has brought nothing but failure to American goals in the Middle East.
First, what are the American goals in the Middle East? FDR said on Feb 16, 1943, “the defense of Saudi Arabia is vital to the defense of the United States.” This doctrine was further articulated in the Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, and Carter Doctrines. The Carter Doctrine stated explicitly that the US would use military force to defend its interests in the Persian Gulf. Now, what might those interests be? Why, the free flow of oil, at prices the US consumer can afford. That is, really, the only interest the US has in the Gulf, and one that goes all the way back to the middle of WWII.
Reagan, and George Herbert Walker Bush, articulated variations of the Carter Doctrine, as did Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. But the basic outline of the Carter Doctrine has stayed in place. The US would use military force, to shape the outcome of power struggles in the Persian Gulf, to the US national security advantage. Which boils down to the free flow of oil, at prices that at a minimum do not choke off economic activity in the US.
As long as Americans like eating safe, relatively clean, and affordable food, like affordable cooling and heating for their homes, like homes that are affordable and far from crime and violence of the ghetto and barrio, and incomes befitting First World people not Third World slum dwellers, the need to shape Persian Gulf and Middle East politics and power struggles will remain. Oil, and the free flow of it at affordable prices, remain in the US national security interest. You might argue that absent nuclear terrorism or attacks by foreign countries with nuclear weapons, securing the free flow of oil from the Middle East at reasonable prices is the supreme goal of American foreign policy.
There are those who would argue, and have argued, that the best way to secure America’s interests is one long apology, followed by withdrawal from the region. That America has “original sin” and only makes things worse, being mostly White, mostly Christian, and thus generates pure hatred. That withdrawing from the Middle East will bring rainbows, unicorns, and rivers of chocolate. And that if it does not work out, well America doesn’t need or deserve cheap energy anyway. God must want us punished for being wicked, or something. It is not a serious argument, but one made anyway. As Machiavelli noted about Savonarola, unarmed prophets preaching a new millennium come always to martyrdom and failure.
America was generally lucky, in the years following 1943 to 1979. America had allies, scared out of their wits by the Soviets and their sponsoring of Arab Nationalism, of a secular character. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Morocco, the Persian Gulf States, the Shah of Iran, and later Sadat’s Egypt all looked to the US for support against Soviet subversion. This stable set of affairs (for the Middle East anyway) was blown apart by the Iranian Revolution, and direct confrontation in the Persian Gulf over control of its oil. By the Mullahs of Iran, who sought out actively a confrontation with the United States.
Carter of course failed miserably, not the least of which he was constrained by post-Vietnam desire to avoid casualties at all costs. Which led to a disastrous reliance on air power alone. Operation Eagle Claw was only the first in a set of disasters. Ronald Reagan was chased out of Lebanon by Iran and Hezbollah bombing the US Marine Barracks and US Embassy. An overt act of war that caused the Gipper to retreat, in panic. Desultory attempts to use the USS Iowa to shell Lebanese villages with its 18 inch guns had no real effect. In order to either rescue the hostages, or control valuable real estate in the Eastern Mediterranean, the US needed to commit ground troops and accept some considerable measure of casualties. Air power alone, cannot hold ground. It cannot take cities, rescue hostages, or defeat militias. Only troops on the ground can do these things. And inevitably, doing these things cause large amounts even with Western advantages, of casualties. A price no President save George W. Bush has been willing to pay.
This failure only accelerated in the Gulf War. While Sailer correctly notes how devastating the attack on the Highway of Death was, from Saddam’s viewpoint he won the Gulf War. He was still in charge of Iraq. Air power failed to dislodge him from power. So he lost a good part of his army? So what? They were replaceable from his point of view. So his people suffered? So what? They existed merely to serve him, from his point of view. His army could be rebuilt. Sanctions endured and then evaded. And the experience of Iraq, and the thirteen years from the end of the Gulf War to the start of the Persian Gulf War, perfectly illuminates the failure of Air Power alone to achieve US objectives.
The US objective in fighting Saddam in the first place was to secure the free flow of oil from the Persian Gulf, at a reasonable price. The flow of oil at a reasonable price being the key to America’s economic security. Kicking Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait did not achieve that objective. Saddam could always come back, and this time drive all the way to Yemen, taking Saudi oil fields. Only constant, grinding, combat air patrols over Iraq, kept Saddam on a leash. Not truce agreements, United Nations resolutions, various informal agreements, all of which Saddam signed and soon reneged upon. Bill Clinton had to launch Operation Desert Fox in December 1998 in response to Iraq failing to comply with various UN disarmament resolutions and Saddam kicking out arms inspectors. Of course, constant combat air patrols and periodic bombing campaigns against Saddam required extensive use of Saudi airbases, itself something sensitive and cited often by Osama bin Laden as “justification” for jihadi attacks against the US and certainly US civilians inside America.
Just as important, however, was the manifest failure of US airpower. Osama and other Jihadis studied the results carefully, and as Lawrence Wright wrote in “The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11,” argued persuasively that Saddam, not the US, had won the Gulf War. Won it by surviving, and staying in power. That in the opinion of Osama bin Laden, the US was a paper tiger, with no staying power, that could be safely attacked in any form, provided that the attackers were willing and able to shelter, take some acceptable level of casualties, and then advance to their goal once America tired of the effort.
This argument won the day, particularly after the debacle of Somalia, and the fairly impotent US response. The US did not level Mogadishu (which would have been the response of an Arab leader) nor did it kill masses of Somalis. The deadliness of the US defense (about 3,000 estimated Somalis killed in exchange for the roughly 19 Americans killed) did not register. Clinton’s fairly impotent cruise missile response to the 1998 African Embassy bombings, and non-response to the assault on the Cole, only increased the view among jihadis, and Muslims world-wide generally, that the US lacked the will and the ability to impose its will upon the Middle East, and that the US and its interests could be safely attacked provided the attacker was willing to take some casualties like Saddam, and hunker down until the US got tired.
For those wondering why the Taliban ever agreed to Osama’s plan to attack the US on 9/11, this is why. More importantly, this perception also colors the Iranian response. Iran did try to blockade the Persian Gulf, with its Navy, and mining efforts. Resulting in Operation Preying Mantis, which showed US air power was decisive in destroying targets at sea and in port. Naval warfare is not the same as guerilla warfare on land. Iran has been careful not to repeat the experience, and has put most of its assets into a nuclear ICBM program and paramilitary operations (principally Hezbollah) which operating on land can employ the Saddam strategy: hunker down, take casualties, outlast the Americans as they get tired.
After 9/11, George W. Bush tried a different strategy. US Air power proved decisive in defeating the Taliban in concert with the Northern Alliance and small groups of US Special Forces. US Air power again proved decisive in allowing US ground forces to dominate and destroy the forces of Saddam Hussein. Pre-War predictons of a “battle of Baghdad” rivaling that of Stalingrad or Berlin proved nonsense. US casualties were very light.
But occupying Iraq to achieve the US national security aims: providing the free flow of oil to the world market at a reasonable price, proved far more difficult. Iraq’s broken, and tribal society proved a perfect setting for massive bloodletting. America expected US Air and armored warfare dominance to be matched by infantry dominance, and was angered when it was not, with (light by historical standards but) casualties they found simply too high. Bush never explained in any way the interests of the United States in securing Iraq’s oil, and territory (against the Iranians and AQ) to further the free flow of oil on reasonable terms to the world and thus US markets. It was a simple proposition. Blood for oil. The point being that only some limited amount of US bloodshed could secure the oil, without which the US economy would grind to a massive halt, with widespread poverty due to sky-high energy prices. And that the territory of Iraq needed to be secured, lest Iran use it against us to disrupt the flow of oil. Iran having a built-in desire to jack up oil prices sky high. [To pay for their thug-security army.]
Bush never made this simple explanation, was appalled at the suggestion of “blood for oil” (well, of course) and behaved like the mainstream, JFK-style liberal the man was and remains. Bush simply stopped explaining or defending his policies, much less challenging critics on how they would secure the free flow of oil from the Persian Gulf at reasonable prices, to secure the US economy and provide growth.
And as casualties mounted, the Taliban and AQ in Afghanistan learned how to cope with US airpower. Mounting time-limited attacks (often no more than fifteen minutes, timing the distance and availability of US aircraft to provide close air support). Using IEDs as equalizers, and using attrition style ambushes aimed at political defeats at home, not decisive victory against the US. Whose ability on the ground also grew, as US forces became better as well in infantry fighting.
Which leads us to Libya. It is in the interest of the US to secure the oil from Libya, to the global markets, as quickly as possible. Unrest in Nigeria, delays in bringing Iraq’s oil to market, and unrest in the Persian Gulf have left markets without much spare capacity. Japan will need diesel generators for years on end, to provide power to a significant portion of its population. Driving up oil usage. Libya provides ten percent of the global market, and its oil unlike the Saudis is relatively free of sulfur and other impurities. Making it easier and cheaper to refine.
It is also in the interest of the United States to demonstrate its power to remove a troublesome leader. This is because the Middle East and Persian Gulf in particular, is unstable, and new leaders can quickly arise who are hostile to the US. It is useful to remind such men that the US has powers if it chooses to use them, that can greatly aid in the removal of such men.
It is further in the interest of the United States that Libya not become an embarkation point for mass migration of North Africans and Africans to Europe, nor a Disneyland resort for Al Qaeda and other jihadis, nor Somalia upon the Mediterranean. These are important, and complementary goals of the US. To achieve one, it is required to achieve them all.
At this point, Air Power alone cannot achieve them. Air Power used against Khadaffi three weeks ago might have defeated him, as his regime was reeling, he had many desertions, and he appeared to be on the outs. Now that he has a mercenary army, quickly assembled, and paid by with gold held personally in the Bank of Libya in Tripoli (Khadaffi was not stupid, and observed the seizure of assets in Switzerland and other countries of such leaders as Pinochet, Charles Taylor, and Kabila). Khadaffi has reportedly, enough gold to pay his army for years.
The rebels are a rabble incapable of military order or much of anything. They are untrained, undisciplined, and refuse to listen to anyone with military experience on the need for good order, conservation of ammunition, hygiene, conservation of water, and so on. Even with US air power, about all that can be accomplished is a de facto partition of Libya, with the oil out of the world market for decades, Libya likely turning into a Disneyland for AQ and other jihadis (in Khadaffi’s and the rebel’s partitions) and Somalia upon the Med. With a cherry upon top of US defeat, yet again, and visible defeat. To embolden America’s enemies in the Gulf, intent on interfering with the free flow of oil at a reasonable price.
To achieve US goals, US military forces on the ground, including considerable amounts of infantry and armor, will be required to drive upon Tripoli, and oust Khadaffi. This means casualties, bloodshed, and US pain. It will require money, and a military occupation of Libya that is costly and painful and divisive.
Can it be done? Certainly? Should it be done? On balance, I would argue yes. Obama’s stated reasons for bombing Libya, that the UN “responsibility to protect” civilian populations from massacres by their own leaders, is laughable. The Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sudan, Haiti, Nigeria, Rwanda, and East Timor have all either recently experienced this, are experiencing it now, or will likely experience it again in the future. And no one seriously suggests that the UN can order the US military, which cannot refuse the order, to protect these people. Nor does the UN have any role in ordering the US military, at all, either to permit it to do something, or not, or order it to do something. This madness is Obama’s one-world anti-Americanism, reflexively at work.
This madness does not mean that the US has no interests in Libya. Quite the contrary. Nor does it mean that the US should shy away from any and all confrontation. Nor does it mean that the US cannot or should not ever engage in military action in pursuit of its national interests. What it does mean, is that it needs to clearly define, in terms every average citizen can understand, what is the national interest. Not abstruse concepts of “Muslims yearn for freedom” or such liberal garbage (something that George W. Bush had in common with JFK, which is why Liberals loathe Bush so much, he is basically a liberal heresy). But rather, the US depends on cheap global oil, which allows us to keep places like Florida and California clean of oil rigs, and the inevitable oil spills, and still have a good quality of life and an economy that functions and grows.
This means, use of military force, basically combined arms of naval forces, infantry, armor, and air power together, to remove regimes that threaten the free flow of oil, at a reasonable price, when the opportunity for success is at hand, being aware that an occupation will be likely more costly and bloody than the overturning of the regime itself.
This is not the end of the world. This is neither invade the world, invite the world (Sailer’s catch phrase for Bush’s policy) and does not mean intervention in say, the Ivory Coast to put its cocoa production back into the market. It does not even mean intervention to remove regimes hostile to America’s goal of free flow of oil at reasonable prices at every turn. It does mean, however, re-running Iraq at some point. Because the US has no partners to off-load fighting to, on the ground. And therefore must do it, itself. Which means casualties and bloodshed and treasure all spent.
Everything costs. Ike was able to rely on scared, and compliant Arab regimes to do the dirty work of ground fighting and policing, without a global Jihad network. The cost of that was a constant, hair-trigger nuclear standoff between the US and the USSR. Which led Ike to pull the plug on the French-UK-Israeli attempt to overthrow Nasser and retake the Suez canal. The US then relied upon the Saudis, and later Egyptians, in what amounted to a swap for the Shah of Iran, to police much of the Middle East.
The ability of these regimes to police the Middle East for us, is now an open question. They remain precarious and unstable, even those that seemed invincible: Khadaffi, Mubarak, and Ben Ali. Machiavelli, Sun Tzu, Miyamoto Musashi, and Clausewitz all advised against outsourcing military campaigns, or even any part of it, to others. The American people will have to be told, and required to choose, if they want to be poor, and live poorer lives, to avoid entanglement in the Middle East, or if they like living in nice houses, driving nice cars, eating nice and affordable food, buying nice and affordable clothes? If the latter, then the price is periodically, the US using combined arms to achieve a fairly quick victory over unstable regimes, and policing the tribal populace afterwards so that oil interests are not interfered with. Understanding that there is no cheap and easy way to set up an occupation and transition to self-rule, without some considerable level of American casualties.
Or the US could abjure such measures, and live substantially poorer lives, even with drilling in the US, and the inevitable spills and oil pollution of the beaches and oceans, and inland waterways, and destruction of fragile habitat. Even with substantial US oil production at home, there simply is not enough oil to make the global market (oil is traded globally, as the critical resource) affordable. There just isn’t enough US oil available at prices that can sustain long term economic growth (oil at roughly $50-$60 a barrel at today’s prices).
This is a case that an American President or candidate must make to the American people. That there is no free lunch, that there is not something for nothing, that US prosperity rests on cheap oil which means periodically US military personnel fighting and dying in ugly Middle East lands, to remove threats to the free flow of oil at reasonable prices. Not every threat, at every time, but periodically when the US must intervene to keep oil prices down or remove threats that cannot be put off any longer.
Libya, under these circumstances, meets none of these criteria. Obama is sure to create a total disaster in Libya, an ignoble, and stupid American defeat. Khadaffi remaining (which is victory for him), constant fighting, degeneration into Somalia “plus” and an open invitation for AQ and other jihadis to shelter there, with either Khadaffi or the rebels. Obama is unable and unwilling to lead America to victory, which requires boots on the ground, American forces, and a clear explanation of what victory looks like: the oil flowing, a pro-American regime in power. Instead we are likely to get the worst possible outcomes. Obama is an incompetent Affirmative Action President and his people are even less competent than he is, something shocking.
Very disappointing is Hillary, who had an up close view of Clinton’s failure to unseat Saddam or gain permanent compliance with US objectives. Rice and Power acted as one could expect, and Biden was, well, he was Joe Biden. A man long believed to be mentally impaired due to a brain aneurism. If he did not have one, there would not be any functional difference.
The only “good” thing to come of this is the experience in France and Britain, of how unreliable American power has become, how unserious, and how exposed they are to regional threats (principally North Africa imploding and sending masses of refugees onto their shores ala Camp of the Saints). If either government, and people, in either country, has a brain or a clue, they will rapidly ditch austerity budgets, and re-arm like crazy, particularly with naval and air forces, to maintain control of the seas around them. There is no reason Britain and France cannot each have six air craft carriers each, for a total of twelve, plus support ships. Construction of which, on an emergency basis, along with fighter planes, and other ancillary aircraft, could put nearly all their unemployed back to work, immediately, and stimulate Eurozone demand. True Keynesian economics at work. America has shouldered far too much of Europe’s defense burden, and the Europeans must come out of their post Suez, “America and the Soviet Nuclear Arsenal make us irrelevant” funk. The Europeans have real enemies, intent on really occupying their lands.
True, they are mostly an illiterate, Muslim rabble from North Africa and Africa, but that does not make them any less dangerous. Far easier to build a whacking great Navy and keep them in North Africa than deal with five, ten, twenty million refugees in a tidal wave on their own shores. America’s very rapid (Obama is already looking for the exits) process of leaving France and the UK holding the bag, will prove instructive. America is unwilling to use its power, instead believing in Unicorns and Rainbows.
As Mark Steyn noted:
As he told a gathering of high-rolling Democratic donors in Washington last week: “As time passes, you start taking it for granted that a guy named Barack Hussein Obama is president of the United States. But we should never take it for granted. I hope that all of you still feel that sense of excitement and that sense of possibility.”
America bet everything on unicorns and rainbows. On the excitement and sense of possibility that a man named Barack Hussein Obama is President of the United States. That having a Black guy with a Muslim name will magically make the world love us. Obama certainly hasn’t forgotten. He believes himself to be Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, and Allah all combined. He really does think he walks on water, with unicorns prancing in the background. That he really is a lightworker. That:
Many spiritually advanced people I know (not coweringly religious, mind you, but deeply spiritual) identify Obama as a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being who has the ability to lead us not merely to new foreign policies or health care plans or whatnot, but who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet, of relating and connecting and engaging with this bizarre earthly experiment. These kinds of people actually help us evolve. They are philosophers and peacemakers of a very high order, and they speak not just to reason or emotion, but to the soul.
The unusual thing is, true Lightworkers almost never appear on such a brutal, spiritually demeaning stage as national politics. This is why Obama is so rare. And this why he is so often compared to Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., to those leaders in our culture whose stirring vibrations still resonate throughout our short history.
Largely, this is the sort of person around Obama. Who believes as they did yesterday, that Obama is the racial redeemer and “New and Improved” Jesus come to save the sinful America and restore the world’s place on top of the sinful nature of America. This sort of President, who clearly believes in his own worship and hype, is not able in any way of projecting military power in defense of America’s interests. Why would he? All he has to be is Mr. Wonderful himself! Nor are his people capable of finding their behinds in the dark with a flashlight and a map.
The complete disappearance of America up, basically, its own asshole, has serious consequences for Europe, which they are now finding out. It will have serious consequences for America too, as most of America will find out once the worship of the media is no longer able to keep the lights on.
The dialog at the end of “Three Days of the Condor” is instructive. America has been living on luck and seed corn, for decades. The argument between Higgins (Cliff Robertson) and Joe Turner (Robert Redford) turns on invasion plans for the Middle East:
Higgins: It’s simple economics. Today it’s oil, right? In ten or fifteen years, food. Plutonium. Maybe even sooner. Now, what do you think the people are gonna want us to do then?
Joe Turner: Ask them?
Higgins: Not now – then! Ask ’em when they’re running out. Ask ’em when there’s no heat in their homes and they’re cold. Ask ’em when their engines stop. Ask ’em when people who have never known hunger start going hungry. You wanna know something? They won’t want us to ask ’em. They’ll just want us to get it for ’em!
Obama, and the media, asserted that Obama being so wonderful, a lightworker, and a man with a Muslim name, and Black to boot, would make every Muslim and Muslim nation love us. So that there would be no fighting, no war, no conflict, no sacrifice needed, no bloody call to duty, to keep the lights on, the power running. To keep people who have never known hunger from being hungry. All of that is about to end, and the total Libyan debacle will be part of that.
Eventually, out of pure necessity, America will adopt some form of the Carter Doctrine backed up by infantry forces. As the limits and failure of air power alone to remove regimes and install friendlier ones comes apart with sky high oil prices. Oil is already over $100 a barrel. It will go far higher. Sadly. This alone should prove the failure of American Air power alone to gain our objectives (look at the prices!) but sadly Americans and American elites will require being hit over the head with reality until they are bloody before reality sinks in.