Why Our Options Are Limited In Lybia.

by Daniel Russ on March 6, 2011

F-18 Super Hornets On The USS Ronald Reagan

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying we can’t do anything. However, the limit of our military options comes to light and then bites us in the ass when we use our military too often.

No Fly Zone – You can’t just tell a country stop flying your planes or we’ll shoot them down. You have to be there patrolling to shoot them down. That means you have to have a base of operations close enough to maintain a force in the air. That doesn’t just mean fighters, it means AWACs, re-fuelers, SAR and SIGINT. These other ancillary aircraft need crews and fuel and logistics and right now that requires a good amount of real estate that we probably don’t have. To establish a NFZ you need to first go in and knock out air defenses and airfields that Lybia uses, and start knocking aircraft out of the air. Think about just that for a moment. The Obama Administration is right not to go into Lybia guns blazing. This is the very thing the Arab world has seen enough of, and every innocent killed in an airstrike will vitiate our efforts to free Lybians. Then there is the problem of a staging area. Right now I am sure we have plenty of places in the Mideast for our military to operate flights from. The problem is that no Arab nation will allow the US to launch strikes against another Arab neighbor from their own airfields, and certainly not from Israel. Which means that we would have to stage at least two to three carrier groups in the Mediterranean to keep combat air patrols in the air for weeks or months at a time without exhausting crews. Right now we have eleven carriers actively patrolling waters around the world, about five of them are rotating in and out of the Gulf of Hormuz supporting operations in Afghanistan. The CAP range of an F-18 with drop tanks is about 1200 nautical miles. So we could make the NFZ work theoretically. That said, it is not a small thing to stage a carrier group into an active battlefield. Right now when the country is broke and we are fighting one war on the wane in Iraq and one hot war in Afghanistan, that would put a tremendous pressure on our already warn-to-a-nub crews and resources. Costs would go up and Congress would have to be asked for more money to support this operation.

To establish a NFZ you need to know where the next shot that might be fired at us will originate from. We don’t really know where the next hot spot will be, but it is likely to be in the backyard of our biggest ally in the region aside from Israel and that is Saudi Arabia. My guess is that our current state of intelligence is in slight disarray as the revolts seemed to have surprised not just the despots they are aimed to bring down, but everyone else as well. One of the worst things you can do when you are knee deep in kindling is light a match.

We are alone in this even if England or France joins us. Our allies love it when we do most of the heavy work or most of the work period. Canada has no super carriers. England does but they are maxed out helping us in Afghanistan. France has one carrier in service, The rest of the active carriers in the world don’t even add up to our eleven active and one reserve carrier. While a smaller Marine carrier with rotorcraft and a thousand Marines on board is a sharp sword, the act itself is mostly for a worst-case scenario, but otherwise deploying that carrier as we have already done is mostly saber rattling.

Ground Forces. If we really wanted to end the pro–Ghadaffi alliance that has now taken back some ground from the rebels, then we would have to commit forces on the ground to go in and do the dirty work of killing them. Ground forces also mean SAR, air cover, robust supply lines, etcetera. These are forces that we do not have simply because, as mentioned earlier, the Iraq War and the Afghanistan war are still burning and have depleted our personnel, our reserves and worn our equipment down; and frankly we do not have the money to pursue another war of choice here.

Subterfuge. Well this is of course the weapon of choice for the US and I am sure this is being pursued at this very moment. Remember when Theodore Roosevelt said, “walk softly but carry a big stick”. OK, our stick is heavy, splintered, and right now, we are swinging it in another theater of battle. So how much leverage do we really have? Not much. The bombastic calls for Ghadaffi to step down from Obama and Secretary of State Clinton sound like a wheezing old warrior threatening to kick some ass all the while hoping the people we are yelling these minatory admonitions at don’t decide to call our bluff.

Wikileaks- I have been reading through the New York Times Wikileaks add on and believe me we are dealing and double dealing and the world knows it. We have pissed off so many allies that few of them trust us to do anything truthfully. So not only are we handicapped militarily, our credibility is shot to pieces.

Financial. Well we froze 30 billion dollars in Ghadaffi’s assets. That worked. I think. I can’t really think about what we could do that wouldn’t ignite the ire of Arab neighbors (watch as Yemen just turned on us this week) and drive the price of gas up so high that whatever recovery we experienced is reversed. Plus, we’re broke. There’s you know…that!

Diplomacy- Well there is always room for reasoned diplomacy. Again, when your credibility is shot there is little your allies will say to you over the phone again, or in an email. I would hate to be an American Charge D’Affaire these days.

Frankly I think Obama’s best bet is to hold tight, work with allies to keep diplomatic pressure on pro-Ghadaffi forces.

Ask For Help. Maybe some of the European allies who have been standing beside us promoting democracy and decrying despots could send in force. Don’t count on it.

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