Cordesman on the slippery slope of warmaking

I generally have broad respect for the military assessments made by Anthony Cordesman, and his latest assessment of the situation in Samantha’s War in Libya contains much excellent analysis.
Including this opening paragraph:

    At some point in time, it will be critical to examine the historical record behind the French, British, and US intervention in Libya and why they dragged NATO and allies like Qatar and the UAE into such a gamble. It seems likely, however, that the choice to act came after watching the rebels advance with seeming ease towards Qaddafi’s overthrow and suffer what still seemed like limited reverses. Given past cases, it is likely that regional, intelligence, and military experts in each country all expressed caution and gave warning about the problems and uncertainties involved, but were overruled by their respective political leaders – who saw their staffs as needlessly cautious.
    What is already certain is that the end result was a set of decisions that focused on short term considerations and bet on the outcome…

Then, this:

    there is nothing amusing about the fact that the lives and futures of some 6.6 million Libyans are at stake. The Franco-Anglo-American gamble now seems far too likely to fail at their expense. Moreover, it seems likely to drag the other nations that support the operation into their failure — along with part of the reputation of NATO and credibility of the UN…
    A weak, divided, poorly led, and badly equipped and supplied set of rebel forces can only hang on with the present level of air support. Yesterday’s announcement that British and French military advisors are going to help is not going to alter that situation quickly. It will take months more – at a minimum – to properly train and equip them and it will take a radical shift in rebel leadership to give them meaningful unity and discipline.
    In the interim an enduring war of attrition will turn a minor humanitarian crisis into a major one

So what does Cordesman recommend? If he truly had the “humanitarian” interests of the Libyan people as his prime goal, surely he would join me in calling an urgent humanitarian ceasefire and the speedy deployment of all international diplomatic mechanisms possible, with the aim of resolving the very tough political matters at issue between Qadhdhafi and his opponents.
But no. He argues instead for a massive escalation of the western war effort:

    France, Britain, the US and other participating members of the Coalition need to shift to the kind of bombing campaign that targets and hunts down Qaddafi’s military and security forces in their bases and as they move – as long before they engage rebel forces as possible. Qaddafi, his extended family, and his key supporters need to be targeted for their attacks on Libyan civilians, even if they are collocated in civilian areas. They need to be confronted with the choice between exile or death, and bombing needs to be intense enough so it is clear to them that they must make a choice as soon as possible.
    This kind of operation cannot be “surgical’ – if “surgical” now means minimizing bloodshed regardless of whether the patient dies. Hard, and sometimes brutal, choices need to be made between limited civilian casualties and collateral damage during the decisive use of force and an open-ended war of attrition that will produce far higher cumulative civilian casualties and collateral damage. The Coalition will also need to avoid the trap of blundering into some kind of ceasefire

His text illustrates something very important about the nature of war. War is a slippery slope. Once you think it’s okay to engage in it, it can very easily face you with exactly the same kind of tough dilemma that Cordesman describes.
For what it’s worth, I think he may be right that, as between launching a huge, “a-l’outrance” escalation now and continuing with the current half-hearted western war effort, probably the escalatory approach would cause less human suffering over the short run of, let’s say, six months.
But then what? As we saw in Iraq, 2003, even a decisive western military victory that succeeds in ousting a hated Arab opponent doesn’t solve the problems of that country’s people. Indeed, in Iraq, on April 9, 2003 the Iraqi people’s travails had barely started to begin.
Look, I have a personal confession to make. Back in 1991, during the early days of the (very speedy) western military campaign to push Saddam Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait, I was still a supporter of the utility of war (under some circumstances.) Up to the eve of Operation Desert Storm, I had been publicly urging Pres. Bush to give diplomacy and negotiation every single chance he could. But when he did not do that but instead launched the military effort, I then publicly urged him– as Cordesman does here– to pursue the war wholeheartedly and with massive force, in order to make it short and decisive.
Afterwards, I hated myself for having written those belligerent newspaper columns; and sometime in the mid-1990s I became a completely convinced pacifist.
I completely understand the technical-military expertise and deep realism that Anthony Cordesman brings to his analysis. And I believe that Cordesman– unlike so many of the armchair analysts and liberal hawks who have been baying for this war– does have a deep understanding of the dynamics and consequences of warfare. But because of my own experience in 1991, I urge him to follow the path I adopted in the years after 1991… Above all, people should never let themselves get railroaded and rushed into reaching the conclusion that “only” war can solve their problems. This is never the case. There is always a better way.

21 thoughts on “Cordesman on the slippery slope of warmaking”

  1. I became anti-war in the early 1980s after reading Babi Yar by Anatoly Kuznetsov.
    War is the worst.
    What gets me is how myself–an ordinary nobody–can realize the business of killing fellow human beings is wrong, while so-called great people like Obama and H. Clinton can commit to to it so easily.

  2. The Franco-Anglo-American gamble now seems far too likely to fail at their expense.
    Well Helena, I have news for you. Miserata has been cleared from the socialist Ghaddafi’s death squads today. Also NATO will be deploying predator drones with hellfire missiles that can take out one jeepful of thugs at a time. Finally, a western outpost has fallen and 100 Ghaddafi soldiers have surrendered.
    Maybe if you koolaid drinkers spent time on research instead of rhetoric, you would have something sensible to say?
    “Diplomacy with a dictator”? You and Pirouz haven’t studied history, and don’t understand the dynamics of power. Is it your envy of Samantha has driven you to such extreme depths?
    Your support of the socialist-fascist death squads is very revealing. Must really bug you to no end that the US flag is being waved in Bengazi by ordinary people seeking capitalist democracy?
    I think Assad will need your help. Once the army declares neutrality, he would need more “Shabihas” in Syria. Start packing.

  3. MUST READ: toxis racist tweets that led to ‘humanitarian intervention’ (aka war)
    ‘One of the most fertile sites for the international production of myths of savage African mercenaries has been Twitter, among other social network sites, in ways that bring back to mind the manner in which Twitter was used to spread misinformation at the time of the June 2009 Iran election protests. The problem is not that the site is an outlet for creative imaginations, but that some of the mainstream media source Twitter for their reports, in the absence of correspondents on the ground. The Independent’s Michael Mumisa observed that “foreign media outlets have had to rely mostly on unverified reports posted on social network websites and on phone calls from Libyans terrified of Gaddafi’s ‘savage African mercenaries who are going door-to-door raping our women and attacking our children’,” and he speaks of “a Twitter user based in Saudi Arabia,” who “wrote how Gaddafi is ‘ordering african (sic) mercenaries to break into homes in Benghazi to RAPE (sic) Libyan women in order to detract (sic) men protesters!'” The New York Times’ David Kirkpatrick, in one of the few sober pieces analyzing the Libyan opposition, noted that “like the chiefs of the Libyan state news media, the rebels feel no loyalty to the truth in shaping their propaganda, claiming nonexistent battlefield victories, asserting they were still fighting in a key city days after it fell to Qaddafi forces, and making vastly inflated claims of his barbaric behavior.”

  4. Removal of anti-aircraft 14mm bullets from a 12 year old girl in Misrata struck by one of beloved brother Socialist Ghaddafi pickup mounted death-squads.
    Ceasefire for comrade Ghaddafi, when he doesn’t even abide by his own ceasefires? In other words, you want the people of Libya to accept him remaining in power, drop their guns, and then abducting them for another 42 years. The HC “humanitarian” solution. You are a fake.

  5. Source Iraqi casualties Time period
    Iraq Family Health Survey 151,000 deaths March 2003 to June 2006
    Lancet survey 601,027 violent deaths out of 654,965 excess deaths March 2003 to June 2006
    Opinion Research Business survey 1,033,000 deaths as a result of the conflict March 2003 to August 2007
    Associated Press 110,600 deaths March 2003 to April 2009
    Iraq Body Count project 98,170 — 107,152 civilian deaths as a result of the conflict. 150,726 civilian and combatant deaths[1] March 2003 to October 2010
    WikiLeaks. Classified Iraq war logs[1][2][3][4] 104,924 recorded iraqi deaths, including 92,003[5] (or 66,081[6]) civilian deaths. January 2004 to December 2009

  6. Telisberg makes an extraordinarily compelling case for humanitarian intervention in Palestine: Death Squads; Kidnapping; Concentration Camps; targetting of children and civilians; fascist government etc.
    It is necessary when reading posts emanating from Israel(where dissent is becoming illegal as well as dangerous) to look beyond such code words as ‘Gadaffi’ and ‘Libya.’ Read between the lines and it becomes clear that this is a plea for the world to put an end to the crimes which are being committed in Palestine, with our money and the support of our governments.
    In this case any doubt that the reader might have that Libya is not the real subject, is put to rest by the employment of the telling phrases, Capitalist Democracy and Socialism. The idea that Gadaffi is part of a socialist regime is laughable, the notion that eastern Libyan is calling for more capitalism, after years of neo-liberal ‘reform’ is even more so. The ludicrous suggestion that Capitalism and Democracy are not diametrical opposites, clinches the matter.
    One word to Telisberg-brave warrior for the downtrodden- move around! Change your name and address! Do not allow yourself to fall into the hands of the secret police. In the meantime, rest assured: we understand your real meaning

  7. Re the comment above from “Telisberg” (or is it “hasbaraberg”?) that it “Must really bug you to no end that the US flag is being waved in Bengazi by ordinary people seeking capitalist democracy”, see the following from an article by Noam Chomsky on Middle-East On-line:
    “The US and its Western allies are sure to do whatever they can to prevent authentic democracy in the Arab world. To understand why, it is only necessary to look at the studies of Arab opinion conducted by US polling agencies. Though barely reported, they are certainly known to planners. They reveal that by overwhelming majorities, Arabs regard the US and Israel as the major threats they face: the US is so regarded by 90% of Egyptians, in the region generally by over 75%. Some Arabs regard Iran as a threat: 10%. Opposition to US policy is so strong that a majority believes that security would be improved if Iran had nuclear weapons — in Egypt, 80%. Other figures are similar. If public opinion were to influence policy, the US not only would not control the region, but would be expelled from it, along with its allies, undermining fundamental principles of global dominance.”
    Looks like the ordinary people of Benghazi may be a little out of step. Well, at least there’s some place inveterate warmongers like John McCain are welcomed. Too bad he didn’t bring Sarah Palin with him, along with her shotgun.

  8. US, Israel, other military powers refuse to sign cluster munitions treaty
    On December 3 2008, nearly 100 nations signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions Treaty, which bans the production, stockpiling and use of cluster munitions. Several of the nations most affected by the weapons signed the treaty—Lebanon, Afghanistan, Laos, Cambodia, Serbia, and Sierra Leone. The majority of nations in NATO signed as well, including Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

    Oh–so these “indiscriminate weapons” that “place civilians at grave risk” have been used by the United States as well? But only in “battlefield situations,” far from civilians, right? Well, not exactly. The U.S. was criticized by Human Rights Watch for using cluster bombs in populated areas in Afghanistan, killing and injuring scores of civilians (Washington Post, 12/18/02). Amnesty International (4/2/03) called the U.S.’s use of cluster bombs in civilian areas of Iraq “a grave violation of international humanitarian law.” (See FAIR Action Alert, 5/6/03.) NATO employed cluster bombs in its bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo War, with one attack killing 15 civilians in the town of Nis (BBC, 5/7/99); more than 2,000 unexploded munitions from cluster bombs are estimated to remain on Serbian territory, continuing to endanger civilians (AFP, 3/10/09).

    Gadhafi’s Cluster Bombs

    Cluster munitions, like any weapon, have some military utility. But anyone who has seen the indiscriminate devastation cluster munitions cause over a wide area understands the unacceptable threat they pose to civilians. These are not the laser guided weapons the Pentagon showed destroying their targets during the invasion of Baghdad.

    And there is the horrific problem of cluster munitions that fail to explode as designed and remain as active duds, like landmines, until they are triggered by whoever comes into contact with them. Often it is an unsuspecting child, or a farmer. In Laos today, people are still being killed and maimed by millions of U.S. cluster munitions left from the Vietnam War. That legacy, resulting from years of secret bombing of a peaceful, agrarian people that posed no threat to the United States, contaminated more than a third of Laos’ agricultural land and cost countless innocent lives. It is shameful that we have contributed less money in the past 35 years to clean up these deadly remnants of war than we spent in a few days of bombing.

    Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy on The Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act

  9. I did not know you, Helena, in 1991, but I knew that Kuwait was considered by Iraq to be part of itself and that Saddam was assured USA would not interfere. Libya is being invaded for multiple reasons, but Gaddafi’s championing of African unity, and his continuing efforts and financial aid to this effect, did not endear him to the West, including former imperial powers France, Italy, UK. Jean-Paul Pougala(from Cameroon) has a great post on this in ICH, or google his name. A huge African communication network, saving billions of dollars over a few years, was arranged and largely financed by Gaddafi. I have heard of this nowhere else. Will it now continue?

  10. but I knew that Kuwait was considered by Iraq to be part of itself
    It is, the historical facts and documents from Ottoman Empire and British empire all there it not made up like the claims of those stupid western saying Iraq created by Brits.
    Iraq have had 5000 yours of history on his land.

  11. I have always tried to be a pacifist. But when I read Helena Cobban state that “there is always a better way [than war]” and when I then look at how this Libyan rebellion started I am not so sure. First: What “better way” did the Libyan rebels have to free themselves from the dictator other than arming themselves and fighting? And remembering how ashamed I was about “our” Western reaction to the Tunisian Revolution, the deliberating, the waiting, the undecided rhetoric, then I don’t want to be in the position to watch Qaddafi slaughter the rebels and the cities they came from, stand outside and say “Well, at least we didn’t go to war, there’s always a better way”. That just seems awfully immoral to me.
    How do you enforce a ceasefire if one side just does not stick to the rules of war and keeps on shooting? It is impossible.
    I see the dilemma and I fear the long term outcome of the war in Libya. But I could not have stood watching those brave people die fighting for their rights with us in Europe and the US doing nothing. It’s just not human.

  12. ”Let’s look at some of the tweets that gained early notice, and let’s pay attention to the ideas and images that they combine as well as the sheer misinformation, while we also note that some are recycled by journalists, such as Mona El-Tahaway, omnipresent TV pundit of the Arab revolutions and supporter of U.S./NATO air strikes against Libya, and Al Jazeera’s Dima Khatib. The dates are also important. (Note, I myself retweeted these so that they would appear in my Twitter feed, where I first began this discussion.) Key elements of the messages appear in bold font:
    LibyanThinker URGENT!!! From contact in the Army: So far, 1300African Mercenaries have arrived in #Libya to date. Cant’ the World hear our cries??? Sat Feb 19 2011 23:21:00 (Eastern Standard Time) via TweetDeck Retweeted by you and 84 others
    monaeltahawy 2 mercenaries caught Bayda. From Chad, claimed 2 b part of Khamees [Qaddafi’s son] Military Unit. Said were promised $12,000/ #Libyan killed. Sat Feb 19 2011 20:32:50 (Eastern Standard Time) via web Retweeted by you and 100+ others
    Tripolitanian I URGE THE LIBYAN ARMY TO SIDE WITH THE LIBYAN PEOPLE – don’t let these African mercs kill your family! #Libya #Feb17 Sat Feb 19 2011 20:23:04 (Eastern Standard Time) via web Retweeted by you and 54 others
    Dima_Khatib Witness tells a plane full of mercenaries leaves Harare Airport in Zimbabwe headed to #Libya #feb17 Sat Feb 19 2011 20:15:06 (Eastern Standard Time) via web Retweeted by you and 100+ others [later proved to be entirely false]
    LibyanThinker NEW! #Gaddafi has given the African Mercenaries full freedom in raping Libyan women. #Libya Sat Feb 19 2011 19:57:04 (Eastern Standard Time) via web Retweeted by you and 20 others
    LibyanThinker @streamsWL they were attacked earlier by the khmis battalion and Afro-Mercs are still moving around the city. Sat Feb 19 2011 07:46:24 (Eastern Standard Time) via TweetDeck in reply to streamsWL Retweeted by you’
    thats how this war began….dont Blame gadaffi for it.It was the grouops like the Libyan Youth movement(tweeting as Shabiblibya) who began it.

  13. I don’t need a lesson on how the war began. I am reading the tweets about the African mercenaries for the first time. As we all know, the first thing that dies in a war is the truth and that is of course true for the rebels as well.
    And yes they may have (or have) made false claims and yes I agree, they have started the war. But what other way would they have had to stand up to the brutal Qaddafi regime? By protesting peacefully like the Egyptians and Tunisians did and like the Syrians are doing? They would not have accomplished anything. How do you confront a dictator who doesn’t keep his own ceasefires and uses cluster bombs on his own people? You don’t by protesting peacefully.
    And people screaming about “NATO aggression” like to paint the picture that all way peaceful and alright before NATO came. No word about the oppression on the Libyan people. Is it not their right to stand up to their dictator? And is it not our obligation to support them in their fight for values that we cherish?

  14. telisludeg: intellectual violence?
    philipp..what brutal gadaffi regime?
    On February 16, 2009, Gaddafi took a step further and called on Libyans to back his proposal to dismantle the government and to distribute the oil wealth directly to the 5 million inhabitants of the country.
    However, his plan to deliver oil revenues directly to the Libyan people met opposition by senior officials who could lose their jobs due to a parallel plan by Gaddafi to rid the state of corruption.
    Some officials, including Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi, Ali Al-Mahmoudi and Farhat Omar Bin Guida, of the Central Bank, told Gaddafi that the measure could harm the country’s economy in the long term due to “capital flight.”
    “Do not be afraid to directly redistribute the oil money and create fairer governance structures that respond to people’s interests,” Gaddafi said in a Popular Committee.
    The Popular Committees are the backbone of Libya. Through them citizens are represented at the district level.
    “The Administration has failed and the state’s economy has failed. Enough is enough. The solution is for the Libyan people to directly receive oil revenues and decide what to do with them,” Gaddafi said in a speech broadcast on state television. To this end, the Libyan leader urged a radical reform of government bureaucracy.
    Despite this, senior Libyan government officials voted to delay Gaddafi’s plans. Only 64 ministers from a total of 468 Popular Committee members voted for the measure. There were 251 who saw the measures as positive, but chose to delay their implementation.
    Given the rejection of the Committee, Gaddafi affirmed before a public meeting: “My dream during all these years was to give the power and wealth directly to the people.”
    So…another big LIE falls by the wayside, the false image of Ghaddafi the dictator who robs from his people

  15. The article you are citing was originally published on the website, a former Communist Party organ, now Russian tabloid newspaper. When I see sources like these, I know how much truth is in them: 0.
    I don’t need to comment any further on this “article” you cited.
    How about some real source of news?

  16. yes philipp, Pravda has far more truth and integrity than you possess.
    That is real news..what you prefer are more official lies. We are i a strange age when Pravda holds moer real news than any of the western press.

  17. Yesterday the German Police locked up three guys who had been planning to blow themselves up on commuter trains in Germany, even though Germany isn´t playing in the Libya thing.
    This is the downside of conventional military intervention in Arab lands.

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