'optics' of Odyssey Dawn By
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Odyssey Dawn, at least for now, is the
first United States Africom war. The Pentagon, via
Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, dispelled any doubts as
he stressed that the "leading edge" is American.
Homer is played by General Carter Ham, out of his
headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany (no African
country bothered to host Africom). And Ulysses -
in what looks and sounds more like an Iliad than
an Odyssey - is commander of Joint Task Force
Odyssey Dawn Admiral Sam Locklear, on board USS
Mount Whitney somewhere in the Mediterranean.
The White House and the Pentagon war
planners bet their "unique capabilities" on a
mini-remix of the "shock and awe" of the Iraq war.
The problem is Colonel Muammar Gaddafi appears to
be neither shocked nor awed; he may be angry - as
in his photo op this Tuesday at the Bab al-Aziziya
compound - but he hasn't cracked up. And his
regime is fighting back, not turning against the
Still, Washington is publicly
projecting the illusion of being desperate to get
rid of this war sold as a "limited mission". But
communications are jammed. As in the masters of
war having a hard time to, in Pentagon lingo,
"transition it to a coalition command".
Washington should have evaluated the
"optics" before evoking Homer. Forget about
mission creep (ongoing), friendly fire (it will
come), collateral damage (already happened), axis
of evil (a perennial favorite); the new Beltway
neologism of choice is "optics". As in US military
types and pundits carping that the "emotional
optics" of cruise missiles plus coalition
briefings reminds everyone of Iraq 2003. Or
widespread fears about the "optics of waging war"
in yet another Muslim country. Optical illusions Even among the "allies", the "optics" is
positively of the basket case variety. The North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an ungodly
mess. Turkey wants dialogue - not bombs. Germany
is against a NATO intervention - stressing only
bombing won't do. France - clinging to
neo-Napoleonic President Nicolas Sarkozy's
megalomania - wants to keep the illusion it is in
Scared that France would usurp
its place as Libya's prime trading partner and
scrambling not to let Mediterranean policy be
dictated in Paris, the Italian government of
Gaddafi pal, Prime Minister Silvio "Bunga Bunga"
Berlusconi, reluctantly joined the "coalition"
(and now, in private, Bunga Bunga is viciously
trashing Sarko). Italian energy giant ENI has
invested US$50 billion in Libya; thus ENI is keen
on getting rid of Gaddafi after the colonel
threatened to open Libyan oil and gas to BRIC
members Russia, India and China.
four BRIC members (South Africa is the fifth)
wisely skipped the whole Odyssey. Brazil called
for a ceasefire and dialogue. China expressed
"deep concern" and warned of a "humanitarian
disaster". India said "no external powers should
interfere" in Libya. And Russia, via Prime
Minister Vladimir Putin, dismissed the "allow
The same applies
for the 53-nation African Union (AU). The AU wants
a diplomatic solution. Gaddafi has plenty of
historical allies among AU countries. It helps
that he pays most of the AU's bills.
Algeria - also a member of the Arab League
- said the intervention was "disproportionate". In
Chad, President Idriss Deby remains in power to a
great extent due to Gaddafi's deep pockets. Deby
returned the favor sending mercenaries and weapons
to Tripoli. There's more; if the no-fly zone is
not extended to southern Libya (it covers just the
north and the Mediterranean coast), Gaddafi is
still able to receive military and manpower help
from Chad, Mali, Niger and Algeria (see Fly
me a Tuareg on time Asia Times Online, March
8, 2011). It has not dawned on Odyssey Dawn's
planners that a coalition without explicit AU
support means the AU is free to keep helping
Then there's the meat in
the coalition's kebab - the Arab League.
Washington ordering the embattled kings of Morocco
and Jordan and the wealthy emirs in Doha and Abu
Dhabi to engage as "allies" - besides the
astonishing grotesquerie of these dictators posing
as humanitarian saviors of democracy - does not
mean the Arab League is fully on board Odyssey
Oh yes. Unless we count the then
they were six, then they were four, now they're
only two Qatar Air Force Mirage 2000 - plus a C-17
cargo plane - to be deployed probably this coming
weekend as the glorious Arab League fighting
contribution to the "coalition".
endgame The "coalition" never even came
close to exhausting "all necessary measures"
stressed by United Nations resolution 1953 to seek
a diplomatic solution before the American Ulysses
started Tomahawking Libya. What all these
unwilling, no-coalition countries are essentially
asking is for an international team - Arab League,
African Union, United Nations - to go to Tripoli
and negotiate a package; a real ceasefire,
mechanisms to protect civilians, and a political
process leading to elections.
As if the
faulty "optics" was not enough, Odyssey Dawn is
not a full success - apart from having prevented a
hypothetical massacre in Benghazi. The horrible
accounts from Zawiya and Misurata tell of
civilians being attacked by tanks and armored
vehicles, as well as militias - Gaddafi's
"irregulars" - in jeeps and pick-up trucks. This
proves that no-fly - which for the moment
basically translates as shock and awe lite - is
not protecting a whole lot of civilians.
United States President Barack Obama now
seems to be sure he has successfully tweaked the
"optics". The official spin is that Obama, British
Prime Minister David Cameron and Sarko have all
agreed that NATO should play "a key role" in
Odyssey Dawn. Like in projecting the "optics" that
it won't be in charge of the military wing of
no-fly - when it eventually will (the 28 NATO
members must approve it unanimously). Such optical
saturation leads to what was obvious from the
beginning; this will "transition" from a
"coalition of the three willing" (US, Britain,
France) to a NATO war.
If the Pentagon
really applied its fabled "unique capabilities",
the whole Gaddafi regime would be reduced to
rubble in minutes. But that's a "limited mission"
conducted by a "coalition" - not "regime change",
although that's exactly what the president, the
Europeans and most Arab dictators want. Talk about
an "optics" red alert.
establishment is beaming that for the first time
"the Arab public" is supporting an American
intervention. Beware of the "optics" you pick. The
"Arab public" is also making the connection that
if Gaddafi shoots his own people and then gets
bombed by the West, why should not the same thing
happen to the dictators in Yemen and Bahrain? The
"Arab public" can also clearly identify which
methods Washington and the Europeans are using to
try to appropriate the great 2011 Arab revolt to
For the moment, with so much
fuzzy "optics", no think-tank dares predicting
what the "coalition" will come up with if no-fly
does not stop Gaddafi. Arming the rag-tag but very
brave and ultra-motivated "rebels" - something
already in effect - is mandated by UN resolution
1953. Washington, London and Paris pray that soon
the rebels may switch from defense to attack,
march over Tripoli, topple the tyrant and provide
everyone with a Hollywood ending.
happen. The transitional council in Benghazi asked
for a no-fly zone - not a foreign intervention.
What Odyssey Dawn is providing is most of all
heavy bombing of Tripoli - on the other side of
the country. The people of Tripoli are starting to
see this as the beginning of a new colonial war.
This means that a post-Gaddafi political
transition cannot possibly be peaceful.
Perversely, Odyssey Dawn is laying the groundwork
for the partition of Libya. Balkanization looms.
Any decent military analyst worth his
single malt on the rocks knows nobody wins a war
from the air. The humanitarian yearning is a
smokescreen (why Libya and not Yemen, Bahrain,
Gaza?) This is more like a new, very dangerous war
theater in the Orientalist-named MENA (Middle
East, Northern Africa), a warped Odyssey with no
endgame and no end in sight. Now you see it, now