22 March 2011

War in Libya

I have offered this comment on a New York Times editorial wondering about the new war in Libya:

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Dennis Argall
Rome, Italy 
Forty-some years ago as a young Australian diplomat immersed in southeast Asia and the then preoccupation with the Vietnam war I was transferred to our Rome embassy. Surrounded by the events of Europe in 1968 and at real distance I secured new and critical perspective to our (and US) conduct of the Vietnam war. Curiously I now find myself again living in Italy for a time, retired, as a new war of alliance against wickedness breaks out in Libya. 
This discussion thread has at its most constructive been focused (appropriately) on the legality and practical feasibility of the US going to war. 
From here, I find that the greatest impression is the precipitate muddle of action.
There has been a breathtaking reaction in many places, including in the nations involved, to the very wide and imaginative interpretation of 'no-fly-zone'. This has placed at risk, perhaps permanently fractured, the massive international support for the action. And already there is reckless public bickering over what it means among leaders of the action itself, notably whether it allows decapitation of the Libyan Government. The evident value of surprise on the part of the enemy may have been overtaken by this loss of strategic coherence and support.  
The action takes place at a moment when Italy has been reoccupied by 150th anniversary celebrations and the difficult process of securing regime change from the Ten Billion Dollar Man Berlusconi. From resistance to military action Italy has been squeezed into a role, with sense of rivalry with France. Moreover, the left has now taken a vanguard position in articulation of action. Advocacy of a 'risorgimento also in the Arab world' (the 'resurgence' which brought Italy to nationhood 150 years ago, overturning Spain, Austria and the Papal States) has brought huge popular response for President Napolitano, life long member of the now defunct Communist Party. The leader of the Democratic Party, Bersani, Prime Minister-in-Waiting if egos can bring unity for change, has said that the constitution forbids military action for war, allows it for human rights... this is the leader of the party heir to the former socialist and communist parties. So with the complicity in action of the British Liberal Democrats we have a curious vanguard of 'leftish' or socially-sensitive leaders gunning for what is unmistakably a war. 
It is a very long time (65 years) since J. K Galbraith and others in the assessment of strategic bombing of Europe in WWII concluded that the strategic bombing campaign was a 'disastrous failure' that "at most... eased somewhat the task of ground troops."
The precipitate nature of western action, from which notably China, with its sense of how long history takes to happen, distances itself, reflects the infancy inculcation of our leaders with the speed of action of Sesame Street and the expectation of outcomes in computer games. 
The 150th Anniversary celebration in Italy includes celebration of Garibaldi and others in enabling an infant Rome Republic against French forces invited by the Pope to hold a hill in Rome for some months in 1849 - twelve years before the 150 years ago completion of occupation of all Italy by the Kingdom of Savoy; 21 years before the actual constitutional emergence of an Italian State, over 80 years before settlement of territory and status with the Pope... And as the Times main article on Italy begins: \"Encyclopedia Britannica describes Italy as"less a single nation than a collection of culturally related points in an uncommonly pleasing setting."  
It is time we began scaling and shaping military interventions, as and when conceivably appropriate, by realistic awareness of the time it takes to achieve any kind of outcome in the real world and the very different strategies we need to adopt in the real world. There is a huge element in this war decision not so much of interest in oil but pellmell response to public opinion and adoption of domestically politically advantageous postures: it is frankly bizarre for the Italian left to be advocating for war in the Arab world and Libya in particular — but for the need to get advantage over the Billion Dollar Man who had become a dollar-dealing mate of Gaddafi, resistant to war against him. 
Considering the business in Libya we might paraphrase that last quote about Italy to say that Libya is: "less a single nation than a confusion of culturally diverse points in an uncommonly challenging setting."