Monday, February 28, 2011

Target of Opportunity

B-2 Stealth Bomber.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
     One test of the vision of a leader is whether he can see when the world turns over. In case any leaders have missed it, the world is turning over. As should have been clear after about the first two weeks of demonstrations in Cairo, there is a wind sweeping the Middle East like a Saharan sirocco. It reaches from Tunisia to Iran, from ancient Carthage to ancient Persia. The stakes are enormous. If we act now, we might encourage just enough of the right people to resist the impending Islamist push and avoid losing the entire region to theocracy, terror, and a long, medieval dark. If we do anything less than just enough, and certainly if we do nothing but talk, we stand to lose the region, yes, but also we stand to lose whatever moral authority the world’s most powerful democracy still has in the eyes of nascent democracies worldwide. Of course, the region is not ours to lose. It is not ours at all. There is probably little we can do to bend the wind to our purposes, nor should we be approaching the problem as if we could. We must look toward this newer world order with hope and humility, accepting that we can no more rewrite the destinies of a dozen sovereign countries than we can get Wisconsin senators back on the job. But, the U.S. simply cannot sit idle while a dozen movements that describe themselves as “democratic” face the tanks and bullets of tyranny.

     What can we do? Each country presents its own challenges and opportunities. Where we have diplomatic or close military ties, as in Egypt, we can help foster a (virtually) bloodless coup. In other cases, perhaps we nudge an allied monarch toward accepting constitutional restraints and representative government. In Libya, though, we have a unique target of opportunity. Libyans in the street are begging America to take military action, to hit Gaddafi with our thunderbolts from the sky and free a nation with one stroke. This stroke we can deliver, even without a carrier battle group in the Mediterranean.

     Flying from Missouri, American B-2 Stealth Bombers provided vital combat power in the 1999 Kosovo Air Campaign. That conflict remains the only one on record won entirely by air power. The B-2 was instrumental in that victory. The Stealth Bomber can carry an immense payload of conventional bombs. It can also carry precision-guided warheads that it can launch from above the clouds, well outside the detection range of any Libyan radar. We could, if the president so ordered, drop tons of blockbusters into skylights on the Libyan leader’s palace. We could eliminate entire companies of Libyan armor, should they not decide to support the Libyan people. We could provide the coup-de-grâce for this international disgrace, or at least make it easier for his people to do so. Perhaps most important of all, we could end the bloodbath in which he is drowning his countrymen.

     One justification for the Iraq war was that it might successfully install a functioning democracy in the heart of authoritarian Greater Arabia. This remains to be seen. It is devilishly tricky to impose democracy on an unready people. But when people demonstrate for democracy, even if they are not entirely sure what that means, the United States simply must stand with them.  We must do so even at the risk of a replay of Iran in 1979. On the other hand, some argue it was U.S. dithering that empowered the Khomeini Islamists and failed to encourage more secular revolutionaries.  In the end, what choice have we? We cannot support dictators and divine-right kings at the expense of their people.

     We must be who we are, and we must help where we can.


  1. Very true, exactly right. In Libya especially, the benefits would go beyond the place itself. Once in awhile we need to demonstrate that we can and will support democratic movements. Not create democratic movements; support them. Call it the symbolic bomb.

  2. Damn straight! Noble Ideals and virtues are useless if they remain nothing but words. Support is indeed the correct path.

  3. Hugh Hewitt is strong on this, but a number of Fox talking heads have reverted to caution now that the administration is beginning to talk tough. I agree with Secretary Gates that we should not commit our ground troops. But we can do a great deal with a few well-placed bombs, without even imposing a "no-fly zone."