The Best Defense

Six considerations for discussing the imposition of a Libyan no-fly zone

I wish everyone talking about imposing a no-fly zone on Libya would take a deep breath. Americans have an odd habit of backing into war . We first deployed ground combat forces into Vietnam in the spring of 1965 simply to protect American air bases, for example. (Honestly, we didn't mean to violate Vizinni's law -- scroll down to the end of the poison discussion.)

Here are some of the issues that need to be examined. Anyone who advocates a no-fly zone should be required to answer them.

1. Imposing a no-fly zone is an act of war. For example, it would require attacking Qaddafi's air defense systems-not just anti-aircraft guns and missile batteries, but also radar and communications systems. We may also need some places out in the desert to base helicopters to pick up downed fliers. So, first question: Do we want to go to war with Qaddafi?

2. Hmmm, another American war in an Arab state -- what's not to like?

3. How long are we willing to continue this state of war? What if we engage in an act of war, and he prevails against the rebels? Do we continue to fight him, escalate -- or just slink away? And what do we do about aircrews taken prisoner?

4. And if we are going to go to war with his government, why not just try to finish the job quickly and conduct air strikes against him and his infrastructure? In this sense, a no-fly zone is a half measure, which generally is a bad idea in war. Why risk going to war and losing? That is, if we are willing to do air strikes, why not go the whole way and use ground troops now to go in and topple a teetering regime? I actually would prefer this option.

5. See what I mean?

6. No, the Iraqi no-fly zones are not a good precedent to cite. I actually went out and looked at the operation of the northern no-fly zone in October of 2000. I came away thinking that one reason that no American aircraft were shot down in the Iraqi no-fly zones was because Saddam Hussein really did not want to-that is, he did not want to provoke America. The anti-aircraft shots that were taken were wide on purpose. A better parallel might be Serbia, which (aided by a smart Hungarian national who now is a baker) managed to down an F-117 stealth fighter aircraft in March 1999 with an SA-3 anti-aircraft missile.

As General Mattis once said, if you're going to take Vienna, take f---ing Vienna.

The Best Defense

Company Command's greatest hits, vol. 2: The wisdom of letting your people fail



One of the things that strikes me about Company Command is how it enables peers to talk to each other. This doesn't replace the "when I was your age" form of learning, but it complements it -- and probably is far more credible and effective, given that the lessons aren't fogged by memory.

Here is my other 2005 pick, on standing back and letting people mistakes as a form of teaching. Please also note the three letters after the author's name:

I've always recognized and fought my tendency to be too directive or prescriptive. It often seems that training opportunities are too precious to waste an iteration of an event by letting a subordinate leader do something that you're pretty sure won't work. If you that sure that it won't work, then you're better off letting them try it-you'll never truly convince them any other way, and they'll learn from it. Who knows, you could be wrong, and it might work! When you give them some latitude in training, it will pay off as initiative in combat. -John Whyte (RIP), A/1-30 IN)

Speaking of loss, here is a moving article by Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post about Marine Lt. Gen. John Kelly's handling of his son being killed in Afghanistan. "I guess over time I had convinced myself that I could imagine what it would be like to lose a son or daughter," Kelly tells him. "You try to imagine it so that you can write the right kind of letters or form the right words to try to comfort. But you can't even come close. It is unimaginable."

With thanks.