Regular readers of this blog know that I have a lot of admiration for the work of David Ignatius -- both his columns and his novels.
Perhaps so. But deploying them in Libya is a sign that the U.S. is not bugging out on its NATO allies nor on the Libyan rebels, who are Arabs.
Frankly, I am surprised it has taken the U.S. government so long to get the Predators over Libya. They should have been there on Day One. This is exactly the type of move that makes sense here: Putting U.S. assets into the operation in support of an intervention led by other members of NATO, but supported by the United States, especially in areas where the U.S. can offer unique capabilities, especially when U.S. aircrews are not endangered by the deployment.
In this case, I can see many more uses for drones than the assassination of Col. Qaddafi, which Ignatius figures is their likely use. We have seen Qaddafi's forces adapting to the presence of NATO aircraft overhead-for example, moving from tanks to pickup trucks. So closer observation is needed before striking. That requires getting down low, but that can sucker a NATO aircraft into getting hit. Drones are a good answer to this tactical problem. Likewise, they can get down under clouds in bad weather, taking away from Qaddafi's goods the advantage of attacking under overcasts. Plus, drones can "loiter" over a target, which helps both with observation and deterrence. They even can harass the foe-on exercises at the Army's National Training Center, I once was with an "opposition force" ambush team that crouched down warily when they head that lawnmower-like buzzing of a drone somewhere overhead. They hated that noise.
My question is, What took so long to make this move? I worry that the national security establishment -- the Pentagon, the CIA and even State Department-are slow-rolling this mission a bit, foot-dragging by "defining terms" and "seeking legal clarification." I know the military doesn't much like the Libyan intervention, and worries about mission creep. But they are supposed to follow legal orders. Part of this slow response probably has been President Obama's fault, because he was very cautious to act and then when he did, he emphasized U.S. minimalism. That sort of nuance runs contrary to U.S. national security culture, and so may have thrown some sand in the gears. Still, fellas, he is the president, so let's be careful about shirking. If your conscience can't take it, you know where the door is.
Meanwhile, here's an interesting take on Libya from retired Marine Col. Gary Anderson, who I think has appeared in all three of my non-fiction books.
And here is Sebastian Junger's meditation on the loss of his friend and Restrepo collaborator Tim Hetherington in Libya. Worth reading
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.