Yemen again

by John Q on April 6, 2011

The news from Yemen is grimly familiar – more protestors shot by President Saleh’s security forces and plainclothes thugs. But now the US government has shifted position, letting it be known in various ways that it’s time for Saleh to go. Their hope now is that a replacement will allow the operations against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to continue as before. A few thoughts about this.

The approach taken by the Administration here has been broadly consistent with that adopted in relation to Mubarak in Egypt. The Administration initially supported Mubarak’s proposal to stay in power and implement reforms, then shifted to the idea of replacing Mubarak with someone like … who could be trusted to pursue the same policies. When that became untenable, the Administration supported a transitional military government with elections to follow, and this outcome looks sustainable at present. However, there’s no guarantee that the government produced by elections will be as pliable as Mubarak’s, particularly in relation to Israel.

These developments don’t fit well with claims about continued US hegemony, at least if hegemony is supposed to entail a capacity to control outcomes. Obviously, the US is not a negligible player, and its change of side will probably hasten Saleh’s departure. On the other hand, the US changed sides only when it became clear it would be on the losing side otherwise. So, its position might affect the timing and consequences of Saleh’s fall, but it wasn’t decisive in bringing it about.

Libya is a more complicated case, but tells much the same story about US capacity to control events. In this case, the US Administration moved earlier to drop its support for (or rather, acceptance of) Gaddafi, but resisted the push for military intervention until the pressure from a variety of sources became irresistible. Calls for action from the rebels and their sympathisers in the Arab world, but the big push came from Sarkozy and the French government.

This push did not, of course, reflect a commitment on Sarkozy’s part to humanitarian values, but rather a public reaction against Sarkozy’s initial embrace of Ben Ali in Tunisia, made more influential by his general domestic vulnerability. Still, the fact that, for whatever reason, French pressure could drive the US to support intervention is certainly a further point against the idea of the US as hegemon.

It’s certainly true as Dan Nexon pointed out a few weeks ago, that the Libyan intervention points up the unique military capacities of the US state. As Nexon observes, despite being engaged in two wars, the US was able to allocate a carrier battle group to Libya and send ships to Japan in response to the earthquake. And when the intervention started, it became clear that only the US had the capacity for the kind of precise targeting of air defence systems demanded by the political exigencies of the case, with very low tolerance for civilian casualties directly caused by bombing.

On the other hand, as Nexon observes, it’s not at clear that this is a sensible allocation of resources, particularly given the consistent failure of the US military to deliver promised outcomes. Almost a decade after they began, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are still dragging on. In Libya, the intervention has yet to succeed in its UN-approved mission of protecting civilians who have been under siege in Misrata and elsewhere for weeks, which renders somewhat moot the question of whether the mission should be extended to include Gaddafi’s overthrow. And the Navy ships providing aid to Japan turned around after they detected high levels of radiation.

What does this imply for what’s left of the US support for autocracy in the region, most obviously in Bahrain and Arabia (and for that matter, in Iraq, where Maliki looks a lot more like the rulers who are being overthrown than a model for democratic aspirations)?
First, from the viewpoint of the regimes in question, and particularly the Al Khalifas in Bahrain, US support isn’t worth a hill of beans. Certainly, they aren’t going to get any military help in suppressing domestic opponents – the political cost of sending in the Marines would be prohibitive, particularly after the Libyan intervention in pursuit of diametrically opposed goals. And, while they’ll continue to give verbal and diplomatic support as long as it looks as if opposition can be suppressed without too much overt violence, that won’t last if popular resistance continues.
At some point, the Administration will look for a suitable successor, willing to negotiate continued basing rights for the Fifth Fleet. And, even that isn’t an absolute necessity. US support for Marcos in the Phillipines was cemented by Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval base, but both were closed after he fell from power, and the Seventh Fleet moved to Japan. The Fifth Fleet could operate from Diego Garcia if necessary. It’s even possible that the US might rethink the costs and benefits of maintaining a navy far larger than those of the rest of the world put together.
Then there’s the Saudi kingdom in Arabia. There’s no doubt that the US military-industrial establishment sees the maintenance of the Saudi regime as critical, on the basis of a mistaken belief in the crucial economic significance of oil.[1] But even though this belief is widely shared by the US public, the Saudi regime is so toxic, in political terms, that effective intervention to protect it would be a very hard sell.
Now let’s do what game theorists call backward induction. The crisis in the Arab world has shown that, when push comes to shove in the form of a popular revolt, the US state will have no choice but to leave friendly dictators to their fate. But, if that’s the case then a rationally self-interested US state would not commit significant (military, financial or political-credibility) resources to backing those dictators in the first place, since the benefits are likely to prove transitory. So, even if the current wave of revolts peter out leaving some of the autocracies in place, it would make good sense for the US state to disengage from them.

fn1. This kind of premodern thinking, in which the appropriation of physical resources is economically crucial, is characteristic of international ‘realism’. US oil imports from OPEC are worth about $180 billion a year, or 1.5 per cent of US national income. The premium paid by the US in additional military expenditure, largely justified by concerns about oil, far exceeds this.



Oliver 04.06.11 at 8:27 pm

“US oil imports from OPEC are worth about $180 billion a year, or 1.5 per cent of US national income. ”

And what is the significance of that? Drinking water is also very cheap. Nevertheless it is vital. All western states need oil. The demand for oil is very inelastic.


hix 04.06.11 at 9:00 pm

“The demand for oil is very inelastic.”

Not over a longer transition periods with US consumption levels. Reducing US consumption to a level where local production is sufficient would probably cost far less than those 180 billion.

Still a weak criticism. A realist world is one where countries consider local lifing standards a secondary objective. Economic strength is only important insofar as it translates into military strenght in a realist world. For a realist, controling middle eastern oil a good thing irrespective of homecountry demand. Oil control is just another tool, a good one to use against all those other otherwise powerfull oil import dependent countries, to gain a power edge.


Metatone 04.06.11 at 9:14 pm

I have similar concerns to Oliver over your analysis of the realist position. If Saudi Arabia was to fall into chaos what would it do to oil prices? And what would be the short term effect on the US economy?

That may still not justify US expenditures on propping up the regime, but it’s a better number to assess with.

I happen to believe the US should be investigating other sources of power (renewables and nuclear are candidates) that require a lesser overseas military presence, but I think that is a separate argument.


Aulus Gellius 04.06.11 at 9:26 pm

Someone brought this up on an earlier thread, but this still seems like a false dichotomy to me. Sure, this doesn’t reflect a commitment to humanitarianism on the part of Sarkozy personally. But the “public reaction” can’t just be treated like a random natural event; the French electorate has various motivations for pressuring its politicians. And when they react against support for Ben Ali, and push Sarkozy into intervention in Libya, it seems like the most likely motivation is a commitment to some sort of [hypocritical, confused, sporadic, etc, etc] humanitarianism.


jamie 04.06.11 at 9:28 pm

I agree with John on the oil biz-the market for oil is fluid, and whoever took over those regimes would have to sell the oil to create any sort of economy that would make the states worth taking over.

The one hesitation I have-if the US backs away from those regimes, will there be other foreign policy consequences? Maybe increased Iranian influence? Maybe these regimes would be more willing to tolerate al qaeda’s presence?


john c. halasz 04.06.11 at 9:40 pm

I would think Sarko’s taking the lead was somehow motivated by containing the spread of unrest to Algeria.


liberal japonicus 04.06.11 at 9:52 pm

And the Navy ships providing aid to Japan turned around after they detected high levels of radiation.

I don’t believe this phrasing isn’t quite correct. The Ronald Reagan repositioned itself when radiation was detected, it didn’t ‘turn around’, a turn of phrase that seems to suggest that they were withdrawn. In fact, they were just withdrawn on yesterday (Apr 5th) link


Eamonn 04.06.11 at 9:56 pm

1. “pliable as Mubarak’s, particularly in relation to Israel.”
In what sense “pliable”? the “non-pliable” states, Syria + Lebanon, are still waiting for their real estate to be given back to them while the supposedly Egypt “pliable” got all of its back aeons ago

2. I’ve never undersood the oil argument. It was often made in the run up to the Iraq war and after and was that the arguments made for toppling Baathism in Iraq were just a smokescreen for America’s or, more broadly, the West’s, need for oil.

So how does America control Iraq’s oil now? By what mechanism? The Iraqi government auctioned off licenses to exploit oilfields and that American companies disn’t do that well against Chinese and European competition. But maybe I’m missing something…

And if the question had just been access to oil, couldn’t a deal have been struck with Saddam without too much difficulty? Something along the lines of, “Saddam, old boy, we aren’t bothered by your attempted genocide of the Kurds or your swallowing up of Kuwait. Just as long as we can buy as much of your oil as we need we’ll let you govern as you please.” Why couldn’t that have worked? What motivation would Saddam have had to say “No”?

Suppose OBL overthrew the governments of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Emirates. What exactly would he do with their biggest/only source of wealth? How long would he survive in power if he didn’t agree to sell it to the West and Japan?

If whoever is in charge in the Gulf is going to have to sell us the oil anyway why do we need to bother propping up several unlovely regimes? And how come we prop up some but oppose others, some of them just as oil wealthy, if the main point of it all is really access to oil?

And, if we have to prop up regimes of dubious propriety in order to have access to their oil, what’s the explanation for the comfortable business relationship between Chávez and the USA, at least when it comes to buying Venezuela’s oil?


rd 04.06.11 at 10:09 pm

For the Gulf states, United States support has always been about protecting them from perceived external threats, not against their own people. Sustained military intervention in the Gulf began with the tanker reflagging operation aimed against Iran in the late 1980s, and then was solidified by the first Gulf War to head off the Iraqi threat. Even though Iraq will not have the capacity to coerce its neighbors for the forseeable future, the Gulf states will seek a military relationship with the United States so long as they still perceive Iran to be a threat. Barring a democratic revolution so sweeping that a Kantian democratic peace falls into place across the entire region, there’s little reason to believe this will change. The United States’ qualms about the internal freedoms of the Gulf states won’t extend to a refusal to defend them against other autocracies inimical to our interests.


Hidari 04.06.11 at 10:25 pm

The question is not about realities but about desires. The US (self-evidently, I mean…how could anyone deny this?) wants hegemony over the Middle East. The fact that it is not always successful in achieving this doesn’t prove anything about what the US wants. It’s like saying that just because the British Empire lost India that somehow the British Empire ceased to exist the second India became independent.

In any case, of course the US doesn’t rule on its own. France is an imperial rival, but it also shares certain ‘Western’ value. It’s not a competitor in the sense that (say) Iranian or Chinese imperialism would be.

Of course the basic point (that American power is declining in the ‘Middle East’) is correct but there is life in the beast yet.

And I don’t agree that hegemony implies ‘the capacity to control outcomes’. Did the Roman or British Empires control the outcomes in their colonies? Always? In the long run?


P O'Neill 04.06.11 at 10:33 pm

That backwards induction is already affecting Gulf-Iran relations.


LFC 04.06.11 at 11:15 pm

It’s even possible that the US might rethink the costs and benefits of maintaining a navy far larger than those of the rest of the world put together.

One hopes so, but I’m not holding my breath.


sg 04.06.11 at 11:23 pm

I don’t get the backward induction. What’s the link from “leave dictators to their fate” to “no benefit to having them in place”? Leaving them to their fate is just the cheapest outcome of “having them in place,” when the alternative to having them in place is someone less friendly to the US. A lot of these dictators don’t cost much to support, and it is looking more and more like the US has been able to do a very good job of getting these dictators on the cheap – i.e. it promises them support, sells them some crowd control devices, but never actually intended to give them support when they needed it. i.e. it bluffed them all very nicely.

So I don’t see the link.


Tim Wilkinson 04.06.11 at 11:36 pm

@8 I think one aspect of the idea is that when the oil starts more obviously running out, there will be a need for military bases in the relevant countries (or in the case of Saudi, in Qatar for now – special request of UBL).

There’s also the desire to ensure continuity of supply. This document would be pretty relevant, with (on a brief re-skim) pp37ff – ‘Deter and Manage International Supply Shortfalls’ providing some background on one rationale for the Iraq colonisation.

The US has been quite keen to get rid of Chavez in case you hadn’t noticed, including mounting an attempted coup, but I don’t think a war that close to home is considered a good idea, even with a really convincing pretext.

(Which in turn relates to another aspect – the free lunch provided by petrodollar recycling – Saddam had announced a change to the Euro, Iran recently started a Euro oil bourse (I haven’t followed its progress, but you may remember there was a little disruption caused on its opening when some seabed internet cables in the Gulf cut themselves) and Chavez was/is keen for OPEC to convert to the Euro IIRC.)

It’s not so much getting access, as safegauarding it against various possible threats. And those threats needn;t be all that imminent, since there are of course various other vectors pointing in the general direction of some-war-or-another involved too, like the Strauss/Orwell domestic politics of the last 68 years or so, and the good ole M-I complex.

@9 Yes, the US doesn’t invade other countries, it only liberates them and defends them from insane but convenient attacks, or the threat of such, by third parties – or retaliates, sometimes in odd directions, when it is subject to unprovoked attack itself, of course.


TamBram 04.06.11 at 11:51 pm

Word on the street is that Bahrain has executed an “instrument of accession” to Saudi–i.e., in effect, Saudi has annexed Bahrain.

I still fail to see what is gained by the US disengaging from Saudi. Saudi and the other Gulf regimes are terrified (of Iran, increasingly of Shia-led Iraq, in some cases their own people) and will just seek alliances elsewhere. France already has a base in the UAE and India has a defense pact and basing rights in Oman. India considers Yemen to be in its traditional zone of influence/”near abroad” (Aden was administered out of British India) so look for them to attempt to gain influence there given the current chaos. Plus, China will be trying to get its foot in the door. Precipitous US disengagement is destabilizing and risks humanitarian disaster through warfare (civil or inter-state). I still don’t see the big attraction–what am I missing? US disengaged does not improve chances for liberal democracy!


Anderson 04.07.11 at 12:24 am

I would think Sarko’s taking the lead was somehow motivated by containing the spread of unrest to Algeria

I thought it had more to do with his domestic politics. Not that I’m terribly up on such stuff.


Aulus Gellius 04.07.11 at 2:10 am

Damn it. If I’m going to screw up my comment, I should at least notice reasonably soon afterwards. Anyway, I meant to start my comment (@4) by quoting the part of the OP that says “This push did not, of course, reflect a commitment on Sarkozy’s part to humanitarian values, but rather a public reaction against Sarkozy’s initial embrace of Ben Ali in Tunisia, made more influential by his general domestic vulnerability.”


Glen Tomkins 04.07.11 at 2:20 am

The empire of terror

Trying to analyze the current US adventure in imperialism in terms of rational self-interest seems an obvious exercise in futility. You can reach the conclusion readily enough that what the US is doing doesn’t make much sense in terms of its interests, but, you know, it’s not as if that wasn’t fairly obvious before you started any mental exertions.

I suppose that there are people, perhaps even most people, who do try to believe that what we are doing does make sound practical sense, so you could claim that there is a lot of missionary work to be done among the ignorant savages by debunking the idea that our empire makes any practical sense. But your argument seems to me too reality-based to have much impact on those folks. You’re not approaching the topic from where these people live.

The US is trying to control the world right now because it is in the grip of the delusion that it is in existential peril from something the victims of this disease call “global terrorism”. That idea truly is insane, much worse than even the original delusion of an international communist conspiracy, so you can’t exactly argue against it, any more than you can cure a paranoid schizophrenic by demonstrating the irrationality of his fears. But you don’t gain anything either by going along with the delusion, treating it and the actions the sick person is taking in its grip as if they could be analyzed as sensible versus unsound responses to the real world.

Don’t encourage this unfortunate madman by talking about his carrier battle groups as if there was ever any prospect of their being anything with any power in the real world. If the Japanese Empire of circa 1941 were ever to attack us, then yes, those carriers would be quite handy. But we really will be able to spot very early on if the Japanese Empire of circa 1941 is re-emerging as a threat, and do something useful at that time against that threat, and there are infinitely cheaper and more effective means of dealing with any threat that any power of circa 2011 is going to present. We only have these baubles lying about unused, at horrific and ruinous expense, because we are mad enough to imagine that they are absolutely necessary to ward off global terrorism. So if Obama wants to borrow one or two of them for a bit to do something actually useful in the real world, like preventing insurgents in Libya from being slaughtered by their dictator, he isn’t really free to use them as if they had no entailments arising from the fact that they only exist for his use because his country is in the grip of a paranoid schizophrenia so strong that we keep these things ever at the ready. Use them and you identify the dictator as an arm of global terror, someone with whom no compromise is possible, because he plans (somehow) to slaughter us all in our beds, or at least (s0mehow) impose sharia law on us. Obama seems to understand the danger posed by this entailment, and is backpedalling furiously from any further use of these disastrous wonder weapons, but it’s probably already too late to keep from being blackmailed into utterly insane involvement by the usual Republican thugs in case we are unlucky enough for Qaddafi’s regime to fail to implode from within before we have to escalate to save the insurgents.

Senator Vandenberg famously told Truman that he was going to have to “scare the hell out of the American people” to get the tentative beginnings of the Cold War going. Scaring the hell out of the American people has been an ongoing necessity, long since institutionalized, in all the intervening years, to maintain the huge military establishment we failed to disband at the end of WWII, as we had after all our previous wars. If Obama won’t step up to the plate and scare the hell out of the American people over Libya, there are plenty of Republicans eager to have his job by terrorising the American people with a gusto untainted by remorse or reflection.

Don’t talk about our actions in the world as if we were powerful, as if we were free to use our military power to do good deeds, or to choose instead to pillage and exploit. That’s all illusion and madness, the illness talking. The best we can hope for is quiet until the madness wears off, that we gradually unburden ourselves of the outsized military establishment without any further occasion to take it off the shelf. It can never be used for sound and rational ends because it only exists at the bidding of madness, and that madness will assert its own stark reasonings as its instrument is deployed.


Andrew 04.07.11 at 1:06 pm

Well, first a deserved kudos to JQ for predicting the shift in US policy on Saleh some time ago. But a few highly questionable assertions in this post:

(1) That the US won’t land Marines to slaughter the opposition -> US support isn’t worth a “hill of beans.” That’s not true of course. Neither Saudi Arabia nor Bahrain expects or wants the US to guarantee their domestic stability. What they do want is trade, military aid, and protection from external threats like Iran. And those things are worth quite a bit more than beans.

(2) That the US can’t simply dictate outcomes in the ME -> the US is no longer a superpower. When was the US ever able to simply dictate its preferred outcome in the domestic politics of other nations? Infrequently and unevenly.

(3) Libya casts further doubt on efficacy of US military power in delivering on promises. All the US promised in Libya was to help establish a no-fly zone and provide limited assistance in the protection of civilians. It was emphasized from the outset that the role was very limited. If the US promise instead was the destruction of the Gadhafi regime, I don’t think anyone would be in doubt as to the outcome.

(4) Iraq and Afghanistan -> lack of power of US military. Nation-building is quite a long-term challenge. But if you’re a foreign government assessing the power of the US military, neither Iraq nor Afghanistan are comforting cases. Hussein’s regime was destroyed with unbelievable speed. The Taliban survive as an insurgency, but not as a government.

More generally, interests dictate the amount of power expended on an outcome, and how. It’s not in the US interest to brutally repress democratic uprisings in the Middle East. Long-term strategy for the US centers around political and economic reform in the Middle East. Neocons and neoliberals disagree to some extent on the means, but they do not disagree on the ends. And everyone sees popular pressure as, ultimately, the mechanism for ending the regimes in Syria and Iran. So you will not see – absent some very compelling short-term need – the US getting involved in such repression. That’s a choice directed by US interests and values, not by a lack of power.


Sev 04.07.11 at 1:55 pm

The 73-74 and 79 supply disruptions were huge shocks to the US, which Our Leaders don’t want repeated. The Pentagon itself is notably thirsty. The idea that the Soviets or Someone Else could choke off the supply has kept military planners up late for decades. Military has actually begun to show some interest in alternatives to oil- but that battleship turns slowly.
Getting the dollars back through various investments and military(and other) sales is obviously welcome, keeps US unit price down on planes, etc.
As in previous thread, all of these decisions are made by interested individuals, not some Rational Decider. Butchery Technologies, BFF Bankers, CandlePower Global Systems and their political advocates/future employees.


Danae 04.07.11 at 4:26 pm

I tend to agree with Eamonn, above, that oil is not highest in priority in the decision to intervene in Libya, if for different reasons. My impression is that there are a number of factors that came into play.

1) Libya was considerably weakened by the drop in oil prices in the late 2000s and, additionally, as a prerequisite for the lifting of 2 decades of crippling economic sanctions, has had to open its economy to foreign investment [ie, Libya gave up a good deal of its autonomy, making it an easier target].

2) The US hasn’t had much luck in establishing an outpost for its African Command on the continent, itself, as African countries, rightfully, have been wary of the proposition. The US may hope to pick up the Wheeler Air Force base, in southern Libya, again, which Gaddafi ‘invited’ the US vacate in the early 1970s.

Africa has become a ‘vital interest’ to the US, for the continent’s immense mineral and energy resources, which China has quietly been developing, over the past 2 decades. AfriCom is all about maintaining US-loyal governments in place to prevent further Chinese, and even Russian, investment in Africa. All the more so in that, by 2015, the US will be importing 25% of its oil from African countries. — Cf the ongoing battle between Ouattara and Gbagbo, in Côte d’Ivoire, itself a resource-rich country. Though evidence would indicate that Gbagbo won the presidential election, Ouattara is the US/EU’s man. Hence the heavy-handed media stories, stand-off, and turmoil; just as those surrounding Libya.

3) Rarely mentioned by journalists and bloggers is one of Sarkozy’s pet projects, which he promotes at every opportunity he can seize: the Union for the Mediterranean, a supposed “partnership” with the EU. Note the map; Libya is the only North African country which is not a full member. It’s quite possible, likely, even, that the Libyan govt hasn’t been keen on the idea.

There can be little question that “unification” of Mediterranean countries would give the EU and particularly Israel far greater means to influence the ME and Maghreb than they possess currently.

Consider, also, that one of the priorities of the Union for the Mediterranean is the oversight and management of member-states’ water resources. The Libyan desert happens to sit atop 3 huge Nubian aquifers — the envy of many a regional country. See the monumental Great Manmade River, which has contributed greatly to Libya’s standard of living and autonomy.

In sum, that the press has focused attention on the issue of oil, to the exclusion of other, highly significant issues regarding Libya, the country’s strategic importance, and the race towards ‘regime change’, could well be purposeful.

Ah, these ‘humanitarian’ wars …


More Dogs, Less Crime 04.07.11 at 6:47 pm

If the pressure was “irresistible” how come so many other countries were able to resist? It sounds like you are absolving the U.S for its actions.


Oliver 04.07.11 at 7:11 pm

“If whoever is in charge in the Gulf is going to have to sell us the oil anyway why do we need to bother propping up several unlovely regimes?”

They have to sell some oil, but not quite as much as today. As the price in the short and medium run is inelastic then can recover a lot they’d lose on volume on price. In fact simple talk could drive up prices.


Uncle Kvetch 04.08.11 at 4:12 pm

It’s even possible that the US might rethink the costs and benefits of maintaining a navy far larger than those of the rest of the world put together.

No, it really isn’t.

I still fail to see what is gained by the US disengaging from Saudi. […] I still don’t see the big attraction—what am I missing?

See what I mean?


Tim Wilkinson 04.09.11 at 12:36 pm

BTW just to harp on this a bit more, since there seems to be some doubt: once the NATO powers went public with their support for armed uprising in Libya, I thought it was pretty clear that Gadaffi’s days were numbered. I am pretty sure that means he is a dead man walking; there is certainly no question of the US et al letting him stay in any kind of power, given (a) numerous statements to the effect that he must go, and (b) the clear de facto commitment to supporting the rebels as the chosen means of intervention. At least some of those involved must have understood this.

And in the meantime every analyst, local expert and independent politician under the sun proposes various compromises, ceasefire arrangements, etc, which are ignored by the coalition. There is really very little ambiguity about this, surely?

Unfortunately the humanitarian story means that there will need to be a lot more bloodshed before the NATO campaign can openly be escalated so as to achieve the joint goals of getting rid of Gadaffi and being in a position to ensure that his successor regime has various desirable characteristics.

Also: only the US had the capacity for the kind of precise targeting of air defence systems demanded by the…very low tolerance for civilian casualties directly caused by bombing – I think that in the fullness of time and of hotly contested investigation, it will be discovered that the civilan casualties due to NATO bombing – not to mention prolonging and possibly fomenting and facilitating the armed revolt – were in fact pretty high – higher, for example, than those due to Gadaffi’s actual and counterfactual repression of unarmed protests.

So far as I can make out, casualties due to NATO bombing are being reported in the 10s, and even then only as entirely accidental friendly fire incidents on armed rebels. The other day, in contrast, Radio 4 featured a supposed rebel spokesperson ascribing, unchallenged, 10s of thousands of civilian casualties to the Gaddafi regime.

And in general, ‘precision bombing’, as illustrated during the original video-game war of ’91, appears to be something of a misnomer – despite the claims to the contrary made by those normally wedded to the ‘cock-up’, ‘Nothing Succeeds as Planned’ theory of history which will surely be wheeled out to explain ‘collateral damage’ in eth fog of war. That’s apart from the fact that ‘precision’ seems often somehow to be presented as a justification in itself (cf. ‘targeted assassination’).

BTW, I recently heard the first – obviously approved and scripted – mention of G’s use of ‘human shields’ (unlike the city-based rebels). This is a precursor to a novus actus interveniens, not enough blame to go round, kind of manoeuvre once the high-piled bodies start to stink and responsibility has to be doled out appropriately (the current 1000:1 ).

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