June 7, 2011
By Jeff Huber
“Nobody wants to sit on the bench.”
-- Los Angeles Angels pitcher Bobby Wilson
One of the big Sunday stories was about how British and French attack helicopters deployed on amphibious ships have joined the fight in Libya. Unnamed information warriors told Simon Denyer of the Washington Post to tell us that the helicopters give “NATO he ability to strike military targets in built-up areas with more precision than fast-moving, high-flying warplanes.”
Libyan chicks dig 'em.
That may be true in some cases. Say, for example, you want to hover over a street for hours and blow off any human head that happens to stick out a door or window. Helicopters do that pretty well, as we’ve seen so graphically in Iraq. In their first few days of Libyan operations, however, the Brit Apaches and French Tigers and Gazelles (adorable nicknames, huh?) targeted military vehicles, military command buildings, a radar installation and a checkpoint, all targets that can be struck with precision by laser and Satellite guided bombs dropped from fixed-wing aircraft flying well above the maximum altitudes of the sorts of tactical anti-aircraft weapons that typically chew helicopters into bite-sized morsels.
So why are the helicopters involved?
Warriors, like athletes, don't like sitting on the bench come game day. Like it or not, that’s a desirable and even admirable trait for military personnel to have. We don’t want a big, expensive force of Sgt. Bilkos who, once a war breaks out, will move heaven and earth and their floating crap game to stay out of it. There’s even a legitimate goal in utilizing an armed conflict, however minor, to “blood” as much of your force as you can get in on the action. It is, when you get right down to it, a waste of perfectly good mayhem if you don't. This is especially true of naval and air forces that, given the paucity of credible navies or air defenses among the have-nots we like to go to war with, offer little risk of suffering embarrassing levels of unsightly friendly casualties.
But England and France didn’t send their amphibious helicopters to war because the helicopter crews and sailors wanted to fight. The Euros need a justification to keep spending outrageous amounts of money on their naval air forces. And if they don’t use their naval air strike forces in a war that just happens to be happening in the Mediterranean Sea where all the NATO members’ naval forces can get to, and that happens to involve doing air strikes on a country with a big coast along the Med, then why do they have naval air strike forces in the first place? Come to think of it, why is there still a NATO two decades after the Evil Empire it was formed to oppose did a Humpty Dumpty off the Berlin Wall?
Our lose-lose Libya lunacy is about preserving the Long War for as long as possible. Yeah, there's a keep Russia's mitts off Libya's oil factor and a certain amount of doing the Bush family Saudi pals' bidding, but our play war in Africa has so little to do with national security that nobody behind the wheel of this brakeless bus is bothering to pretend that it does. Worse is that the passengers seem oblivious to the cliff’s edge their leaders are in the process of driving them over. (In the middle of an extended recession and during an era when we have no military peer on the horizon, our on-the-books defense budget is the highest it has been since World War II and plausible estimates peg our actual defense spending at $1.22 trillion, roughly a third of our total 2012 budget.)
What started as UN Ambassador and liberal warmonger Suzan Rice’s wafer-thin no-fly zone for the purpose of protecting the freedom-loving peoples of Libya from Muamar Kadhafi’s Our Gang air force has become a strategic bombing campaign aimed at regime change. The best purpose we have for wanting regime change comes from Bombardier Barry himself, whose present position is that regime change is the only way to protect the freedom loving peoples of Libya, as opposed his position in March that said regime change wasn’t necessary to protect the freedom loving peoples of Libya.
What unmasked poppycock. The second we signed on for the no-fly zone we signed on for regime change, and boy, as war aims go, hasn’t that one worked out swell for us in the past decade? We have yet to extract ourselves from the two countries we puppet rigged on young Mr. Bush’s botched watch, and Mr. Obama’s promised withdrawal timelines have proven to be pure “disassembly.”
Five U.S. troops were killed in a June 6 rocket attack on an Iraqi base in eastern Baghdad. I’m sure those troops parents slash spouses slash children will find great comfort in knowing that Obama ended their deceased parents’ slash spouses’ slash children’s combat mission almost a year ago.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) is author of the critically lauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon on America’s rise to global dominance.