Monday, March 07, 2011

History of No-Fly Zones, Part I

by Jeff Huber

It seems incredible that a former naval officer like John McCain became one of history’s dumbest shapers of foreign policy until you remember that he was also one of history’s dumbest naval officers

Senator Ex-Prisoner of War put on the Ritz last Sunday for ABC’s This Week, dithering with his arms and clumsily tap dancing like Peter Boyle in Young Frankenstein about how we need to establish a no-fly zone over Libya.  "Their air assets are not large,” McCain said of Moammar Gadhafi’s military.  “Their air defenses are somewhat antiquated and this would send a signal to Gadhafi that President [Obama] is serious when he says we need for Gadhafi to go."

21 AD: Caesar declares first
no-fly zone over Mesopotamia
McCain’s memory is as abysmal as his gal pal Joe Lieberman’s sense of history.  Lieberman once infamously noted that wars can only end in one of two ways: victory or defeat.  Tommyrot.  We scored an unprecedented “victory” in late 1991 with Operation Desert Storm.  The fabled air war all but eliminated Saddam Hussein’s relatively light air assets and his somewhat antiquated air defenses faster than you can say “Uncle Sam’s strikers schwacked Saddam’s swarm of SAMS and interceptors slicker than snot on a Sumerian silver setting.”  100 hours into the ground war, Big Daddy Bush declared that the mission had been accomplished (heh), and some observers—mostly military public affairs poofters and the embedded stenographers in the Pentagon press corps—called the Desert Storm the greatest military victory in U.S. history.  Heck, we didn’t just defeat Saddam Hussein; we mopped the desert floor with him.

Unfortunately, there were a number of things we didn’t mop up, so we installed no-fly zones in the north and south of Iraq, and they worked so well that they were still in force more than a decade later when we returned with ground power in 2003’s Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

Sens. Kerry and McCain tout
no-fly zone over Libya
Not to be outdone by Ex-Prisoner, The Other Senator from Massachusetts, John Kerry, also hit the gasbag circuit last Sunday to advocate slapping Libya’s Moammar Khadaffi upside the head with a no-fly zone.  But Kerry put his own unique spin on the matter.  On Face the Nation, he said we (i.e., we Americans and whatever little buddies we can con or bully into going along with us this time) should “prepare a no-fly zone in conjunction with our allies, not implement it.”

Jesus in a girly bar, Kerry.  Prepare a no-fly zone but not implement it?  No wonder Kerry, a decorated war hero, lost an election to a draft dodging deserter because the public was convinced that the draft dodging deserter made a better wartime commander in chief than Kerry would.

Prepare an NFZ and not implement it.  Truly yikes.  Who among us doesn’t love no-fly zones, eh John?  What Kerry’s talking about is a “no-fly zone in being,” a concept so perfectly and absurdly contradicted by its very name that all the brainiac Onanists at our war colleges and neocon tank thinkeries put together don’t have the imagination to conceive of such a thing.

A chapter from Warmongering 101: A “fleet in being” is a naval force that extends a controlling influence without ever leaving port (i.e., without being implemented).  The advantage to operating your navy as a fleet in being is that it’s cheaper to keep the fleet in port than to send it out to sea, and by not exposing your fleet to battle you keep it from taking a voyage to the bottom of the sea.  A lovely concept, but the history of fleets in being shows that the primary thing they influence is the financial collapse of the nations that possess them. 

Nonetheless, a fleet in being is superior to a no-fly zone in being in to the extent that a fleet can exist whether you implement it or not.  A no-fly zone that isn’t implemented isn’t a no-fly zone, or anything else for that matter.  You can gather an air force for the purpose of springing a no-fly zone on somebody, but that air force has to deploy from its components’ various and sundry home bases, and that costs money—just as much money, in fact, as actually using that air force to create a no-fly zone, because the fliers have to fly to stay current, and the maintenance troops have to take care of the airplanes, and the fliers and the troops all have to sleep and eat and go out for drinks to blow off steam, which also costs money and creates discipline problems and so on and so on. 

Plus, you can’t just switch on a no-fly zone like you start a car.  Air superiority needs to be established and maintained over the zone, and that takes a lot of work, even if the adversary has “somewhat antiquated” air defenses and a “not large” air force.  And establishing and maintaining air superiority involves dropping bombs on airfields and air defense installations, which is, any way you look at it, an act of war against a nation that hasn’t committed a hostile act against any political entity other than itself. 

Historical results of
no-fly zones
Kerry says that establishing a no-fly zone would not amount to military intervention.  I suppose that would be the case if we ran a zone without military assets, say, maybe, if we had Federal Express do it for us.  Kerry insists that, “we don’t want troops on the ground.”  So what happens the second a fighter pilot’s flight boots hit the ground at the end of the parachute ride he began when the his engines ate themselves over Tripoli?  Do we try to get him out with a fistful of Navy Seals?  Or do we hire Blackwater to do the job for us?  Or maybe Gary Trudeau’s Red Rascal?  Or do we just send Jesse Jackson, who gets the pilot back only after promising Moammar that the big, bad United States will never, ever be mean to him again, and he can go ahead and kill all the rebels he wants.   

Or do we just go ahead and conduct a fullbore invasion of Libya.  Be very, very mindful of the fact that the history of no-fly zones indicates that 100 percent of them lead to significant commitment of ground forces that quickly turn into inextricable quagmires. 

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.


  1. Commander,

    but.... hell..... there's all that oil.

    It's always about the oil.

  2. I often ask myself where would satirists be without objects of human greed?

  3. Back to talking about "civility".

    That kind of ended when the "Greed is Good" crowd took over the political discourse, and the media.

    I'm old. In my day... it was simply referred to as "good manners." Children were taught to say "please" and "thank you".... and yes ma'am and no ma'am and "yes sir" and "no sir."

    Then, came the "me first" and "I've got mine sucker.... get yours the best way you can" bunch.

    And.... for some inexplicable reason.... we have been stuck with them..... for years.

    (Should give you book material for a long time to come)....

    New boss.... is same as the old boss.

    The more things change... the more they stay the same.

    And.... I have run out of cliches.

    Keep hammerin' away.

  4. Fear not, EL, I will.

  5. Why not just annihilate Colonel Khadaffy, the top levels of his regime and all their precious assets over a long weekend?

    If someone 'much worse' rises up - so what? 'Some one much worse' will have tons to contemplate about statecraft moderne and the R2P Clause.

  6. Interesting idea, GSG. We tried that at El Diablo Canyon in the eighties. We missed him and killed a bunch of innocent people instead. We're consistently good at doing that.

  7. General Petraeus, Robert Gates Joke About Attacking Libya

    To quote the last episode of Archer : “Idiots...doing idiot things...because they're idiots.”

    I'm trying to figure out why they seem so upbeat. Do they not know what planet they're on?

  8. Maybe this is what they're so happy about:

    Team Petraeus Brings Body Counts Back

    They've finally figured out how to “win.”

  9. Great stuff, JP. Thanks.

  10. Imperial politicians have such a one-track mind. All problems lead to the same solution: shock and awe (and occupy... shhhhh...) Seems that Kerry & Co. want to occupy Libya first, simply so that France & Co. cannot. But who's taking sides.

    Bombing democratic movements to promote democratic movements around the world. It's a very subtle notion only grasped by the High Politic.

  11. Maureen Dowd usually does not do "in depth" on politics.

    Her column today.(Sunday NY Times).. nails Paul Wolfowitz to the wall.

    With Frank Rich leaving ..... somebody has to do it.

  12. Wolfie is in dire need of being nailed to the wall, and I know just where to put the nails.

    Thanks for the link.


  13. Seven perfect questions about the no-fly zone:

    I have no faith at all that anyone at the White House could answer them.