Let’s assume Ryan gets in and loses and, say, Tim Pawlenty wins the nomination. After “pushing off” from Ryan in the primaries, Pawlenty would be far better situated to tell Obama in the general, “Look, you’re running against Paul Ryan. He’s not on this stage. I am. I beat Paul Ryan. Deal with me and my ideas.”
In many ways, if Ryan doesn’t run we’ll have a similar problem to the one we had in 2008. There was no stand-in for Bush in the primaries, so there was nobody the candidates could differentiate themselves from in order to be the “not-Bush” or “anti-Bush” candidate. By the time McCain won the nomination, Obama could claim that electing McCain would amount to a third Bush administration. Without Ryan, the man of the moment, in the race, and without an obvious stand-in for him, the Republicans will be saddled with the Ryan plan whether they endorse it or not. And that means Obama will be able to run against a demonically caricatured Ryan instead of the actual nominee. ~Jonah Goldberg
This is still a terrible idea. Imagine for a moment that Dick Cheney had decided to run in 2007-08, and he ran explicitly as the candidate in favor of continuing Bush’s policies in the most uncompromising way. The problem facing the 2008 field would have been worse than the one they had. Instead of being able to duck the Bush legacy and avoid mentioning as much as possible, which is usually what they did (and it was why they never stopped talking about Reagan), they would have been confronting it at every debate. On all of the issues that made Bush-Cheney so unpopular, they would all feel compelled to agree directly with Cheney. In fact, on most of the national security and foreign policy issues that made Bush and Cheney unpopular, they did agree with Cheney, but they didn’t have to stand next to him on stage while they did so. As Ross pointed out in the spring of 2007, “If you consider how the nation’s most ambitious Republicans are positioning themselves for 2008, Bushism looks like it could have surprising staying power.” For the most part, the GOP field in 2008 did not run from Bush or Bushism, and the candidate substantively most aligned with Bush became the nominee.
By 2007, McCain was more in agreement with Bush than any other Republican candidate. The main difference McCain had with the Bush administration was that he was not supportive of torturing detainees. In many of the most important respects, McCain’s campaign did promise to usher in a third Bush term. McCain was able to exploit the common misunderstanding that he was the antithesis of Bush on the grounds that they hated each other after the 2000 race, but having a Bush stand-in during the primaries would have made it impossible to sustain that conceit. Because McCain’s rivalry with Bush was fundamentally a personal one, and because it was not based in any meaningful policy differences, he could not have maintained the illusion that he was at odds with Cheney or someone like him, because he actually agreed with Cheney on most things.
If Ryan is absent from the race, that gives the other candidates some more room to maneuver. They can approve of Ryan’s overall goals without endorsing his plan in every detail, and they can do this without having to criticize Ryan or Ryan’s plan explicitly during the nominating contest. Once Ryan becomes a competitor in the race, the other candidates will bear in mind the condemnations heaped on Gingrich and will probably mute their criticisms, so there will be little of the “pushing off” Goldberg describes. Meanwhile, the other campaigns will use Ryan’s own rather underwhelming record on fiscal issues to discredit him, and Ryan will have wasted months of valuable time on a pointless presidential run.
Paul Ryan should ignore this sort of advice:
I think he could go all the way. I think he’s as close as we’ll ever get to an “Obama” candidate this year — a charismatic guy who taps into something in the zeitgeist and can articulate it in a compelling way.
The trouble is that he isn’t tapping into “the zeitgeist.” Obama was running against the legacy of one of the most unpopular Presidents in the postwar era, and he was identified with opposition to an overwhelmingly unpopular war. Ryan is proposing a significant policy change that is not at all popular, and if he ran he would be doing so against a reasonably popular incumbent President. His charisma is not the issue. On many other issues apart from budget questions, Ryan has unformed or merely conventional views that he has hardly ever had to defend. In all seriousness, do Republicans want to put a budget wonk Congressman with no executive experience up against an incumbent President? No, they don’t, and so the call for Ryan to join the race remains a cry of desperation rather than a credible alternative.
Will Wilkinson salutes Tim Pawlenty for attacking ethanol subsidies, and adds at the end:
David Frum asks whether Mr Pawlenty’s brave experiment in truth-telling is a “good way to manage expectations if he comes second or third or worse in Iowa, where Pawlenty is currently polling in single digits?” If he’s going to lose Iowa anyway, Mr Frum suggests Mr Pawlenty may be “smart to blow them off and score integrity points for later.” In any case, it’s good to hear the truth for once, never mind the motivation.
Yes, it is good to hear the truth, but what doesn’t make sense is why Pawlenty believes it is to his advantage to tell these truths to the constituencies he needs most. Every discussion of Pawlenty’s chances takes for granted that he must win or at least be extremely competitive in Iowa. He is nationally unknown, his fundraising is comparatively anemic, and he faces challenges from more charismatic, more conservative, and better-funded adversaries. So how does he begin his campaign? He tells Iowans that he wants to phase out ethanol subsidies, and he promises to tell financiers in New York that he opposes bailouts, and on top of it he is going to tell elderly voters in Florida that he wants to make changes to Medicare.
Of course, he didn’t oppose those bailouts when it was actually a test of political courage, and he has largely avoided committing to any existing Medicare reform proposal, and if Wilkinson is right Pawlenty’s support for a phase-out of subsidies is not nearly as politically toxic as it used to be. Pawlenty would like to acquire a reputation for political courage without having done much to demonstrate it in the past (and what politician wouldn’t?), but he seems to have things backwards. The time to be politically courageous was before now when Pawlenty was still in office. Attacking political sacred cows at the start of a long-shot presidential bid despite having no record for similar boldness in office seems to offer the worst of both worlds. The bold truth-telling can be dismissed as a campaign stunt, and it serves to alienate many of the voters and donors that an unknown such as Pawlenty must first win over.
Crossover appeal. Huntsman, Pawlenty, and Romney all won statewide elections by performing better than the party normally does in each state. In 2008 Jon Huntsman won 64 percent of the gubernatorial vote in Utah (an improvement on his performance relative to 2004), while John McCain won 62 percent of the presidential vote that same year. Tim Pawlenty won reelection in Minnesota in 2006 narrowly, but this was still an impressive feat considering that Minnesota retains a blue tilt and 2006 was a terrible year for Republicans in general. T-Paw won about 100,000 more votes that the Republican candidates in the 8 Minnesota House districts that year, and 200,000 more votes than Mark Kennedy, the GOP candidate for the open Senate seat. In 2002, Mitt Romney won a comfortable, five point victory in Massachusetts, despite the fact that his party is so weak in the Bay State that it ran just 4 candidates in the 10 House districts that year.
In other words, all three have demonstrated an ability to pull in voters who have previously backed Democrats, which is a requirement if the GOP is going to win the presidency back next year. ~Jay Cost
Of all the arguments in favor of the three “main contenders,” the one that they have meaningful crossover appeal has to be the weakest. How did Romney win a “comfortable, five-point victory in Massachusetts”? He won by running as a Northeastern moderate, which is not at all how he intends to run next year. That is Romney’s bind. The more he resembles his former moderate self, the less chance he has of winning the nomination, but his main claim to electability is from his time as a Northeastern moderate. Except for the 2008 primaries, he hasn’t faced voters as a conservative candidate, and the results from 2008 open primaries don’t show tremendous ability to draw in attract non-Republicans. Pawlenty eked out a plurality re-election win in a three-way race in which his DFL challenger imploded in dramatic fashion near the end of the race. According to the CNN exit poll, he won just 43% of independents in his re-election bid. Compared to how House Republicans did in the Midwest in 2006, that is only marginally better.
Winning 64% for re-election in Utah as a Republican is about as meaningful as Bill Richardson’s re-election numbers from 2006 in New Mexico. Mostly what it means is that Utah is an overwhelmingly Republican and Republican-leaning state. In fact, according to Gallup’s numbers, Utah was the most strongly Republican state in the country in 2009 with 53% identifying as Republicans and 30% identifying as Democrats. If a former Democratic governor of Massachusetts or Hawaii had run slightly ahead of Kerry in 2004, we wouldn’t claim that it was because they had significant “crossover appeal.” We would say that it is because they have the luxury of running and governing in states with very hospitable political atmospheres.
Divided into three acts, the film makes the case that despite the now cliched label, Palin was indeed a maverick who confronted the powerful forces lined up against her to achieve wide-ranging success in a short period of time. The second part of the film’s message is just as clear, if more subjective: that Sarah Palin is the only conservative leader who can both build on the legacy of the Reagan Revolution and bring the ideals of the tea party movement to the Oval Office.
Rife with religious metaphor and unmistakable allusions to Palin as a Joan of Arc-like figure [bold mine-DL], “The Undefeated” echoes Palin’s “Going Rogue” in its tidy division of the world between the heroes who are on her side and the villains who seek to thwart her at every turn. ~Scott Conroy
Palin’s documentary is supposed to “reintroduce” her to the public. It sounds as if it takes the her most tiresome, grating themes of victimization, resentment, and grievance politics and puts them in cinematic form. Maybe this is intended as a prelude to a presidential bid, or maybe it isn’t, but if it is I don’t see how it is going to work.
A sympathetic documentary changes nothing, and it isn’t likely to persuade well-disposed Republicans to believe suddenly that she is qualified for an office when they previously assumed that she wasn’t. As for unsympathetic Republicans, of which there are more daily, the documentary will come across as the latest in the series of embarrassing cries for attention and exercises in self-promotion. The documentary will become fodder for mockery, and it will be one more piece of evidence that Palin should not be allowed anywhere near the national ticket ever again. Palin would retain her dedicated cadre of admirers and supporters, and they would be enough to have a significant impact on the primaries, but rarely would they be enough to help her win anywhere.
Obviously, a Palin candidacy would be a gift to Romney. It is exactly what he and his advisors have been wanting for months, and it would be ruinous for the candidates that are trying to position themselves as the viable alternative to Romney. GOP and movement elites will rally to Romney to stop her, and the larger part of the party that cannot stand her or simply wants to have a fighting chance in 2012 will do what they can to stop her from getting very far in the primaries. For once, there actually will be something of a conspiracy to “get” Palin, and barring something extraordinary happening it’s hard to see how she does very well. If both Bachmann and Palin run, Pawlenty may as well give up.
P.S. The Joan of Arc comparisons are strange, and for some reason people have made these comparisons ever since the 2008 campaign, and if they are intentional they are even more odd in a documentary called The Undefeated. In terms of the contemporary politics of her time, Joan of Arc wasn’t just defeated. She was put on trial and executed for heresy, and it was only five centuries later that she was formally canonized. I can’t imagine that this is the image that Palin and her fans want to project. After all, a Joan of Arc comparison implies that Palin’s cause might eventually succeed, but she will personally not be part of the final victory.
Why do so many conservative pundits keep urging Rep. Paul Ryan to run for President? Do they really hate him so much that they want to destroy his political career before it goes anywhere? Of course, they aren’t saying this because they hate him, but inexplicably because they believe the architect of a wildly unpopular budget is one of the best available candidates for the Republican nomination. Part of this is the result of dissatisfaction and loathing inspired by the other candidates, but part of it seems to be a delusional belief that pushing entitlement reform, while necessary and desirable, is also a political winner.
Jonah Goldberg sums up this view in a new column:
So the question many are asking is, should Ryan ride to the rescue? If the election is going to be a referendum on his plan, maybe the one guy who can sell it should get in the race. On Monday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor called for Ryan to get in the race, saying, “Paul’s about real leadership.”
If Ryan ran, he would probably drive the other candidates further away from his own plan while forcing them to come up with serious alternatives of their own. If he got the nomination, many think he would clean Obama’s clock in the debates.
It’s a lot to ask. He has three young kids and would have to get organized and funded from a cold start for a long-shot run. But politics is about moments, and this one is calling him. Unless someone suddenly rises to the challenge, the cries of “Help us, Paul Ryan, you’re our only hope!” will only get louder.
I don’t understand this thinking at all. Paul Ryan has no reason to do this, but what’s even harder to understand is why anyone thinks that a Paul Ryan presidential campaign is going to “rescue” anything. For one thing, Ryan doesn’t need to be in the race for candidates to support his plan or something very much like it. Virtually all of the declared and likely candidates have endorsed it to one degree or another, and Gingrich was forced to abandon his criticism in a matter of days. If Ryan wants to advance his policy ideas in Congress, frittering away time, energy, and attention on a quixotic presidential bid is actually harmful. If he runs a campaign that isn’t just a platform for policy advocacy, he is going to have to confront the fact that his proposals are not terribly popular, and that could lead him to hedge or qualify support for his own ideas.
On top of all this, there is the problem that Ryan is perceived as a one-issue politician, and when we look at his record on that issue we find that he doesn’t actually have very much credibility. As far as most people who know anything him are concerned, he is preoccupied entirely with entitlements and debt. Mitch Daniels just showed how that kind of single-minded focus on fiscal issues actually goes over very badly in the modern GOP, because all of the constituencies need to be appeased, they demand attention, and they become very surly when they don’t get enough of it. What many people don’t know, but will find out if Ryan were crazy enough to run, is that he has not been a very good fiscal conservative in the past. The only reason that I can see why Ryan is being touted as the acceptable alternative is that no one is paying any attention to the rest of his record.
Ryan voted for the TARP (and oddly enough he has cited Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism as a contributing factor in his thinking), and he voted for Medicare Part D. He supported adding significantly to the government’s long-term liabilities without making any effort to pay for them, and now he is supposed to be the voice of fiscal sanity? On the two biggest, most controversial votes of the last decade relating to the financial sector and entitlements, Ryan was on the wrong side, and if they are at all serious about fiscal responsibility many, perhaps most, conservatives would hold these votes against him if he ran. Compared to this, Mitt Romney’s health care liability is barely noticeable.
Update: Ramesh Ponnuru makes the same point today:
Right now, conservatives think of Congressman Ryan as a bold, free-market visionary. Within weeks of his entering the race, he would be redefined as the longtime Washington fixture who voted for TARP, the prescription-drug benefit, the auto bailout and other bills hated by Republican primary voters.
That should raise some questions about how short conservative memories are, underscore how easily many conservatives are swayed by the right rhetoric, and remind everyone how remarkably malleable the GOP’s new heroes are when Republicans had unified control of the government.
That the top item at a summit between Britain and America should be how to bomb a north African state that threatens neither of them is absurd. ~Simon Jenkins
Yes, it is, and what is even more absurd is for them to describe the Libyan war, as they have in their joint op-ed in the Times today, as “critical to the type of world that we want to build.” When in Europe, American officials are quick to declare how extremely important the Libyan war is and how involved Americans are, and when at home they are equally quick to insist that it’s not that significant and Americans have almost nothing to do with it.
The administration has a habit of sending out very different messages to European and American audiences on Libya. As Doug Bandow noted recently, for the benefit of American audiences the administration pretends that it is barely contributing anything to the war effort in Libya so as to maintain the fiction that the U.S. isn’t even really at war. The administration wants us to believe that the U.S. involvement is so tiny that it has nothing to do with war powers or the War Powers Resolution. As defenders of unchecked executive power would have it, it’s no different than chasing after cattle-rustlers anyway, so why worry? At the same time, administration officials boast to Europeans about the extent of American involvement to allay European concerns that the U.S. has checked out completely. Back home, administration officials acknowledge that Libya is a “sideshow,” and in Britain the President joins Cameron in saying that the Libyan war is critical to the future of the world.
In fact, the administration seems to be conning the American public, Congress, and NATO allies at the same time. Obama attaches his name to op-eds that wildly over-promise what the administration is actually willing to do, and his officials emphasize how much of the load U.S. forces are still carrying, which encourages the European allies to think that there is more willingness in Washington escalate the conflict than there is. He continues to involve the U.S. more extensively in Libya than he lets on, all the while effectively keeping Congress in the dark, and at home he pretends that U.S. efforts in Libya are little more than minimal supporting actions. This ensures that everyone involved has good reason to feel misled and abused, and at some point that is going to come back to haunt the administration.
Unlike Iraq, there is now at least a semblance of a government in waiting in the Libyan Interim National Council – certainly more legitimate than the Chalabi-led Iraqi National Congress that the Pentagon flew into Iraq. ~Greg Scoblete
That’s partly true, but let’s examine this idea that the Libyan Interim National Council/National Transitional Council is more legitimate. It is more legitimate in the sense that there are several governments that now recognize it as the Libyan government (the number is all the way up to eight), but by that standard it is less legitimate than the Gaddafi regime. It is more legitimate than Chalabi and the INC in that the members of the TNC were not brought in by a foreign invading force and were responsible for forming their council entirely on their own, but it is not obviously any more representative of Libyans than the early INC was of Iraqis and might even be less so. What we have in the TNC leadership is a group of mainly former regime officials and military officers that have assumed the mantle of anti-Gaddafi oppositon, and they claim to speak on behalf of Libya, but they are at most an emergency interim committee that wields what little power it has because it has filled the vacuum created by the rebellion.
The sobering thing to consider is that there has been far less planning and preparation for the post-Gaddafi Libya that the intervening governments say that they want than there was planning for a transition in Iraq. At least before the invasion of Iraq, the State Department had made some effort to come up with post-Hussein transition plans, which Pentagon planners and occupation officials dutifully ignored. There does not appear to be anything comparable going on in any of the NATO foreign ministries right now for officials to ignore later on. Supporters of the Iraq invasion were supremely overconfident and unreasonably optimistic about the prospects of transforming Iraq’s political system, and Americans and Iraqis have been paying the price for their arrogance ever since, but compared to Libya Iraq was a far better candidate for a transition from authoritarianism to some form of consultative or representative government. That doesn’t mean that it was a good candidate or that imposing political transformation on Iraq was wise, but that the same kind of transition in Libya will be vastly more difficult. There is absolutely no interest on the part of any of the intervening governments in the “responsibility to rebuild,” and much less to work with in Libya in terms of human capital and institutions. That hardly bodes well for the future of Libya.
During my conversation with Robert Farley a few weeks ago, I talked about the forthcoming film 5 Days of August/5 Days of War, which purports to tell the story of the August 2008 war between Russia and Georgia. I assumed that the movie would largely reflect a pro-Georgian view, not least since the Georgian government gave the crew extensive access to government buildings and locations for filming, but from what little I had seen of it I thought it might still be worth watching. It was reportedly going to be an antiwar film, and the director had said that he wanted “to use my experience in action films to tell the story of a complex conflict that is impartial but makes a strong antiwar statement.” That didn’t happen. Apparently, it is even more heavily pro-Georgian than I thought, and of much poorer quality than I supposed. Giorgi Gvakharia wrote this review for Radio Free Europe:
The accents, however, are just the beginning of the film’s shortcomings. I don’t think anyone doubts that “Five Days of August,” as a project, was conceived and commissioned to propagandize, publicize, and show the world how Georgia had been victimized by the Russian Empire. But the film’s plot is so hopelessly crude and the propagandizing is carried out in such a one-dimensional, excessive manner that the end result is a kind of peculiar “anti-propaganda.” [bold mine-DL] Russian soldiers are simply caricatures, portrayed in the same way as Nazis were in bad Soviet movies.
“Five Days of August,” in fact, reduces the entire August 2008 war to a caricature. It is as if the director, as a boy, used to like playing war games with his toy soldiers; now, as an adult, he was given a chance to rekindle his passion with helicopters, tanks, blood-splattered faces, “brave Georgians,” and “evil, ignorant Russians.” There’s also one additional flop. Georgian and Russian characters are played by foreign actors and speak English most of the time. But when they speak in their “native” tongues, awkward hilariousness ensues. The Georgian spoken by actress Emmanuelle Chriqui sounds so ridiculous that, instead of feeling compassion for her character, Georgian-speaking audiences will be able to do little more than laugh.
Judged against what Harlin said he was attempting to do, it sounds as if the film is an unmitigated disaster. Instead of conveying an antiwar message, Harlin will end up delivering a message that validates the position of the government that escalated the conflict with South Ossetia into a full-scale war. Instead of being impartial, it is comically biased and one-sided. Rather than paying attention to the complexities of the conflict, it boils it down to the most simplistic account possible. It’s unfortunate that the most concerted effort to draw attention to the war in Georgia in the last three years has turned out to be nothing more than a clumsy bit of propagandizing. All parties to the conflict would benefit from a more intelligent representation of the conflict, and Americans could stand to learn more about the war and how misguided U.S. policies on Kosovo’s independence and NATO expansion, among other things, contributed to the war. As Thomas de Waal concluded in his chapter on modern Georgia in The Caucasus:
In that sense, the main culpability for the conflict lies, strangely enough, with the one actor that did not fight and that sought to stop the violence: the West. The Western sin was in promising more than it could deliver….Often sympathetic to Georgia for other reasons, Western officials consistently delivered the easy part of the message–they supported Georgia’s territorial integrity; but they did not sufficiently convey the hard part–that recovering the two territories would be a very long haul that required building a new state and rethinking many old attitudes….The default policy of isolating the separatists persisted and only drove them further into the embrace of Russia.
The United States in particular gave many confusing signals. The fact that U.S. troops were there supposedly to train Georgian troops for peacekeeping and antiterrorism functions, not for combat against Abkhaz and South Ossetia, was a distinction lost on many observers, including most Georgians. President Bush consistently praised Saakashvili, yet the commitment was only rhetorical. [p. 222-223]
It is a pity that the latest Western contribution to the conflict in the form of this film is another embarrassing exercise in overwrought support for a Georgian position that has proved to be a catastrophe for Georgia and the surrounding region.
George Friedman makes a good case that there is no Arab Spring:
But to me, this is an intellectual abstraction. There is no Arab Spring, just some demonstrations accompanied by slaughter and extraordinarily vacuous observers. While the pressures are rising, the demonstrations and risings have so far largely failed [bold mine-DL], from Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak was replaced by a junta, to Bahrain, where Saudi Arabia by invitation led a contingent of forces to occupy the country, to Syria, where Bashar al Assad continues to slaughter his enemies just like his father did.
This is a valuable corrective to the rhetoric that the U.S. needs to get “on the right side of history” by siding with the “Arab Spring.” I’ll admit that I have taken to using the phrase as a shorthand to refer to the protest movements in North Africa and the Near East, and I would still say that Tunisia continues to be the one country where some sort of functioning representative government might have a realistic chance of succeeding. However, on the whole the idea of the “Arab Spring” is more of an expression of what democratists hope will happen rather than a description of what is happening.
Leaving aside the problem that there is no “right side of history,” or at least not one that we can discern while still living through it, there has been the automatic assumption that to be on the “right side of history” is to align the U.S. with whatever protest movements happen to be emerging in Arab countries at the present time. If Friedman’s assessment of these movements is correct, this is an argument for backing the losing side in the present. There may be the hope that the U.S. will at least receive some credit later on, or that eventually when democratic governments are established in these countries they will remember that the U.S. lent support to their forerunner movements, but that means potentially alienating current allies in the hope of gaining new allies in the future. The Libyan war is a good example of what this means in practice. The indigenous Libyan protest movement/rebellion was too weak to succeed on its own and was on the verge of failing, and so it had to be rescued. In those places where no rescue has been forthcoming (and was never going to be), the movements have been frustrated or repressed.
Another phrase that has sometimes been used to describe the upheaval in the region has been “the Arab 1848.” This seems more accurate in that the 1848 revolutions were crushed or were soon diverted into authoritarianism. The comparison with 1848 revolutions should also make us wary of shaping U.S. policy (or even of giving the appearance of shaping U.S. policy) towards the region around what may prove to be abortive or failed uprisings.
“There has been no doubt that the rebels have been unable to take advantage of what the airstrikes have been doing,” Paul Beaver, a defense analyst in London, told the BBC World Service radio.
“The air campaign has been relatively successful, but what we know from Kosovo in 1999 is that you can’t destroy every tank,” said Mr. Beaver. “In Kosovo, we thought that 250 Serbian tanks had been destroyed, it turned out to be 13. We know already that NATO has attacked one particular tank [in Libya] more than five times, because they’ve been hoodwinked into it by Qaddafi forces lighting a little fire to make it look as if it’s a vehicle that’s got its engine running.”
“Very clever things are being done,” added Beaver, “which is why you need helicopters that can get in, and they are more discriminating than aircraft at 15,000 feet.” ~The Christian Science Monitor
When the war started 67 days ago, it is safe to say that none of the intervening governments believed that it would come to this. Indeed, if they had known, it is doubtful that many of them would have agreed to intervene. Of course, that’s how people are lured into backing military interventions. They are assured that military action will not take very long, the costs will be minimal, and success will be guaranteed and swift. The introduction of attack helicopters not only represents a significant escalation of the war, but it is an acknowledgment that the war is stalemated and its campaign hasn’t been nearly as effective as the main Western political leaders assumed it would be.
At Danger Room, David Axe explains how the addition of attack helicopters will make NATO more effective against Gaddafi’s forces, but points to the increased risk to NATO personnel:
The British and French gunships are equipped with rockets, guns, guided missiles and sophisticated day and night sensors. Both types, plus their American counterparts, have proved to be some of the deadliest weapons of the Afghanistan war. But in the open terrain of North Africa, against an opponent armed with anti-aircraft guns and heat-seeking missiles, the helicopter gunships could prove as vulnerable to ground forces as ground forces are to them.
As Axe notes, the risk of casualties or captured personnel is much greater, and that is going to create political pressure on allied governments back home to wrap up the war sooner rather than later. There is not much tolerance for casualties from “humanitarian” missions in the U.S. (see Somalia), and there is not likely to be much more tolerance for them in France and Britain. There was limited popular opposition to the Kosovo war because NATO suffered no casualties in combat, but things would have been different if pilots had been killed or captured.
States that have the means and the inclination to intervene militarily in other nations’ conflicts seem to have little patience when these interventions go awry or run into obstacles, because at some level they have known all along that they have no business being involved in these conflicts. These governments are happy to intervene as long as the direct costs are very small, but once they become significant they remember that they have no discernible interest in the conflict. Because there is no discernible interest in the conflict, the intervening governments were never willing to make a full commitment to their military effort. In the end, they know that they cannot justify the expense and risks to their electorates. So we get this sort of halting, piecemeal escalation in the hope that just a little bit more pressure will force the targeted regime to give in.
Reuters reported on the French announcement yesterday:
“Twelve helicopters is not a lot,” Ken Freeman, associate fellow of the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies (RUSI), told Reuters.
“They tend to be quite vulnerable, so they are probably going to be used very carefully … You could probably say it is a sign that people are running out of ideas of what to do. This is doing something other than sitting on your hands [bold mine-DL].”
David Bosco reminds us that there was a push to use Apaches in Kosovo:
No doubt many readers will recall that NATO’s 1999 Kosovo operation had its own helicopter drama. Then NATO commander Wesley Clark requested American Apaches early in the conflict, but a combination of Pentagon hesitance, Macedonian reluctance and to host them, and logistical delays kept the Apaches out of action for most of the conflict.
We shall see how quickly France and Britain bring their helicopters into the war. Unfortunately for NATO and for the people of Libya, the war isn’t going to end before they will be able to use them. I have the sinking feeling that the governments involved are going to look back on this decision with regret.
Update: Britain now denies that it has decided to deploy attack helicopters, despite French claims that it intended to do this:
Not content with their own announcement, French officials also said that Britain would deploy helicopters too. That apparently surprised the British House of Commons, not in a pleasant way, and British officials angrily denied that any decision had been made.