Enforcing the No-Fly Zone

March 17th, 2011 at 10:25 pm David Frum | 21 Comments |

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Obama moves on Libya. Probably not the last move either. Here’s where the anti-interventionists have a point: in a normal time, imposing a no-fly zone upon a country like Libya would be an easy exercise of US power. But three wars is a lot even for America. It makes even a hawk like me wonder: has the US gone too long on Afghan futures? If Libya (an oil-producing country 300 miles from Sicily) is deemed not a vital interest of the US, how much less vital is Afghanistan?

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21 Comments so far ↓

  • hisgirlfriday

    AFTER BEATING THE LIBYA WAR DRUM FOR WEEKS now David Frum admits that three wars is a lot for America… maybe too much?!?!

    David’s post confirms to me my suspicion that all of this Libya intervention fetishism is a result of the neocons and neoliberals in both parties being tired of the old boring war in Afghanistan they led us into last decade now that they’ve got this new shiny war to fixate on.

    eta: HOWEVER if intervening in Libya forces us to give up the ghost in Afghanistan that is at least somewhat of a plus. What would be even better though is if Obama leading us into war in Libya forced the Republicans in Washington back into the actual conservative foreign policy posture they had before the neocons took over under W. back when the Republicans had nothing good to say about our adventures in Yugoslavia.

  • talkradiosucks.com

    You know, David, what originally attracted me to this website was the impression that I had that you were a level-headed chap. A sane conservative fighting against the forces of insanity that are taking over the American conservative movement. Heck, you sell coffee mugs imploring us to drink coffee instead of Kool-Aid, and puppy sweaters suggesting FF is the website for “thinking dogs”.

    And you deliver on this promise in many respects. *Except* when it comes to foreign policy. There, you serve up one commentary after another that invokes nothing less than the full tangy flavor of neoconservative Kool-Aid, kept chilled in the refrigerator and ready to be brought out to quench any thirst for military conflict that might arise at a moment’s notice.

    And here we have perhaps a crowning achievement in that regard. After loudly calling for intervention in Libya day after day, you’ve gotten your wish. And only *now* you’re wondering if a third war was really a great idea?

    You wrote an article only 18 months ago entitled “Afghanistan remains worth fighting for”. http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/fullcomment/archive/2009/09/03/david-frum-afghanistan-remains-worth-fighting-for.aspx

    So, what has changed in a year and a half? Is it really not worth fighting for now? If so, why was it worth fighting for in 2009? Was it just because a new and more exciting “opportunity” for nation-building had not presented itself? Or have you only decided to focus on Afghanistan as the war that perhaps we shouldn’t be involved in now because you know that it is actually the one we are most embroiled in, and therefore could not extricate ourselves from even if we wanted to?

    You don’t seem to have learned much — if anything — from the disaster that we made in Iraq, a war you played an active role in enabling. We are about to yet again dive into a war where we have no entry strategy, no exit strategy, no way to define what constitutes victory, and really, no real idea if the people we are supporting are actually the good guys. And while I respect you in general, your ongoing foreign policy commentary about Libya strikes me as so poorly thought out, and so lacking in any sort of even basic healthy skepticism, that I’m starting to wonder if I gave you too much credit in the first place.

    • habsfan

      Talk Radio,

      I am perplexed by the expressions entry strategy and exit strategy. Clausewitz never coined such terms. Rather he referred to the mobilization of the national will and the imposition of ones will upon the enemy….So I am confused. Libya is a small theatre where force must be used. This is not about the morality cause of getting rid of a nasty dictator; though that must happen at this point. This is about preventing the swamping of southern Europe with hundreds of thousands of refugees which the Europeans cannot handle. Force to be used will be nothing like what was required in either Iraq or Afghanistan….With the exception of some crack units, this is a rag tag army that will probably not put up much resistance in the face of massive airpower. The Libyan airforce has not been nor will be a factor. The greater threat is from the brigades commanded by Gaddafi’s son(s). This is still a small force that can be despatched quickly. The pressing question is who will help organize and arm the rebels……?

  • k.a.gardner

    Obama moves on Libya?

    The U.N. Security Council just this afternoon authorized use of “all necessary measures” to protect Libyans. The U.S. won’t be the only country enforcing the No-Fly Zone.

  • habsfan


    This is a NATO driven initiative with particular input by France and Italy who do not want a refugee crisis in Southern Europe. The US will carry part of the weight, but I believe that NATO as well as some Arab states will carry a substantial part of the burden…..Gaddafi’s army is not exactly state of the art and could well be rolled back with enough airpower. I believe this breathes new relevance into NATO as this impacts them directly and gives the US the opportunity to shed some of the heavy lifting.

    Habs won 3-2 in shoot out.

  • chlai88

    The whole MidEast is of interest to US. Libya is unlike Iraq & Afganistan where we faced unwelcoming populations, sectarian fights, a determined enemy & lousy timing. More important, they are wars that don’t enjoy cover of legitimacy in the world. Gaddafi is weak by comparison & very unpopular in his country. Furthermore, the Arab league & UN’s endorsements are super rare & military engagement starts with a limited no-fly zone & the possibility of escalation depending on what Gaddafi does. This is more Bosnia, Srebenica. If just based on pure cynical self-interested US political calculations, Libya won’t cost the US more than the failures in Iraq & Afghanistan. However, failure to act at this critical turning point in the Middle East may cost us more than inaction later.

  • rbottoms

    America isn’t sufficiently intimidating if Obama waits for UN approval to send even more troops off to die. He should have gone all Top Gun on Libya’s ass but noooo, he’s trying to avoid inflaming Ay-rab sensitivities.

  • gmat

    Very good point. In Afghanistan, the US Armed Forces (one of whom is my son, any prayers are appreciated) are doing their best to execute the mission given to them by their civilian masters. My question to those civilian masters is, “As the Taliban are no threat to the US, and al qaida doesn’t live there any more, even if you are able to accomplish this highly complex and heinously expensive project in Afghanistan, so what?”

    You’ll never convince me that, for a small fraction of what the US has pissed away in Afghnistan, payed in cash to the ISI, the US couldn’t have had the heads of bin Laden and his 9 closest associates in a duffel bag, 10 years ago.

  • talkradiosucks.com

    “I am perplexed by the expressions entry strategy and exit strategy.”

    They’re pretty simple concepts. Why are we going in? What are the circumstances under which we leave?

    There is NO PLAN HERE for what we do on the whole in Libya. It is like a football coach going into a game knowing only what his first play will be.

    “Libya is a small theatre where force must be used.”

    Why, because you said so? Are you signing up to be shipped over there to fight?

    “This is about preventing the swamping of southern Europe with hundreds of thousands of refugees which the Europeans cannot handle.”

    Oh, bullshit. You’re simultaneously claiming this won’t be so hard to deal with and that an entire continent can’t deal with it? Give me a break.

    “Force to be used will be nothing like what was required in either Iraq or Afghanistan….With the exception of some crack units, this is a rag tag army that will probably not put up much resistance in the face of massive airpower.”

    Gee, where have I heard *that* before.

    “The pressing question is who will help organize and arm the rebels……?”

    There are many pressing questions, such as WHO ARE these rebels? But they don’t matter, because we’ve jumped into this before getting them answered.

    We’ve become a nation of fools, unable to learn from our mistakes even while we are actively still paying for them.

    • habsfan

      Schlieffen had a plan…see what happened. Words like entry and exit strategy are hollow shells used to simply sound sophisticated. Indeed any military/diplomatic action comes with a plan. Clearly, as mentioned, this crisis is impacting Europe directly via a huge population displacement. Stablizing Libya will stem the tide…..

      Of course every football coach wins his game….or does he change it to meet the changing nature of the game……That is the true art of leadership….Clausewitz should be required reading.

  • jerseychix

    Umm DF? These comments should have been blasted around the world about 5 years ago.

    We are engaged in a never ending war in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have no conditions for victory, and no conditions for defeat. We have an endless supply of contractors that enrich themselves at the expense of middle class families (like mine, I’m in the reserves) who actually have to GO THERE and fight.

    It is time to stop these wars. And barring that. It is time to pay for them. Let’s institute a war tax. One penny on every transaction the first month, two the next, three the third, four the fourth…

  • talkradiosucks.com

    “It is time to stop these wars.”

    You’re telling this to Frum? Please.

  • Primrose


    Clausewitz (since when did he become the be all and end all of foreign policy thinking) may not have talked exit strategy and what all but Sun Tzu most certainly did. But frankly, I think the Clausewitz’s idea that war is but an extension of politics carries the implicit understanding that there needs to be a strategy behind war. It’s been a while since I’ve read him and I was never a fan, but it is not war for the sake of endless war its war to achieve your means. So you’ve got to be able to get out in a way that achieves your objective, or its pointless.

    Also, his theory was based on two European powers in a war as was common in warfare at the time. It did not address asymmetric warfare where superior firepower could not decide the issue.

    • habsfan

      Clausewitz theorized war and was quite familiar with asymmetric warfare, say the Iberian campaign during the Napoleonic Wars. Hence his philosophy of war does take into consideration all these things through proportionality. Buzz words like ENTRY and EXIT strategy are distortions of sound strategy. As a platonist he spoke of absolute war, but this is not the crux of the argument.

      The Libyan question is a small conflict and involves working with people already on the ground. No US ground troops will be involved. In fact, Canada, that Uber power is sending fighters, as are Norway, Denmark, the UK, France, Italy etc…..

      The burden of the great power is that it must be able to project power when it is in its interests. In this case, Washington must act as a member of NATO because of the massive population shift that will seriously harm Europe. Imagine NATO warships turning back refugee boats en route to Sicily, or Marseilles….Better use force and reestablish some stability in Libya.

  • Primrose

    I have to admit Mr. Frum to being perplexed by this blog post. I understand one may have ambiguous feelings towards and issue, as I do in Libya, but you were so unambiguous in your call toward action that I wonder why?

    Perhaps were you too sure Obama would not and it was a chance to make him look “weak”? Or is this blog post a chance to find an honorable excuse to exit Afghanistan which was so bungled.

    At any rate, I DO not support a war in Libya. I can tolerate a UN sanctioned no-fly zone because that is relatively easy to undo, unlike Afghanistan and Iraq. But if we can not afford to feed infants and teach pre-schoolers, we can not afford another war. Period.

  • Primrose


    You simply don’t understand power and how to use it. Power is about perception and one is never so intimidating as before it was used, and force should always be greater than the words used to threaten it. (Rumsfield ruined shock and awe by telling everyone about it. He should have called it a corrective measure.)

    Instead of studying Hollywood star vehicles, perhaps you should read Machivelli. Read up on the Medeci’s, Tallyrand, Bismark.

    Had we, for example, put all of our effort into Afghanistan, the unwinnable land, the sinker of empire and won, we would not have had to go into Iraq or Libya. We could have simply made a request and they would have buckled in fear.

    By waiting to be invited, we make ourselves seem like the indispensible nation, thereby increasing our power, and the perception of our power. By going in unilaterally we seem a bully, and the world will look sharply to publicize our weaknesses, reducing our power.

    TR Roosevelt truly summed it up best when he said, speak softly but carry a big stick. Unfortunately, most people have forgotten about speaking softly.

  • rbottoms

    Had we, for example, put all of our effort into Afghanistan, the unwinnable land, the sinker of empire and won, we would not have had to go into Iraq or Libya.


    So what you’re saying is that George Bush is a dimwit who drained resources away from Afghanistan to mount a trillion dollar fiasco that killed 5,000 troops, maimed another 50,000 of them, killed 100,000 civilians, nearly bankrupted our country and made us so weak we can’t effectively start a third war?

    I’d say that’s about the size of it.

    Of course it’s really all Obama’s fault.

  • nuser

    Anti semitism may be on the rise in Egypt. This is Frum’s main worry and concern, and is perhaps his reason for being so hawkish on muslim wars.

  • Rob_654

    If these military conflicts are as vital to our national interest as some like to claim – I see no problem at all with pushing for a Military Draft of all men and women of military age – with no outs except for true physical and psychological issues.