Imposing a no-fly zone wasn't an option for President Franklin D. Roosevelt -- Japanese military might eliminated the choice. FDR opted for a covert operation: the 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG), better known as the Flying Tigers. The AVG would give China a nominal air defense capability and signal U.S. political sympathy for its war-savaged people. Now for the overt fact: Most AVG pilots were U.S. Army and Marine officers who conveniently resigned their commissions. However, their public status as volunteers provided a thin veil of deniability that made the operation politically feasible. It wasn't a black op, to use the jargon for covert action, but a gray op.
The differences between Libya 2011 and China 1941 are glaringly obvious. However, the vulnerability of Libyan civilians to attacks delivered by Moammar Gadhafi's air force is comparable, as is the moral dilemma of giving the defenseless and terrorized a degree of protection. I would venture Gadhafi's views on atrocity as a tool to cow a population are similar to Japan's emperor-worshipping generals.
As for U.S. policy regarding Libya's anti-Gadhafi revolt, diplomatic silence is no longer an option. President Barack Obama said Gadhafi must go. Translation: Gadhafi's survival now represents an American diplomatic defeat. Obama advocates economic sanctions to pressure the dictator. Gadhafi, however, has money, he's counter-attacked, and he vows to fight to the bloody end.
Nudged by Sen. John McCain, the Obama administration now says it is considering imposing a no-fly zone, though Secretary of Defense Robert Gates argues, correctly, that a no-fly zone is an act of war.
U.N. authorization would make a no-fly zone more politically palatable, but China (in 2011) has a Security Council veto. China isn't keen on intervention. Its ruling communist oligarchs are clamping down on Chinese dissidents because they fear the democratic shockwave unleashed by Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution. Having Gadhafi suppress his rebels may serve Beijing's domestic interests.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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