Small Wars Journal

The Enemies of Our Enemy

The Enemies of Our Enemy

Over at Foreign Policy, Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman address arming the Libyan rebels in their argument, The Enemies of Our Enemy

BLUF. A key question for the international community now is whether to arm the rebels. Doing so would offer obvious advantages, but they are outweighed by the risks -- most notably the possibility that the weapons could find their way into less-friendly hands in the future. Qaddafi's weapons caches alone pose a long-term threat not just to Libya, but to other states in North Africa, including Tunisia and Egypt. Allied forces should not contribute to the problem.

The air campaign, while unlikely to depose Qaddafi on its own, has bought time for more creative means of rebel support -- ones that do not increase the danger of unintended consequences. If improving the rebels' military capacity is necessary, the international community should provide training rather than weapons. Assisting insurgents is a classic form of unconventional warfare, and it does not necessarily mean putting Western personnel in Libya. The United States can help by facilitating rebel communications and delivering virtual instruction on such military basics as digging trenches and coordinating firepower. Training and advisory assistance to rebel leaders can be provided outside Libya's borders (in a neighboring state, ideally) with support from other countries in the region.

The enemies of our enemy in Libya may not be our friends. But the danger that they pose to U.S. interests in the future will be determined in no small part by what the United States and its allies do in Libya today. There is no doubt that the choices facing policymakers are extremely difficult -- intervention is often a lose-lose situation. But the international community better get used to that ambiguity sooner rather than later -- in Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria, the choices will not get any easier.

Much more over at Foreign Policy


Anonymous (not verified)

Sun, 04/03/2011 - 5:06pm

"The U.S. has been at war for 25 of the last 60 years..."

This comment alone should dissuade anyone from thinking that any overhaul of the military should be immediately started. Just looking at our intelligence community, it's taken nearly six years to re-shape how intelligence supports and integrates with maneuver forces. Why? Because we scaled down the military and anticipated our next conflict after the Cold War & Desert Storm would be fought strategically, with strategic planning and strategic level assets. The intelligence services positioned equipment and manpower accordingly. Now they hurry and scatter to figure out how to get HUMINT, how to push intelligence down to lower levels, etc. How much blood, how many lives have we lost due to the logic that lead to such a slow transformation? How many death certificates are we willing to write now, to be printed in the next war, in the name of fiscal management

Anyone that thinks we get to pick the next war is simply not in touch with reality. The new SecDef and the WH need to wait three years after Iraq has "closed" before looking at any cuts or realignment. Efficiency is where we can save money. The unlimited GWOT budgets have spoiled us. Though it looks like pocket change, we need to look at the simple day to day items. Does every office need a color printer? Does every building need a new coat of paint or installation of computers in many of our classrooms and training centers? Can our supply rooms hold 10% less stock and get by? Has our digital Army really saved costs on paper, copying, printing? Those are the types of cuts we can make today.

Looking at restructuring, and making cuts entailing people and programs will do one thing for sure: it will end up putting people out of the military, out of civilian jobs supporting the military, and put more people in the unemployment line. Nowhere in the plan to resurrect our economy does it mention putting people out of work as a key task to accomplish.

I have no issues with limiting pay increases, and restructuring benefits. But once we scale down the forces and put people out of work, we have only hurt ourselves as a nation.

Perhaps I'm wrong, but the vibe I'm getting in reading these articles about our dire financial situation is that personnel cuts and force restructuring are likely to go beyond offering early-outs.

I think that all of us that have deployed during (and even before) the GWOT can attest that boots on the ground are critical, regardless of the technology employed within your AO. If we don't preserve our manpower and ensure that service members are equipped and trained to the fullest extent possible then we cripple mission accomplishment. Additionally, we risk putting more people in the unemployment line, which only drains our economy more. More importantly, this combat inefficiency in the name of fiscal management only assures that our next casualty total, in the next war, will be higher than necessary.

Let's stop wasting money locally, reducing garrison budgets by 10%. But cutting programs for the sake of cutting expenses; cutting positions and manpower numbers for the sake of cutting expenses, will only lead to disaster down the road.

rtk (not verified)

Sat, 04/02/2011 - 12:18pm

Do the rebels influence our interests more than our own actions do in this case? In other words has our actions in participating along all the different lines thus far increased or decreased our interests and stakes, namely global legitimacy? Does our participation mean we now have interest in Libya whereas had we not acted we may not have had interests at all?

COL Maxwell is right in that this statement sums it all up: "the international community better get used to that ambiguity sooner rather than later."


Sat, 04/02/2011 - 10:29am

Dave, Jeezus- you apparently spent a lot of wasted time thinking about what the Libyan revolutionaries need from us. Too bad it's not our war and legally, not our concern. There are already reports of small arms flowing into the rebel's hands from western sources in direct contradiction to the UNSCR mandate. And the DoD, just at 2 wks into this operation, is already suffering from mission creep. Once again, we've implemented a tactic with no strategy and a piss-poor, swiss-cheese policy.

Dave Takaki (not verified)

Sat, 04/02/2011 - 7:20am

The rebels who are fighting in Misrata need reinforcement and supply bad and a sea line of communication starting at the harbor needs to be protected from H&I fired on to the port area. They smuggled out a phone vid of a fighter killing a T-80 by the gunner hiding in an alley and taking a rear shot as the tank passed, apparently without dismounts to protect the tank's flanks or rear.

Since DoD is pulling out the A-10s and AC-130s the rebels in Misrata need light weapons and grenade launchers along with people trained to be counter-sniper teams. Lots of RPG-7 rockets. Counter sniper teams combined with grenade launchers could sweep rooftops clear of government snipers and spotters.

Then the rebels have a greater opportunity to take the urban high ground, reshaping the battle space by displacing the snipers and acquiring the ability to kill tanks by firing RPGs down on tanks' thin tops, hatches and rear shots. The high ground and setting up interlocking fields of fire will help brush off dismounts if the tanks start using protection to fend off easy kills.

Another game changer DoD is probably against is giving rebels in Misrata one or two laser target designators.

Ken White (not verified)

Fri, 04/01/2011 - 8:38pm

I'm with <b>MAC</b>. The enemy of my enemy approach has considerable merit in some situations. While I agree that interventions should be avoided for many reasons -- not least that we do them very poorly -- all enemies, all situations do not entail interventions.

The comment "I've seen how that story ends." is, one presumes, a mocking reference to Viet Nam. I'm not at all sure we followed the French lead other than superficially, I am relatively sure that the issue there was less following the French than it was trying to do a marginally needed thing using poor practices -- we do that often. That is a lick on us, not on the French or following anyone else. Nor was the precursor an enemy of my enemy situation. It was rather more "let me make you an enemy of my enemy..." Some boosting of an economy in the doldrums was entailed as, very much, were US domestic politics. The foreign affairs causation was almost peripheral.

I did not see how that story ended but like others I've read how it ended -- and discovered that the things I did actually see and do during that little soiree bear only slight resemblance to the current literature. I wouldn't put too much stock in most of it. Regardless that was then, this is now and I think MAC has it right -- there's more to this than is readily apparent.

I suspect that, just as in Viet Nam, our involvement is engendered far more by the US economy and domestic politics than from following the lead of anyone or adopting enemies just because we can.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Fri, 04/01/2011 - 7:36pm

... noooo... lets not be too hasty to bury the "the enemy of my enemy" approach when it comes to hard loving in the desert or mountainous regions of this world. It is actually quite useful... along with "let the bad men bleed themselves before entering the fray on the winning side".

Has anyone considered talking to Khamis (Qaddafi's son)... the one who received the fake London School of Economics degree... He seems like a reasonable fellow... when compared to some of the more extreme antagonists in the area. Maybe a lesson learned in Iraq... coulda, shoulda talked to Qusay Hussein (not the madman Uday) to transition the Saddam loyalists and Sunni Arabs... Are we actually doing this thing because we want a bit of payback for Lockerbie and have we now adopted the tribal concept of "Sippenhaft" or kin liability?

... but then the issue isn't really the approach but why Libya now?

The lunatic fringe...


Fri, 04/01/2011 - 8:55am

This isn't the Cold War and that tired foreign policy blunder 'the enemy of my enemy...' should be buried along with it. There are simply no national interests in Libya. We've already soared past the original UN resolution...and the intent of the resolution was shaky at best to begin with. Stopping Gaddafi from committing 'genocide' or mass murder, both of which the politicians and media said would happen, is ridiculous. As much of an autocrat and bat-sh!t insane as he is, Gaddafi was was killing armed rebels in the field and their sanctuaries (it's only bad when someone else does it, huh?). He wasn't waging 'genocide.' He was and is maintaining control of his sovereign state. If we'd be honest with ourselves and say Gaddafi himeself is the enemy, then we should have no problem tracking him down and dropping a JDAM on his location. All this UN and NATO cover for that simple act is similarly ridiculous. But we can't be honest with ourselves because we've let our leadership lie to us again, just like in Afghanistan, that we allow ourselves to be brainwashed that Libya is a national interest. Since we don't want to be responsible for the aftermath of Libyan regime change (and rightfully so), we create some hype about humanitarian intervention while we hope that an errant missile strike, or better yet, the French, take out Gaddafi by accident. And that would be the height of irony, wouldn't stupidly and blindly following the French, again, into another political and military blunder. I've seen how that story ends.

And like Dave Maxwell said above, if humanitarian intervention was anywhere near a real national interest, we'd have picked many more places first than Libya. Places where there is real genocide occurring and places where real evil happens on a daily basis. But it's not; we've just got a score to settle with Gaddafi, plain and simple.

The concluding paragraph has wise words from good friend Joe Felter whether we agree with intervention or not:

"The enemies of our enemy in Libya may not be our friends. But the danger that they pose to U.S. interests in the future will be determined in no small part by what the United States and its allies do in Libya today. _There is no doubt that the choices facing policymakers are extremely difficult -- intervention is often a lose-lose situation. But the international community better get used to that ambiguity sooner rather than later -- in Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria, the choices will not get any easier."_

And I would add Burma, Darfur, north Korea, Ivory Coast, Somalia, etc, etc, etc... It is a tough world we live in today.

carl (not verified)

Thu, 03/31/2011 - 4:03pm

Did I read this right, the authors advocate providing "virtual instruction on ... military basics"? I suppose a high speed network in order to facilitate seamless student/instructor interface functionality will be needed too.

That is an idea but something like a MILAN missile might be more useful when it comes to destroying tanks.