Wednesday, April 20, 2011

They're Only Advisors

So, France and Britain are sending troops into Libya, in small numbers to be sure, and, as the saying goes, "in a purely advisory capacity." Anyone old enough to remember Vietnam will feel a chill in the spine at the resurrection of this ominous phrase. To be sure, one of my favorite books about Vietnam, Yuen Foong Khong's Analogies at War: Munich, Dien Bien Phu, and the Vietnam Decisions of 1965, reminds us that analogies are often misused in thinking about war. That isn't stopping the British press from using them. So let's keep things in perspective. Qaddafi's outside support comes not from a superpower but from a weak African state and a trickle of mercenaries. On the other hand, the Benghazi forces have nothing like the infrastructure of the Republic of Vietnam, which was a fully functioning if often feckless state. The terrain is also completely different.

Meanwhile, there have been conflicting stories about the role of the "advisors." Will they coordinate airstrikes or provide training to rebels sorely in need of it? Both, perhaps, but one wonders how effective the coordination will be without better communications and trained forward controllers, and how effective the training will be if indeed only a handful of foreigners are involved and rebel weaponry remains limited to the hodgepodge of light arms captured from Qaddafi's arsenals.

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