Argument

America Has Beaten Qaddafi Before

I know, because I helped supply the weapons.

As the world debates how best to stop the slaughter in Libya, it's worth remembering that the United States has successfully countered Muammar al-Qaddafi's military before.

Qaddafi has a track record of misadventures extending back to the Libyan revolution, which brought him to power at the head of a military junta in 1969. He supported terrorism all over the world and had a penchant for stirring up trouble in Africa. In the late 1970s he sent troops to support Ugandan President Idi Amin, who was under assault from opponents coming from Tanzania. And in 1983, he launched a massive invasion (by African standards) of his neighbor to the south, Chad.

Chad was of no particular importance to the United States. It was part of Francophone Africa, and the French had the primary interest there among Western countries. Moreover, any resources the country had were in the south (deemed "Tchad Utile" -- useful Chad -- by the French), not in the desert north occupied by Libya. Indeed, it would be hard to think of a more useless part of the planet.

Nevertheless, Washington did not want to be seen as acquiescing to Colonel Qaddafi's invasion of another country -- even if it was only Chad. Bear in mind that 1983 was an extraordinary year of regional turmoil: The Iran-Iraq war was endangering oil flows in the Persian Gulf, the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was attacked in April and the Marine barracks in October, the Soviets shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007 in September when it strayed over their territory, U.S. troops invaded Grenada in October, the Iraqi Islamic Dawa Party (with ties to the current leadership in Baghdad) conducted attacks in Kuwait including bombing the U.S. Embassy, and Donald Rumsfeld visited Saddam Hussein in December in Baghdad as the United States began to tilt toward Iraq to contain Iran. On the global strategic level, U.S. President Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" initiative, announced in March 1983, threatened to upset the balance of power between the United States and the USSR.

I happened to be in the State Department's Political-Military Bureau at the time. Among my other duties, I was given responsibility for security assistance to Chad in response to the Libyan invasion.

With so much on the agenda of senior officials, there was -- by today's standards -- a lot of flexibility given to lower-level experts and operations officers. From our perspective, the Libyan problem was one that the United States could address, within certain political limits. The key point was that we did not want to get out ahead of the French in Chad. Nor did Washington want to inadvertently inherit Chad as "its" problem. We had enough other crises on our plates. Nevertheless, we did not want Qaddafi -- or anyone else, for that matter -- to think that the United States would acquiesce to such aggression without paying a price.

The policy goal was therefore pretty clear -- and limited. At the working level, we considered what we could do to assist the limited Chadian "army" in repulsing the Libyan invasion. Then as now, Libyan forces had better equipment than personnel and leadership. They were kitted out with all sorts of Soviet helicopters, aircraft, surface-to-air missiles, tanks, and armored personnel carriers. And given the vast expanses of territory involved, they had very, very long logistics lines with not much in the way of logistical support.

The Chadians were very poorly equipped. But they had a distinct advantage because most were tribesmen from northern Chad and were accustomed to the bleak desert that the Libyans were now occupying in a handful of military bases at remote places like Faya-Largeau, Fada, and Ouadi Doum (pronounced "doom," and so it was for many of the Libyans sent there). The Chadians were also motivated to defend their land, while the Libyans only wanted to survive and go home as soon as possible.

Our military assistance was limited not only by our carefully circumscribed aims, but also by the difficulty of working in Chad itself. One problem the Chadians had was transport to staging areas in the north from the capital, N'Djamena. So, we provided a number of trucks and less usefully, a couple of old C-130s (Chad had just one pilot at the time). U.S. military weapons were generally too sophisticated and delicate for use by the Chadians -- and they had a hard time maintaining them. Moreover, to simplify training, anything that involved indirect fire (such as mortars or artillery) was not really useful. It was pretty much all point and shoot: Jeep-mounted 106mm recoilless rifles, ad hoc fabricated 12.7mm machine guns mounted on Toyota Land Cruisers, simple anti-tank weapons, and regular old rifles.

The one problem the Chadians had was air cover. While the French deployed Jaguar fighters out of N'Djamena airport to prevent Libyan aircraft from attacking further south, they were not inclined to provide air support to a Chadian attack against the Libyans. The French were in a defensive mode only.

They did not object, however, to the Chadians acquiring man-portable anti-aircraft missiles (in this case, Stingers). Although some degree of training is required to operate them, it did not take many gunners to provide a deterrent that kept Libyan aircraft at higher, less effective altitudes. On the rare occasion when Libyans dropped bombs, the aircraft were barely visible from the ground and they were completely inaccurate. The missiles were apparently also successful in keeping Libyan Mi-8 and Mi-25 helicopters out of the way.

Ultimately, the Chadians swept through Libyan positions, and Qaddafi's forces withdrew to Libya. The Libyans were badly led, badly positioned, and could not make use of their seemingly superior weapons.

Although today Qaddafi's security forces are fighting a defensive battle on their home turf, there are important similarities to the Chadian events. Chiefly, the United States presumably wants to limit its political commitment, and the nature and type of aid it may consider is also limited. But so are the needs of the Libyan opposition.

Assuming the rebels can achieve at least the level of organization and training of the Chadians, the material and training support can be rudimentary and accomplished quickly by outside experts, from either a government (France comes to mind, since the country has been first off the mark to recognize officially the opposition in Libya) or even a private company.

The most obvious military risk to the opposition is from helicopter gunships and possibly aircraft (the accuracy of Libyan bombing is dubious and the military effectiveness minimal, but the effects on civilians can be horrible). The United States provided Stinger missiles to the ragtag Chadian forces with significant effect. Back then, accounting for the missiles was easier given the very small numbers. Today, if Stinger missiles or similar Soviet weapons were deployed to Libyan opposition forces, the risks of loss would be manageable, and providing such missiles would certainly be cheaper and less of a commitment than establishing a no-fly zone. And if Qaddafi's forces summon forth heretofore unseen skill and/or courage, a decision on more elaborate air defense could be made later.

For now, however, let's recognize that there are options for arming and training the Libyan opposition that do not require the massive military and political commitments of a no-fly zone.

GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images

Argument

Good Leap Forward

China's big plan is to become "moderately prosperous."

Central planning is alive and well. Next week, China's government will formally adopt its new five-year plan. Last Saturday, March 5, the 118-page, 16-chapter blueprint was submitted to the National People's Congress (NPC). The NPC, China's legislature, meets every March to hear reports from the government, debate and pass major laws, and put forth proposals. Now that draft is being debated by the legislature's 2,979 deputies, but there is little doubt that it will pass in almost unedited form before the conclave concludes on March 14.

This five-year plan, which covers 2011 to 2015, aims to shift the country from simply being the factory floor of the world (built on the backs of a cheap labor force) into a "moderately prosperous society." That means striving for a more varied economic structure, which officials hope will curb China's worryingly high rate of income inequality.

The new plan -- perhaps more accurately translated and understood as "guidelines" -- puts forth a dizzying array of numerical targets. Many were repeated by Premier Wen Jiabao in his two-hour speech to the NPC last Saturday. Although somewhat numbing to the ear, all the rhetoric boils down to essentially three points:

First, China's leadership is willing to accept modestly slower economic growth in exchange for higher quality and more sustainable growth. Hence, GDP is projected to rise at only 7 percent a year, down half a percentage point from the previous plan's goal. (It should be noted, however, that China's economy actually grew by 11.2 percent annually during the past half-decade.) Although we can expect numbers north of 7 percent through 2015, the plan at least signals that relatively lower growth would be acceptable if accompanied by restructuring.

What Beijing wants to do in place of relying on investment, low-wage manufacturing, and exports is develop more value-added products and services and encourage greater personal consumption. (This latter goal is consistent with the West's desire to see a greater rebalancing of China's economy to increase imports.) Hence, one goal of the plan is to raise research and development spending to 2.2 percent of GDP. This would be 0.4 percentage points higher than the 2010 figure, and it would push China above the average of around 2 percent in OECD countries. In keeping with policies of the last five years, in this plan China is encouraging a more assertive effort to register invention patents and promote emerging strategic industries. Prior to this plan, the government had already identified seven strategic sectors that would receive priority funding and support: alternative energy, biotechnology, new-generation information technology (such as cloud computing), high-end manufacturing, advanced materials, alternative-fuel vehicles, and conservation and environmental protection, including in advanced materials, transportation, and new energy.

Second, the plan strengthens efforts to adjust China's energy usage and protect the environment. Some of the particular targets include: reducing the energy intensity of the economy by 16 percent, increasing the share of energy from non-fossil-fuel sources to 11 percent, and reducing the carbon intensity of total GDP by 17 percent by 2015. (These figures are roughly in keeping with targets of the previous plan; China fell 1 percentage point short of meeting the old 20 percent redution in energy-intensity target). The goals are also backed by substantial investments. At the same time, the plan sets a range of targets to improve the quality of China's air, water, and soil, both urban and rural. Discharge of sulfur dioxide should drop 8 percent over the next five years, and ammonia nitrogen and nitrogen oxides by 10 percent. These targets all seem achievable if trends from the last plan continue. The identification of these goals as "hard targets" makes the government even more likely to push energy-intensive sectors and localities to comply.

And third, tying everything together, is greater attention to social needs. In the past, Beijing has stressed making the country stronger and creating a good environment for businesses, while giving lower priority to the personal needs and comfort of individual citizens, including those less well-off. A strong military, economic growth, and political stability are still top priorities, but efforts to better the livelihood of individuals is more prominent in this plan. Per capita income targets for both urban and rural Chinese have been raised. The minimum threshold for personal income taxes is being adjusted upward. And targets for social welfare benefits -- education, health care, low-income housing, and pensions -- have all been raised. If China's planners have their way, the average Chinese baby born in 2015 will likely outlive his or her sibling born in 2010 by six years, gaining an extra year through better health care and other services. None of these targets seem out of reach, but it will require a sustained effort to steer more of the fruits of growth away from a politically privileged corporate sector and toward employees' wages and the social services they need.

For all the lofty goals, key challenges to meeting them loom large. China's financial system looks much stronger on paper than a decade ago, but it is still highly inefficient and total public debt is ballooning. Total outstanding loans are over 120 percent of GDP, and this doesn't include bonds and other debt instruments. Throwing more renminbi at R&D and patents won't on its own yield an innovative society without fundamental reforms of an educational system designed to create great test takers, not inventors. Meanwhile, China's social services safety net has many gaping holes, especially for those in need. Despite reforms in health care, the costs of hospital visits and medications are still quite high for many. Even if China meets its energy and environmental targets, absolute levels of fossil-fuel use and carbon emissions will still rise substantially over current levels. And from an international perspective, faced with growing economic and trade deficits, China's trading partners -- especially in the West -- are itching to challenge every protectionist-looking policy they can find. Although the West permitted a honeymoon period during the first years of China's World Trade Organization membership, the number of dispute cases jumped dramatically during the past five years. If trends continue, China should invest in a lot more trade lawyers.

But China's challenges are more growing pains than indications of what Minxin Pei once dubbed a trapped transition. One has reason to be optimistic that, in five years, China will be at least a somewhat healthier and happier country than it is today. Moderate prosperity might not sound all that impressive, but it's a good leap forward.

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