Monday, March 21, 2011

Sarkozy's Flying Circus

The spokesman for the French Army Joint Staff, Col. Thierry Burkhard, was very specific: the job of establishing a no-fly zone in Libya and striking Gaddafi's army to protect the rebels of Benghazi will be executed by Rafales squadrons, with Mirages supporting them. 

Rafales, Mirages? Dassault Aviation was jubilating. The French manufacturer is the producer of the older Mirages fighter jets and the new Rafale jet fighters and they can use any kind of tailwind. Rafale ('squall' in English) is a hard sell these days. So far, despite trying hard, it was impossible for France to market and sell the Rafale outside of their own country. Morocco, Singapore and South Korea all have looked into the aircraft but at the end gave the nod to F-15s and F-16s made in USA. The race is not over though. Brazil, Switzerland, India, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates haven't decided on their new fighter jets yet. Again the Rafale is in competition with American F-jets from Boeing, but also with the Eurofighter from EADS and with Sweden that has the Gripen on the tarmac. The nay-sayers main arguments: the Rafale is too expensive, Dassault is too slow producing them and the birds are operational only 45% of the time; and in their spare time, they need a lot of French manicure. 

Like in a blockbuster Hollywood movie, Col. Burkhard's product placement was very obvious. "These air strikes are brought to you by Rafale", he seemed to say, mentioning the name so many times that nobody could miss it. Yes, Rafale. Yes, they are fit for the mission. Yes, I know. 

Very obvious is also how desperately France, the UK and other Western powers try to make "Odyssey Dawn", the military implementation of UN resolution 1973, a broad based, international operation with Arab and African participation. Too bad that nobody wants to join. Nobody? Qatar is standing ready to be the Arab fig leaf on a Western pounding of another Arab country. For that, they will send - at least they promised to do so - four French made Mirages fighters to make this world a better place - at least they pretend that it is so. The Qatari air force will probably operate out of France, using an air base in Corsica as their starting point. That way, they can watch the new French jet generation at close range and, why not, place an order with Dassault once they make it home to Doha.

the primadonna of Sarkozy's flying circus: Rafale

What is driving Qatar? Qatar is not your average Arab country. They want to rise above the Arab mediocrity of just talk and no action, they want to play and run with the big guys. As their first trophy they have wrestled the Football World Cup 2022 out of Western hands. A shock to England, which until today doesn't understand that the world has changed. Now Qatar is even going for the big prize in football, the presidency of FIFA, the international football association. Their candidate is Mohammed Bin Hammam and I'm sure the Qatari man will have the votes of France, UK and the USA come election time in June 2011, unless...

...unless operation "Odyssey Dawn" has slided into obscurity until then. Already now the Arab League has seconds thoughts about endorsing a military operation against Libya and having Lebanon to support it at the UN in New York. We didn't know that no-fly zone means bombing Libyan targets, their secretary and future Egyptian presidential candidate Amr Moussa said yesterday. What did you think it was, Amr? Pleasure-cruising the sky and enjoying the fresh air over the Mediterranean? I hope he understands better what things imply people tell him once the army has helped him to climb into the ejection seat of the Egyptian presidency.

A military operation can NEVER be the answer to a political crisis like the one we see in Libya. I don't know what THE answer is, but bombarding a country is not. There ain't such a thing as "humanitarian air strikes". People will die and I am only waiting until the French led operation is going from surgical strikes to collateral damage. How long will the European public accept to see pictures of innocent civilian casualties (and even soldiers have a mom)? How long is the staying power of the public conscience? Of course Gaddafi is indefensible. It would take a Jacques Vergès to get him off the political and legal hook. But Maître Vergès would have a party and an easy game doing so, considering all the business capitals, and not just Paris France, where the revolutionary leader has pitched his tent in the past.

As of this evening, the no-fly zone is established and now what? Going for an invasion? All the prerequisites are there: a tyrant in place, oil in the ground, no weapons of mass destruction and no UN resolution calling for it. After two days of operations only, the allies are deeply divided tonight on how to deal with an emerging stalemate. What will it be: Bosnia, Kosovo or Iraq?

Meanwhile Sweden is offering six of their Gripen fighter jets to join the action. They don't want to miss the Libya air show. Maybe Qatar has yet another few millions of pocket money to spend. And at the end, it's the people of Libya paying the price.


  1. You Rocks !
    Excellent analysis !
    congrats ;)

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