Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Advisers to Libya Rebels: Shades of Vietnam and the "White Man's Burden"

The NYT reports that in the wake of the British decision to send about 20 military advisers to help Libya's rebels, France and Italy have decided to follow suit, each with smaller contingents.  As the report also notes, some see here the danger of the Vietnam-war-style slippery slope down which the US careened decades ago:
The moves to send military personnel have been likened by some critics to America’s decision to send military advisers to Vietnam, raising worries in both countries that they are being drawn closer to a conflict with no clear resolution on behalf of a fractious and militarily ineffective insurgent force about which little is known.

Facing restive electorates and with their forces already deployed in Afghanistan, European governments want to be seen in strict compliance with the U.N. resolution authorizing “all necessary measures” to protect civilians in Libya, short of an occupation.

But, in Britain at least, some lawmakers have noted that their government’s involvement has already progressed from the supply of body armor and communications equipment to the rebels, announced a week ago, to sending advisers, prompting questions about what further embroilment might entail.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the former leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, which is now part of a governing coalition with the Conservatives, said Tuesday that the advisers “must not be seen as a first installment of further military deployment.” He added, “Vietnam began with an American president sending military advisers.”

However well intentioned or well placed on the so often cited "right side of history," it's difficult to see how this is going to accomplish all that much, especially when the overall command of the rebel forces is still up for grabs between two claimants, each of whom sees himself as "the man."  And quite frankly, this smacks of the kind of paternalism - an early21st-century version of the "White Man's Burden" of civilizing the barbarous natives - in this instance, by trying to bestow upon them superior European techniques of operational command and logistics.  Moreover, what kind of welcome can these advisers expect from those rebels motivated even in part by jihadism (or, for that matter, rebels who've spent time waging jihad in Afghanistan or Iraq)?

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