Juan Cole is a blogger, a professor at the University of Michigan and a public intellectual who fancies himself an expert on the Middle East, American military operations and war.
His latest effort to prove that expertise is as lamentable as it is incompetent.
He begins by suggesting that the multi-generational occupation of the Balkans by NATO has been a real success for US and European strategists.
I don't doubt that it's been good for Albanian and Muslim minorities in the Balkans — many of whom are my friends — but that's a different question, one that we answered for more than a decade by stationing peacekeeping troops there.
What follows appears to be his version of the Cole hard truth, his advice for policymakers currently waging war in North Africa.
"The no-fly zone is a response to a specific humanitarian crisis (the Qaddafi regime was firing tank and artillery shells at urban crowds protesting it)."
If there's truth in advertising, a no-fly zone is intended to prevent Libyan pilots from jetting toward rebels, UN forces or anywhere but their favorite non-Maltese O-club.
While tank and artillery shells most certainly fly, there's little chance of intercepting them in their trajectories. Even if certain F-15 pilots claim otherwise.
Obviously, Cole should just blurt out what he wants the NFZ to be, which is to say a means of killing those forces moving against rebels — especially indirect and armor fires — loyal to COL Gadaffi.
He bungles this by pointing to the Iraq NFZ erected in the span between Desert Storm and 2003. He seems to not realize that this really was a zone in the sky we patrolled to keep Iraqi warplanes from buzzing about. In other words, it was a veritable NFZ, which it most certainly isn't in Libya.
"Qaddafi tank columns should be interdicted from moving on Benghazi or Tobruk. But tanks just sitting around in Tripoli should not be targeted."
This is moronic. Tanks in Tripoli parked in the open most certainly should be turned inside out because they will be used in the future against rebels. Moreover, if one wants to coerce behavior, one might wish to remove from the enemy's kit a valuable tool. Tanks have both utilitarian and totemic value.
When a JDAM melts them to the pavement, a powerful message is sent to those who witness the aftermath. When hardened steel runs like tallow onto the street, erecting an ersatz statue to a dictator's impotence, it means something to onlookers, even if it doesn't mean much to bloggers at the University of Michigan.
"Once the no-fly zone is in place and Benghazi and points east are protected from reprisals, brokers should intervene to negotiate a diplomatic solution."
One doesn't often negotiate after one has completed one's limited chores. One wishes to negotiate from a position of strength. One occupies that position when one can not only escalate the violence but also has the gumption to do just that.
One should talk to Gaddafi's cronies after several of them are in the ground. They might prove more cooperative.
"It is desirable that there be some continuity between the old regime and the new one, and that tribal factionalism and feuds and reprisals be avoided."
I should wish that magical leprechauns flew out of the butts of unicorns, bearing to me all their many pots of gold. But I don't see that happening. It's quite easy for a professor of the humanities in Ann Arbor to blather this homily and yet quite difficult for diplomats and soldiers to make it so.
"Countries opposed to or lukewarm toward the no-fly zone, but which are themselves democracies, such as India, Algeria and Russia …"
Welcome to democracy, Algeria and Russia.
One could go on and on, but it's this sort of unserious prattle that too often affects the public debate.
There are decent men and women risking their lives and this version of online Stratego is the best our public intellectuals can confect on their behalf?