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Libyan Civil War Stalemates, Shiny New Military Toys on Display

It’s kind of hard to get a handle on the Libya operation at the moment. A series of surges and counter-surges has resolved to a front established around the oil city of Brega. NATO claimed that bad weather restricting air missions was the reason for the rebels being pushed back. But we’re several days out from that, and the stalemate remains. Basically, close air support has gotten us to this stalemate point, and despite the shelling Gadhafi’s forces still have superior firepower. Predictably, the rebels are calling for more airstrikes and better weapons.

The rebels are exporting their first oil shipment, and the stalemate can be seen as a kind of partition for Libya. The eastern front separates, for the most part, Gahdafi’s territory from the rebel-held enclaves. The Libyan envoy working on peace talks in Europe called Gadhafi crucial to national stability. So we have this conflict that looks stuck, with neither side able to gain advantage.

It’s hard to argue with the inference in this article, that the Libyan mission so far has been little more than a showcase for the new toys of the military-industrial complex:

French Rafales like those on show in 2009, for instance, flew the Western alliance’s very first missions over Libya just over two weeks ago. One of the Rafale’s theoretical targets: Libya’s French-built Mirage jets that Paris had recently agreed to repair.

The Libyan operation also marks the combat debut for the Eurofighter Typhoon, a competitor to the Dassault Rafale built by Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain. An Italian Air Force version of that plane was snapped at the 2009 show hosted by Libyan generals. Two weeks ago, that base — to which arms firms including Dassault returned last November — was attacked by the West.

Times change, allegiances shift, but weapons companies will always find takers for their goods. Libya won’t be buying new kit any time soon. But the no-fly zone has become a prime showcase for other potential weapons customers, underlining the power of western combat jets and smart bombs, or reminding potential buyers of the defensive systems needed to repel them.

It’s not so much a war as a trade show. Best proof of concept ever!

This only further calls into question the wisdom of the mission. And the Senate will actually get their opportunity to make that question themselves today, thanks to Rand Paul, of all people. This is from his Senate office:

This afternoon, The U.S. Senate will hold a vote on a sense of the Senate resolution, introduced last week by Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.). The language of the resolution simply quotes then-Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama’s words from 2007: “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” The measure aims to put the Senate on record affirming Congress as the body with constitutional authority on matters of war.

“I look forward to entering into a vote to gauge my colleagues’ opinion on whether or not the President has the authority to unilaterally authorize a military attack when there is no imminent danger to the United States,” Sen. Paul said. “Since President Obama has yet to come to Congress to address us regarding the military action in Libya, all we have are his words to go by. I hope the sense of the Senate will reflect the constitutionality of this issue.”

I would hate to shut down the trade show early, but the little question of war powers is in effect here.

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David Dayen

David Dayen