Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

18 March 2011

Vive Hillary and Vive La France!


Dismal news continues to emanate from Japan. Apparently Tepco, which is after all a power company, still has not managed to connect Japan’s power grid to the Fukushima plants so that power can flow in. One hopes that it will succeed soon.

One hope also that every nation, including ours, can learn from Tepco’s mistakes. Any nation still running these obsolete GE Mark I nuclear power plants should now put in place connectors and switches able to divert power to them from national and regional grids immediately after any shutdown due to natural or other disasters. The idea of relying on diesel backup generators, which may stay idle for years, to provide cooling vital to preventing meltdown, when the plant is inherently connected to a regional or national power grid (which may still be fully operational) is one of the dumbest engineering blunders I have ever seen. Apart from downed power lines, cooling power should have been available at Fukushima, and should be available at every similarly obsolete plant throughout the world, at the flick of a switch.

Power lines are not unidirectional. And as the sorry current history shows, it’s far easier to repair downed power lines than resurrect a complex of nuclear power plants undergoing serial meltdown. One hopes the national review of nuclear plants that the President has just ordered will accomplish at least this.

With such dismal news coming from Japan, it is well that happier news is coming from Libya. Secretary Clinton has done her job well and deserves kudos. She delivered a UN authorization for military intervention without a single dissent, and in record time. And she has apparently decided that the Libyan rebels can be trusted, or at least that they are sufficiently trustworthy as compared to Qaddafi not to let that mad dog annihilate them. This is a good first step.

It’s tempting to say that now it’s all up to the military, but that’s not true. Secretary Clinton’s service will continue to be vital in removing Qaddafi with a minimum of turmoil and bloodshed, a minimum of bumbling participation by Westerners and a maximum of effort by Arab neighbors. Achieving that result will still take some diplomatic skill.

No doubt US, French and British planes are ready to scramble at a moment’s notice. No doubt they may need to do so if Qaddafi’s forces continue to advance on Benghazi. But it’s still far preferable that the first strike come, if possible, from fellow Arabs. Secretary Clinton no doubt will continue to work night and day, until the first missiles fly, to achieve that result.

Diplomacy will remain vital even after the police action starts. An iron law of life is that no one loves a mad dog. There are undoubtedly many people in high places in Qaddafi’s forces who would love to see his back (or his corpse) if only they could be assured of their and their family’s safety. Diplomats will have the task, in coordination with the military and intelligence services of participating nations, of securing their timely cooperation as soon as decisive air strikes demonstrate convincingly that Qaddafi, despite his bluster, has no chance of defeating his neighbors, let alone the entire world.

Now, with the UN resolution, the outcome is all but foreordained. Either a partitioned Libya will tilt to the east and Benghazi over months, as refugees and resources drain steadily from Tripoli toward Benghazi, or the turnover will be quick and relatively bloodless as supposed Qaddafi loyalists see the writing on the wall and turn. The skill of Secretary Clinton and her subordinates, their foreign counterparts, and the relevant intelligence services will determine which course Libya takes. The second option would of course be better for all concerned, especially Libyans.

This so far positive story would be remiss without a word about France. France was first to recognize the rebels and appears eager to be the first to strike a military blow for liberty. Many Americans forget that French forces under the Marquis de Lafayette helped us win our War of Independence against Britain. In World War I, when our forces intervened on France’s side, an American colonel recognized the debt by saying “Lafayette, nous voilà!” (“Lafayette, we are here!”). So when That Idiot Rumsfeld, whose appreciation of history was as acute as his military strategy, disparaged France during our War in Iraq, it was a bit like dissing our grandmother.

Now Lafayette is alive and well in North Africa. And we have a golden opportunity to improve cooperation among ourselves, France, and Egypt and their respective militaries. Qaddafi’s military is so puny compared to those of any of the three―let alone the long list of other states lusting for Qaddafi’s scalp―that Libyan liberation will continue to be largely a diplomatic exercise, with military force playing a necessary supporting role. If Western and Arab forces, working together, can pull it off with a minimum of bloodshed, we might begin to see a much brighter future emerge in the Middle East.

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