by Zack Beauchamp
A reader writes:
I wanted to take issue with the Von Hoffman Award nomination that was bestowed on Matt Yglesias on August 22nd. Matt does not deserve a nomination because he is ineligible: the campaign that NATO conducted against Qaddafi’s forces does not qualify as strategic air power. For the most part, the operations that NATO carried out could better be described as "tactical bombing."
NATO sorties did target command and control centers, but the traditional idea behind strategic bombing is to destroy the economic and industrial power of a state in order to compel them to surrender or at least come to the bargaining table. There is a second method of strategic bombing as well: inflicting pain directly on a state's civilian population to accomplish the same goals. Obviously we were not going to do that… the whole reason NATO got involved in Libya in the first place was to prevent civilian atrocities.
Obviously it will be quite some time before we can step back and do a full postmortem of this war. However, two things are clear. First, most of NATO's success seem to have come from attacking Qaddafi’s ground forces, which historically has been more successful. Second, air power alone did not win the war, rebel troops on the ground did. They could not have won without NATO assistance, but NATO bombing alone probably would not have driven Qaddafi out.
So Matt is wrong: what NATO did in Libya does not really seem to qualify as "strategic air power." He is correct concerning one thing: strategic air power still does not work.