February 04, 2006

Twenty Millimeter Sparrows

The Confederate Yankee, in the words of Jonah Goldberg, "debunks" some story about a plan to sucker Saddam Hussein into (ostensibly) an overtly aggressive act towards, variously, the UN, 1991 Gulf War coalition states, or someone. This would then, I suppose, be used to supply a casus belli.

According to British author Phillipe Sands, President G.W. Bush had told British Prime Minister Blair that the United States were prepared to fly a U-2S reconnaisance aircraft in UN colors to attract surface-to-air missile fire. Apparently, firing on a UN-flagged aircraft would constitute a breach of UN resolutions and thus supply a reason to launch the invasion of Iraq. Mr. Sands' account is based upon a memorandum he claims to have been shown.

My first response is to say that we are prepared to do a great many things. Whether we do them or not is something else. From what I hear, the Second Reich of Kaiser Wilhelm II had plans for the amphibious invasion of the United States of America, using somewhere around the City of New York as their beachhead. That doesn't necessarily prove that the Kaiser's people were nefarious and or evil neo-conservatives planning to rule the world.

Anyways, the Confederate Yankee responds, adamantly saying that:

One problem with that theory: U2 high altitude surveillance aircraft typically operate near their operational ceiling of 70,000 feet, or more than 13 miles in the air. The aircraft simply cannot be seen from the ground, regardless of what paint scheme it manifests, whether it is United Nations blue, or pink with green stripes. The very concept is preposterous.

Er, actually, no. It's not preposterous at all, thank you. People regularly observe satellites and the Enterprise-class space shuttles in orbit, and the orbiters are dimensionally smaller than the U-2S. Granted, they're looking for points of light, but the fact remains that they can be seen.

Seeing a U-2S with a good pair of binoculars probably isn't inconceivable if you know where to look. A good air search radar would help in that regards. I imagine that it'd go something like this: "Abdul, train your binoculars to 270 and look up. Waaaay up." Anyways, seeing the thing is irrelevant.

I also believe that he misses the point of "UN colors". What would UN colors for an American aerial surveillance platform be? Probably a UN flag slapped on the tail, a magnet like we see decorating the flanks of many personal automobiles here in America. Where once we had a USAF U-2S strategic reconnaisance platform, we now have a United Nations peace-monitoring platform. I'd also throw in some stencils of "U.N." and that globe-in-a-wreath logo of theirs. Make it right conspicuous, I would.

The Confederate Yankee focuses upon the idea of the aircraft being actually painted a different color. I don't know a whole lot about the U-2S program, but I'm willing to bet that the black paint the things are in is some sort of radar-absorbent material, a compound concoction that isn't black just for the aesthetic value.

Therefore, I believe that his focus upon the actual paint scheme of the aircraft is incorrect.

Secondly, if this was some sort of sly attempt to create a pretext for war, the objective isn't for the Iraqis to see the thing from the ground and decide that "Yeah, it's got a UN livery, so blow it to pieces". To be honest, I doubt the Iraqis would be that stupid. The point of the effort would be to do one of two things, assuming a missile engagement:

1. If the aircraft is lost, make certain that cameramen get lots of footage of the wreckage. Special attention to the aforementioned UN decal and stencils, understand? Linger on them, yeah. Even better if they're slightly charred. Get some kids to hold up wreckage and dance with it.

2. If the aircraft returns to base, sequester the pilot and allow some access by journalists to the aircraft, especially after you remove any sensor packages that you don't want seen by Aviation Week & Space Technology or the Red Chinese. Make sure all pictures are posed to include the UN lettering and any damage done to the aircraft. Have people on hand to talk about that, too.

Either way, announce to the world that Saddam Hussein has flagrantly broken the cease-fire agreement or other subsequent UN resolutions, and then go in. "Lookie here what you've done shot at", in other words. Is this really complicated? I wouldn't think so.

The Yankee also goes to some effort in detailing the engagements between coalition (ostensibly USAF/USMC/USN, RAF, and perhaps the French Armée de l'Air) and Iraqi air defense sites. He notes the following:

Blair and Bush did not have to manufacture these kinds of incidents to justify a war when Saddam was already breaching the ceasefire on his own.

Was he now? The Iraqis had been firing at coalition aircraft from time to time for quite some time, and nothing had been really done about it. If a SAM site firing off a round or two every so often at our military aircraft were breaches of whatever terms and conditions then in force, then we probably could/should have been going in some time prior to 2003. My guess is that the use of a "UN" aircraft would provide perhaps moral and legal justification for the major military response, whereas firing at our aircraft didn't count under whatever was defining the conduct out there.1

That, or perhaps it was thought in Washington that third parties would get excited about an attack on UN aircraft as opposed to attacks on Anglo-American aircraft. A tipping point, if you will, to convince foreign diplomats that the Baathist regime was firing on peaceful UN people.

At any rate, I think it's a decent, if somewhat transparent, idea to sucker the Baathist regime into a no-win scenario. If I were in the Oval Office, I'd look for a better plan, but this one's not so bad. I like it better than reports of dumping kids from incubators. Anyways, it's supposed to snow in Virginia, and that's a good thing.


The title for this entry is inspired by a line from the Kevin Costner vehicle, Thirteen Days.

1 There is something absurd about attacking coalition aircraft not being enough of a provocation for war, but go figure; diplomacy and international relations often are a theater of the absurd.

Posted by Country Pundit at February 4, 2006 01:00 PM | TrackBack
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