A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, February 25, 2011

Historical Ironies: The USS Enterprise

There are many ironies about the present situation; I already noted Libya's place in the history of aerial bombing. With talk of establishing a possible no-fly zone (some of the issues involved are discussed here), one of the problems involved is that the US has no carrier group in the Mediterranean at this time. The one that was there, the USS Enterprise, is being transferred to an Indian Ocean deployment and is somewhere en route, perhaps in the Red Sea. A no-fly enforcement would need a carrier (though France, Italy and Spain could also provide carriers), and the nearest American one would be the Enterprise. It's the second oldest commissioned ship in the Navy and is scheduled for decommissioning. (It's actually the oldest operational ship: the oldest on the commissioned list is Old Ironsides. Enterprise, the first nuclear powered carrier, has been in service since 1961.)

If the Enterprise were to deploy off Libya, it would evoke memories of the first US vessel of that name, which played an important role in the First Barbary War. The picture above is of that original Enterprise capturing the Tripolitan corsair Tripoli off Malta on 1801. There have been many successor ships in the Navy to bear the name, and if Star Trek is any guide, will continue to be.

I have some doubts about how useful military power may be in this situation, and am not sure it's time to return to "the shores of Tripoli." But when I checked on what our nearest carrier group was, I was amused by the historical irony. A similar echo of the Barbary Wars occurred in 2009 when the USS Bainbridge, named for a hero of that war, engaged Somali pirates.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

Thanks for this. I have been besieged by some Libyan-American friends and others wanting a no-fly zone for the entire country to protect Libyan civilians from the threat of fixed wing or helicopter attacks by Libyan air force and to prevent the air lift of more African mercenaries. Unfortunately, in addition to the practical problems you and Michael Knight have identified, there are many more. Perhaps a useful NFZ for Libya could be devised and implemented over time and with a good strong Security Council resolution to back it up, but no-fly zones are not silver bullets. My own experience with them in Iraq was very mixed. Northern Watch doubtless saved Kurdish lives and was one of the more effective means of pressure on the Saddam regime. Southern Watch, by contrast, was useful for the goal of preventing Saddam from reconstituting military forces to threaten his neighbors and for support of the UN WMD inspection activities, but it had minimal humanitarian benefit in territories where the Iraqi ground forces were undisputed masters of the ground, at least during the day.