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Europeans putting on a fighter plane demo in Libya?

If you thought it was cynical to suggest that Nicolas Sarkozy may have been aggresively pushing for military action with an eye on the 2012 election, that's nothing compared to the notion that the campaign is serving as an advertisement for the Dassault Rafale fighter jet. EUObserver reports:

But looking in detail at French operations in Libya, military analysts have also said that France is using the war to promote its badly-selling €60-million-per-unit Rafale fighter.

Rafale jets fired the symbolic first shot against Gaddafi at 17.45 Libyan time on 19 March, destroying four tanks on the outskirts of Benghazi. The strike took place three hours before the US and UK began bombarding Gaddafi anti-aircraft bases, with the French ministry of defence swiftly posting a set of Rafale pictures on its website.

David Cenciotti, an Italian jet-fighter-pilot-turned-analyst, told EUobserver that the Rafale strikes were highly irregular because in a normal operation the anti-air-defence bombardment would have come first.

"The French intervention is, among other things, aimed at putting the Rafale under the spotlight," he said. "For sure, the French air force was confident that Benghazi was free of SAM [surface-to-air-missile] sites, but I think it was mainly a demo."

Sweden may also be getting in on the act: 

For his part, Paul Holtum, an expert at the Swedish arms-control NGO Sipri, added: "I understand that the 'marketing possibilities' have also been discussed with regard to a Swedish decision on whether to send the Gripen for action over Libya ... However, the air campaign might be of more interest with regard to markets for advanced missiles and guided bombs rather than combat aircraft."

A spokesman for Dassault, the French company dismisses the theory as "propaganda, not reality," but is also eager to point out why the jet's features make it ideally suited to the mission as it "can do air combat, bombardment, observation. All this in one flight."

Dassault is currently in talks to sell 60 of the jets to the United Arab Emirates -- a coalition partner -- and ironically had been in talks to sell 14 to Qaddafi himself until February. 

Also worth noting is that the U.S.'s much-vaunted F-22 Raptor has been conspicuous by its absence in the skies Libya because of its "inability to communicate with other coalition aircraft and its limited ability to hit ground targets." With more than $65 billion spent, the F-22 has also not performed a single mission in Iraq or Afghanistan.

EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

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P.J. Crowley: I stand by what I said about Bradley Manning

Judging by his appearance on CNN last night, parsing the president's speech, recently fired State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley is making a transition to media pundit in record time. In an op-ed for the Guardian today, he addresses the reason he was fired, his desription of the treatment of accused WikiLeaker Bradley Manning as "stupid" and "counterproductive" during a speech at MIT.

Crowley starts by arguing that Manning is" rightly facing prosecution" and "if convicted, should spend a long, long time in prison." But, perhaps since he's already been fired for them, doesn't walk back his previous comments at all: 

Private Manning's family, joined by a number of human rights organisations, has questioned the extremely restrictive conditions he has experienced at the brig at Marine Corps base Quantico, Virginia. I focused on the fact that he was forced to sleep naked, which led to a circumstance where he stood naked for morning call.

Based on 30 years of government experience, if you have to explain why a guy is standing naked in the middle of a jail cell, you have a policy in need of urgent review. The Pentagon was quick to point out that no women were present when he did so, which is completely beside the point.

The issue is a loss of dignity, not modesty.

Our strategic narrative connects our policies to our interests, values and aspirations. While what we do, day in and day out, is broadly consistent with the universal principles we espouse, individual actions can become disconnected. Every once in a while, even a top-notch symphony strikes a discordant note. So it is in this instance.

To put it another way, if your own previously reliable spokesman is calling a government policy "stupid" in public, you probably have a policy in need of urgent review.