March 11, 2011
No Fly & the Full Qadhdhafi
This could be the opening needed for support to the Rebellion, let us hope that Arab League shows more spine than it has ever before in its existence (helped along by the fact that none of them have ever liked the Guide):Libya uprising - live updates | World news | guardian.co.uk
3.59pm: 3.57pm: The Arab League is apparently set to back a no-fly zone over Libya, according to Reuters, who quote the Hungarian foreign minister, Janos Martonyi.
"The most important thing is that the Arab League agrees with [it]," he said.
"The expectation is that they will support [the] no-fly zone under some conditions."
First, it rather appears that Qadhdhafi has launched a fullish military campaign now:
Libya uprising - live updates | World news | guardian.co.uk
2.59pm: More details and colour from Reuters:There is a real chance Qadhdhafi can entirely reverse his losses in the west, not clear to me regarding the East, fundamentally more hostile to him as it is. Nevertheless, as my earlier notes indicated, the Rebellion must rapidly get more organised and serious or they are in deep trouble. This may also make them more open to foreign support, but unless they are more organised, foreign support isn't going to do much (although there is probably a synergestic relationship between potential for foreign support and getting organised, as else a reverse of the abandoning of the regime is as likely to emerge as not).
The sound of explosions and small arms fire came from Ras Lanuf on Friday as government troops landed from the sea backed by tanks and air power fought to recapture the oil port town.
A large column of black smoke billowed from storage tanks at an oil installation, television pictures showed, after what Arab channels said was a series of government air strikes.
2.56pm: An update on the fighting in Ras Lanuf. A look at this map helps put things in context
(AP) The rebels appeared to have a tenacious hold around the oil facilities at Ras Lanuf, taking refuge among the towering storage containers of crude oil and gas. Government forces stopped directing their fire at those positions, apparently to avoid blowing up the facility's infrastructure, according to fighters.
Instead, the pro-Gaddafi troops, positioned in Ras Lanuf's residential about 10 miles (16 kilometers) east of the oil port across a barren desert no man's land, were raining rockets and shelling along the main coastal highway, targeting rebel vehicles trying to reinforce and bring supplies to the port, said Mohammed Gherani, a rebel fighter.
The bodies of at least three opposition fighters killed in the shelling were brought to rebel-held Brega, a larger oil port to the west, bringing the toll from two days of battles at Ras Lanouf to at least nine.
It's worth highlighting the disorganisation:Libya uprising - live updates | World news | guardian.co.uk
2.05pm: AP offers a fascinating profile of the rebels fighting for Ras Lanuf and hoping to work their way to Tripoli:Romantic gallantry, but leaderless 'flash-mob,' cell-phone organised cluelessness with AKs in the face of a real army is going to go down in bloody failure. It is not possible to help this mob unless they get themselves organised, and fast.
"The front-line force … is surprisingly small. Not counting supporters who bolster them in the towns along their path, it is estimated at 1,500 at most Libyans from all walks of life, from students and coffee-shop owners to businessmen who picked up whatever weapons they could and joined the fight. No one seems to know their full size, and they could be picking up new members all the time …
"The rebel force is a leaderless collection of volunteers, operating in an evolving collaboration with soldiers who deserted various units over the past month and are still be trying to organise themselves. It's not clear who, if anyone is giving orders …
"The volunteer militiamen largely have been acting and reacting as a pack to government assaults, launching initiatives wherever they can. They ride around in dozens of pick-up trucks, some with machine guns and anti-aircraft guns strapped to the back. Some rebels have weapons, while others seem hardly able to operate a gun …
"Many of the fighters come from Benghazi, the main city in the rebel-controlled eastern half of the country. They are united by hatred for Gaddafi and a burning desire to overthrow him and establish a state under the rule of law."
(Edited to add additional item from Fareed Zakaria's The Libyan Conundrum - TIME
This BBC News note is useful in reflecting thusly
1417: "I think the no-fly zone is a red herring. It's essentially shorthand for, 'Do something, but make sure it's sanitized so there are no messy consequences.' The problem is that it won't be sanitized," writes Judah Grunstein in the World Politics Review Trend Lines blog. He calls instead for a "a rapid and brief series of air strikes to destroy Libya's air force" on the ground.As is this U.S. Ambassador to NATO: No-fly zone wouldn’t help much - By Josh Rogin | The Cable
"[I]t's important to understand that no-fly zones...really have a limited effect against the helicopters or the kind of ground operations that we've seen, which is why a no-fly zone, even if it were to be established, isn't really going to impact what is happening there today," Daalder said. "And the kinds of capabilities that are being used to attack the rebel forces and, indeed, the population will be largely unaffected by a no-fly zone. "However, there is another question to consider: if nothing is done, what happens?
From what I am seeing and hearing via my sources in the Maghreb, there is a significant chance of an enduring civil war and even if Qadhdhafi regained control, one would not see a return to the pre-war situation, but probably the emergence of in fact an Al Qaeda linked type of running insurgency. This in particular as the West would been seen as having thrown the rebellion to the Guide's Dogs, there is very likely to be a natural turn to the clandestine Islamist radicals - who are the most likely to survive the "ratissage" après rebellion.
As Obama et al are no longer facing the choice of "unfortunate stability with a dictator" or "allowing political transition"(à la Egypt, Tunisia), but various forms of horror and civil war that are likely to be profoundly destabilizing - not just re Libya and its oil fields(*) but also re Tunisia and Egypt, the policy analysis needs to sit up and take notice. Iternvention and support to rebellion are not good choices at all, not as easy as internet whanking makes it out to be, but on the other hand, the flip side looks possibly even uglier. It may not be a question of a winning hand, but a less-losing hand.
This note from Michael Hudson, "As the U.S. considers intervention in Libya, it should look to history" is useful.
As for the American invasion of Iraq, the folly of that endeavor -- in logic, planning, and execution -- has deeply eroded American credibility throughout the region; and the authoritarian regime (despite its "elected" character) that replaced Saddam Hussein is now eliciting the same kind of mass protests that we are seeing in North Africa, Jordan, and even the Gulf. The chief beneficiary has been Iran, while Washington has little to show for eight years of material and human expenditure....
A truly "rogue regime" until it discovered the virtues of making up with the West, Qadhafi's bizarre family-tribal military autocracy is counter-attacking against the determined, enthusiastic, but poorly organized and ill-equipped protest movement. The convergence of morality and interests is understandably generating pressure for the U.S. to come to the rescue militarily.
Emphasis added. These are very good observations. And returns to my earlier obs re getting some NATO ally with access to Sov style equipment compatible with what the Libyan rebels largely already heave. Ukraine might be good sourcing point (corruptly if nothing else) but Polish trainers are more politically reliable. "Surplus" Sov era anti tank and AA man portables would do some good, but only with trained units / groups. Helping the defecting military commanders slap together a bit of military discipline would be helpful - but outsiders can't make that happen, except in the limited sense of throwing in behind the rebels in a way that they can feel - useful that it's France with no direct history in Libya - to help avert reverse defections.
But before using force in the present case, the U.S. needs to look back at its own decidedly mixed record in the region and consider the following five simple rules for intervention:
1) Don't come in unless invited. As the well-armed British SAS agents discovered, the Libyan rebels don't welcome foreign soldiers. Still less will they welcome American boots on the ground, considering the interventionist baggage the U.S. carries. Qadhafi, on the other hand, could make political hay out of overt U.S. involvement.
2) If you feel you must go in, don't go in alone. Join with the neighbors who are closest to the conflict. In the Libya case this means Arab neighbors first of all -- Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. Secondarily, western allies might help, but remember the bad memories Libyans have of Italian and British colonialism.
3) Be prepared for things that will go wrong. As our previous interventions have shown, Murphy's Law invariably applies. Sometimes there is a happy ending as in Lebanon in 1958. But most of the time the intervener gets stuck in the mustanq'a -- the swamp of local conditions that we only superficially understand. Which is why Rule 4 is important.
4) Don't overstay your welcome. One of the rallying cries of the nationalists (led by Qadhafi) in 1969 was the closure of Wheelus Air Force base -- then the largest base outside the U.S. Even if desperate rebels might initially accept an ongoing U.S. presence, the Libyan public will resist anything that looks like the re-establishment of a Western military presence. A post-Qadhafi regime foolish enough to encourage such a permanent engagement would soon be confronting its own rebels, including incidentally radical Islamists.
5) Consider the alternatives. Look before you leap. This is not the time for the Marines to march toward the shores of Tripoli again. Troops on the ground, even if invited by the rebels, will create more problems than they solve. A no-fly zone, according to Secretary of Defense Gates, cannot be established without destroying Qadhafi's air defenses first. The Libyan protesters need weaponry to confront Qadhafi's tanks and armor on the ground. It is hard to imagine that Saudi Arabia and the U.S. are not already working to provide it. It is politically acceptable for the rebels discreetly to receive Western arms and intelligence support, but Americans should never be firing the guns.
(*: yes oil matters, it matters for Western economies and as much it matters for developing economies which are going to suffer even more than the USA or the West from a massive oil shock, and one driven by nothing untoward that either the West or they have done [as no one bears responsibility for Qadhdhafi but himself])
In my original posting I hadn't read this Fareed Zakaria note, but it is well-worth a read The Libyan Conundrum - TIME
So the U.S. must follow through in its efforts to get Gaddafi out of office, pushing all diplomatic levers and seeking maximum multilateral support. It should ask the Libyan opposition for a public set of requests, so that Washington is seen as responding to Libyans, not imposing its will. If the Libyans request military assistance, Washington should move in that direction. I don't believe that a no-fly zone is a magic bullet. It is a high-profile policy that puts the U.S. military directly into the conflict but would actually make little difference. Gaddafi's main advantage is not in the air but on the ground. He has tanks, armored vehicles and massive firepower. The basic military question is hence how to shift the balance of power away from him and toward the rebels."
Over the past five decades, the U.S. has had very mixed results when it has intervened, by air or land, in other people's wars. But it has done pretty well when it has helped one side of the struggle. Arming rebels in Afghanistan, Central America and Africa has proved to be a relatively low-cost policy with high rates of success. Giving arms, food, logistical help, intelligence and other such tools to the Libyan opposition would boost its strength and give it staying power.
And also thinking along the same lines as myself:
Some worry that if we arm the rebels, things might turn out the way they did in Afghanistan, where the freedom fighters became Islamic jihadists and turned their sights on us. But that's not really what happened. After the Soviet defeat, the U.S. abandoned Afghanistan, leaving it open to Islamic jihadists backed by the Pakistani military. The better analogy is to Chechnya, where as the civil war continued, the rebels became more radical and Islamic fundamentalists jumped into the fight and soon became its leaders. The best way to prevent al-Qaeda from turning Libya into an area of strength would be to have the fighting end — with Gaddafi's defeat. So let's help the Libyan opposition do it.
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The Chechnyan comparison was good. Should be used more.
Something I'm curious about is the low profile of Libya's neighbors, who have enormous stakes in this and who could all play a constructive role if they chose to. I guess Tunisia is busy with its own revolution, and would prefer stability in W. Libya to anything else, since everything else entails being swamped with refugees. Algeria seems to be quietly supportive of Q (same reasons, perhaps), and Egypt mostly determined to avoid being saddled with responsibility for whatever mess emerges. Sudan ... don't know, and far removed from the real action anyway.
Posted by: alle at March 13, 2011 07:30 PM
"Romantic gallantry, but leaderless 'flash-mob,' cell-phone organised cluelessness with AKs in the face of a real army is going to go down in bloody failure. It is not possible to help this mob unless they get themselves organised, and fast."
The Libyan rebels or resistance or Easterners or whatever you want to call them, do not need a "no fly-zone" - they need a company of US SOF trainers to teach rudimentary tactics and weapons training, salted with Arab state NCOs from countries with an axe to grind against Gaddafi to help establish unit discipline. Secondly they need light anti-air and and anti-tank weapons and third someone to organize logistics to supply fighters with food, water, first aid and ammunition.
Posted by: zenpundit at March 14, 2011 12:39 AM
I've changed my mind on No Fly, from a psychological point of view. While 100% in agreement with Zenp's statement, it now seems to me that to help prevent fragmentation and mass defection on the Rebel side, a No Fly to shore up their confidence and spine is in fact a useful thing - so long as secretly the Anti Qs get support in form of trainers in small unit tactics and weapons usage, and in organising logistics.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at March 14, 2011 12:33 PM
Actually Tunisians are stupid not to get involved by buying weapons for rebels and give them basic training (that they themselves often had in US barracks). Qaddahfi will not stop at the borders. He was already into destabilizing actions in Tunisia before his own rebelion, and will likely redouble once he gets to control his territory. Instead of dealing with a problem on Libyan territory while possible now, they'll have to deal with subsequent problems for a much longer period on their own terriroty.
Yes, the massive potential blowback for Tunisia is actually very depressing, both in terms of lost market, expat Tunisian backwash, and the Guide devoting himself to revenge...
Posted by: The Lounsbury at March 15, 2011 04:40 PM
Caid Essebsi is somehow kissing the Guide's ass, hoping to stay out of trouble I'm sure. At the Arab summit which backed the no fly zone, Tunisia and Algeria were the only countries to have reservations about it.
It may be a good bet, assuming the Guide doesn't feel empowered and becomes grateful.
Or the Guide may just be... the Guide, screw Tunisia and laugh at its government for the support.
At the Arab summit which backed the no fly zone, Tunisia and Algeria were the only countries to have reservations about it.
Syria too! Demonstration in Souq el-Hamidiye yesterday, btw. We'll see how that plays out.
Shaheen (& others) -- How much could Tunisia really influence Libya, if it decided to get involved? It's generally Libya that has been messing with Tunisia, at least since Qaddafi took power, but I don't really see a reason why it has to be that way -- especially not now when Libyan military pressure seems temporarily out of the question. So what strings could they pull?
Posted by: alle at March 16, 2011 06:18 AM
It will not decide to get involved, more so now without being an elected government. It's often safer in politics to react to materialized risks than be proactive about it when the cost of the latter is potentially high (e.g. human lives).
For the hypothetical exercise, Tunisia's relative capability depends indeed on the context. "Normal" militarized, organized, awash in oil Qadhafi has nothing to fear from Tunisia as it is today. Embattled Qadhafi fighting a rebelion is a different ballgame. There is (was) a window of opportunity that could be (could have been) effectively exploited to tip the balance in favor of the rebels by providing them with weapons (e.g. anti-aircraft and anti-tank junk) and training. Low cost and easy enough to be within reach of Tunisia.
Right, thanks. Actually, if they think it's likely he'll stay in power for any significant time, I can understand inaction. Tunisia will have problems enough without having to deal with a wounded-tiger Qaddafi, who if he survives will be internationally isolated, vengeful & with nothing to lose. Also there's the issue of remaining Tunisians in Libya, their safety.
Posted by: alle at March 17, 2011 07:36 AM
Pretty much any Tunisia who could leave as already left. Those who are still there are either dead, or in prison for being Tunisians. That in itself should have been a casus beli.
Besides, the question is not one of confrontation or not, it's a question of where and when. On Libyan soil, through Libyan rebels, or on Tunisian soil, through Qadhafi backed terrorists.