Paul Miller, writing in Foreign Policy’s “Shadow Government” gets to the crux of the problem with the Libyan intervention – something the liberal hawks don’t want to admit:
Advocates of the Libyan intervention have invoked the "responsibility to protect" to justify the campaign. But R2P is narrowly and specifically aimed at stopping genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity on a very large scale. It does not give the international community an excuse to pick sides in a civil war when convenient. Qaddafi has certainly committed crimes against humanity in this brief war, but R2P was designed to stop widespread, systematic, sustained, orchestrated crimes. If Qaddafi’s barbarity meets that threshold, the administration hasn’t made the case yet, and I’m not convinced. If R2P justifies Libya, then it certainly obligates us to overthrow the governments of Sudan and North Korea and to do whatever it takes to prevent the Taliban from seizing power in Kabul.
In effect, Miller is accusing the administration of using R2P as cover to do what they want to do, regardless of whether or not it fits the so-called principle. As he points out it is a selective application that, if it is indeed a “principle”, should be rigorously applied in other countries now. It won’t be, of course (and that’s fine with me), but it is important to understand that in the list of priority applications of R2P, Libya should be way down on the list and it could even be argued the country shouldn’t even be on that list. What we’ve actually done is insert ourselves in a civil war.
Speaking of the civil war in Libya, it appears the “rebels” or opposition, which ever you prefer, are a pretty rag-tag crew with little hope of success without an enormous amount of help. Among the things I’ve read is the fact that there is no real unified single rebel command structure or shadow government. There are 3 competing factions.
At the courthouse on Benghazi’s battered seafront promenade, the de-facto seat of the Libyan revolution, a group of lawyers, doctors, and other professionals have appointed one another to a hodgepodge of “leadership councils.” There is a Benghazi city council, and a Provisional National Council, headed by a bland but apparently honest former justice minister, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who spends his time in Bayda, a hundred and twenty-five miles away. Other cities have councils of their own. The members are intellectuals, former dissidents, and businesspeople, many of them from old families that were prominent before Qaddafi came to power. What they are not is organized. No one can explain how the Benghazi council works with the National Council. Last week, another shadow government, the Crisis Management Council, was announced in Benghazi; it was unclear how its leader, a former government planning expert named Mahmoud Jibril, would coördinate with Jalil, or whether he had supplanted him.
Add to that two competing military chiefs:
One is General Abdel Fateh Younis, who was Qaddafi’s interior minister and the commander of the Libyan special forces until he “defected” to the rebel side. Younis has been publicly absent, and he is distrusted by the shabab and by many council members. The other chief, Colonel Khalifa Heftir, is a hero of Libya’s war with Chad, in the nineteen-eighties; he later turned against Qaddafi and, until recently, was in exile in the U.S. Unlike Younis, he elicits widespread admiration in Benghazi, but he, too, has kept out of sight, evidently at a secret Army camp where he is preparing élite troops for battle.
Uh huh … elite troops that have yet to make their way to the battle.
As to the battle, it’s semi-competent troops against a disorganized rabble. And, as you might imagine, since the Gadhaif faction has adapted its tactics to mitigate the effect of airstrikes, it is beginning to show:
Many of the idealistic young men who looted army depots of gun trucks and weapons six weeks ago believed the tyrannical 41-year reign of Col. Moammar Kadafi would quickly collapse under the weight of a mass rebellion.
Now those same volunteer fighters, most of whom had never before fired a gun, have fled a determined onslaught by Kadafi’s forces, which have shown resilience after being bombarded and routed by allied airstrikes a week ago.
Some exhausted rebels capped a 200-plus mile retreat up the Libyan coast by fleeing all the way to Benghazi, the rebels’ de facto capital, to rest and regroup. Others remained at thinly manned positions at the strategic crossroads city of Ajdabiya on Thursday.
There’s really no one in charge on the rebel side and of course, that means that they’re simply ineffective. Indicators of how ineffective they are are obvious. Also obvious is the lack of discipline which will, in the end, cause their complete and utter defeat:
For many rebel fighters, the absence of competent military leadership and a tendency to flee at the first shot have contributed to sagging morale. Despite perfunctory V-for-victory signs and cries of "Allahu akbar!" (God is great), the eager volunteers acknowledge that they are in for a long, uphill fight.
"Kadafi is too strong for us, with too many heavy weapons. What can we do except fall back to protect ourselves?" said Salah Chaiky, 41, a businessman, who said he fired his assault rifle while fleeing Port Brega even though he was too far away to possibly hit the enemy.
Retreating rebels paused only to wolf down lunches provided by volunteers supporting their cause. Two in mismatched military uniforms took time out in Ajdabiya to sneak into a blown-out police post and smoke hashish.
There are reports that one of the rebel factions has negotiated a deal with Qatr to exchange oil for weapons. They can trade for all the weapons in the world but without the training and discipline necessary to make them into a competent fighting force, that means nothing. For instance:
Few, if any, T-72 tanks and BM-21 rocket launchers recovered from government forces who abandoned the weapons during Western-led airstrikes have been brought to the front. Opposition leaders, who say defecting government soldiers are qualified to supervise rebel volunteers, say those same regulars aren’t trained to operate the tanks and rockets.
Operating them is obviously important. But so is employing the in accordance to some strategy also apparently lacking. As you can imagine, rebel morale is starting to really sink badly. No one should find that surprising.
Of course another aspect of the rebels is their makeup. As SecDef Gates said yesterday it’s a “pick up game” for that side. There are approximately 1,000 trained fighters according to rebel sources. But there are also other fighters within the mix (and probably some overlap). As one admiral said in testimony before the Armed Services Committees, there’s a “flicker” of jihadis.
In fact, it seems more than a flicker:
A former leader of Libya’s al Qaeda affiliate says he thinks “freelance jihadists” have joined the rebel forces, as NATO’s commander told Congress on Tuesday that intelligence indicates some al Qaeda and Hezbollah terrorists are fighting Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s forces.
Former jihadist Noman Benotman, who renounced his al Qaeda affiliation in 2000, said in an interview that he estimates 1,000 jihadists are in Libya.
Obviously such an estimate has to be taken with a grain of salt – the number, not the fact that AQ jihadis are involved. We know al Queda is involved:
In an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, Mr al-Hasidi admitted that he had recruited "around 25" men from the Derna area in eastern Libya to fight against coalition troops in Iraq. Some of them, he said, are "today are on the front lines in Adjabiya".
Mr al-Hasidi insisted his fighters "are patriots and good Muslims, not terrorists," but added that the "members of al-Qaeda are also good Muslims and are fighting against the invader".
Al-Hasidi fought in Afghanistan against NATO and for the Taliban until he was captured in 2002 in Pakistan. He was released in 2008 in Libya.
Idriss Deby Itno, Chad’s president, said al-Qaeda had managed to pillage military arsenals in the Libyan rebel zone and acquired arms, "including surface-to-air missiles, which were then smuggled into their sanctuaries".
We’ll see, if that’s true, if they begin popping up in Gaza and Afghanistan. In the meantime, given the above, who again is our enemy?
Finally, amid a couple of high level defections, it is reported that the Gadhafi government has sent a special envoy to the UK for some secret meetings. Speculation has it that he’s there to negotiate an exit strategy.
High level defections usually indicate instability in a regime and the rats attempt to save themselves before the ship sinks. But Gadhafi has already survived a round of such defections. And with rebels falling back in disarray with low morale, the situation just doesn’t lend itself to a persuasive argument that Gadhafi would be trying to find a way out.
The envoy is a senior aide to Gadhafi’s son Saif. Here’s what some believe is being presented:
Some aides working for Gaddafi’s sons, however, have made it clear that it may be necessary to sideline their father and explore exit strategies to prevent the country descending into anarchy.
One idea the sons have reportedly suggested – which the Guardian has been unable to corroborate – is that Gaddafi give up real power. Mutassim, presently the country’s national security adviser, would become president of an interim national unity government which would include the opposition. It is an idea, however, unlikely to find support among the rebels or the international community who are demanding Gaddafi’s removal.
The argument is “anarchy is a distinct possibility” and would see the wholesale slaughter of civilians. So, the compromise position is we’ll put dear old Dad on the sideline, one of the sons will become an interim president and we’ll also include those rebels in the interim government.
Sounds like a stall to me. But then, the stall makes sense if you’re about to push the rebels back into Benghazi and you’d like to see if you can’t waive off NATO airstrikes for a bit by a little “good faith” negotiation, eh?
No cynicism there – just Gadhafi being Gadhafi. He knows that’s unacceptable but it may buy critical time.
Bottom line: the rebels are in trouble, I don’t think theGadhafii government is in danger of imminent collapse, NATO’s mission becomes more difficult by the day (and probably less effective) and this thing could drag on for months, even years.
Aren’t you glad we’ve inserted ourselves in the middle of this war of choice?