Free Markets, Free People

National Security

Guns or butter? Saving food stamps at expense of national defense

It is becoming clearer and clearer that Barack Obama has no real intention of tackling the government spending programs that pose the greatest risk to our future financial security.   And, if he has his way, he’ll certainly agree to some cuts in spending, to at least give himself some political cover and the ability to claim he’s engaged.  But if there are going to be any spending cuts, I think we all know where they’ll be if he gets his way:

“I think what’s absolutely true is that core commitments that we make to the most vulnerable have to be maintained,” [President Barack] Obama said. “A lot of the spending cuts that we’re making should be around areas like defense spending as opposed to food stamps.”

That’s not the first time recently he’s voiced that theme:

During his first-ever Twitter town hall meeting Wednesday, Obama said the Defense budget is so large that even modest cuts to it would free up dollars for other federal programs.

So it isn’t conjecture to say that his target is defense and his plan is to spend what is ‘saved’, not pay down the debt.  I also think it is quite clear that he plans to drastically reduce defense spending in a time we’re involved in three wars (how’s that “weeks, not months” war going?  5 months, counting and no end in sight), and defense commitments globally.

Of course you can always rely on the left to support such an idea.   Ezra Klein tries to be “objective” about it, but it is clear what the intent of his “the US military in two charts” post is about at the Washington Post.  Klein has taken the charts from The Economist.  Let’s take a look.  Chart one shows military spending as a percentage of all military spending in the world:

military spending pie

 

Another way to break it down is US 43%, rest of the world 57%.   Or there’s a whole lot of military spending going on in the world, and we do a lot of it.

But we’ve known that for decades.  What the chart doesn’t tell you, for instance, is how much China’s spending has increased.  China’s defense budget for the past few years has seen double digit jumps, with the only year in single digits being 2010 when it only increased the budget by 7.5%.   This year, it’s back in double digits at 12.7%.   So that wedge you see in this static chart is a rapidly growing wedge.  As China’s economy has heated up over the years, so has China’s military spending.  

Russia too is increasing its spending on defense.  It plans on spending $650 billion on its armed forces over the next 10 years. 

France, on the other hand, has been cutting its level of military spending consistently over the years since 1988.  But a country that isn’t cutting its spending and which now spends more of its GDP on the military than does France, is Iran.

The point, of course, is that while it is evident that we spend an inordinately larger amount than any other country on defense, we’ve done that because we’ve assumed an international role that others can’t fill or we don’t want them to fill.  

And that’s an important point.   One reason that we’ve generally seen a peaceful 50 or so years (with most wars being of the regional, not world wide, type) is because we’ve been the country which has shouldered the burden of keeping the peace.   Peace through strength.

Obviously there is certainly an argument that can be made that we shouldn’t have to shoulder that burden and it’s time we gave it up.   But as soon as you say something like that, you have to ask, “but who will fill the role”?

Certainly not the Third World Debating society known as the UN.   They’re inept, corrupt and incompetent.   And certainly not NATO – as Libya has proven, they can’t get out of their own way.

So who keeps Russia in its place and stands up to China as that country flexes its newly developed muscle?   What about Iran?   Or North Korea?

That’s the problem with being about the only country standing of any size after a world war. 

So we have to ask ourselves, is it in our best interest to back out of our pretty dominant role and cut back drastically in our spending in that area?   If we answer yes, we have to ask who we trust to pick up that slack.   I know my answer to that – no one.   But rest assured that power vacuum will indeed be filled.   A dilemma for sure.

Second chart:

military personnel

 

We lead the world in spending but do not have the largest military – not by a long shot.  In fact, our entire military is just a bit smaller than the Chinese Army alone.  Looking at that, and considering the spending chart, what would it tell you? 

It would tell me we spend the majority of our money on technology.  It costs money – and a lot of it – to maintain our level of superiority.   We spend it on things like 5th generation fighters, state-of-the-art naval vessels, and the like.   Programs that are designed not only to give us the technological edge on the battlefield, but also to deter would-be enemies from even trying, given their inability to match our capabilities.   It is obviously an intangible – we can’t really measure how much this has saved us from brutal and even more costly wars – but with the budget battles and the fiscal crisis, we’re in a position where we certainly have to clearly state our priorities.  Obama has stated his.

Is there room in our defense spending to make some cuts.   Yes, of course there is.  

But let’s be clear, to quote Obama.   Defense spending is 4.7% of GDP and it is approximately 20% of the federal budget.  But it is time for a third chart:

 

800px-U.S._Federal_Spending_-_FY_2007

 

Entitlements (i.e. “mandatory spending”) total 56% of our budget – and growing.  And we’ve so overspent that we’re spending 6% on interest alone.  So 62% of the budget – as designed by those brilliant legislators we’ve elected decade after decade – is untouchable by law.   That leaves 39% that these yahoos want to “balance the budget” on.    The elephant in the room is ignored to go after the dog.  And only part of the dog. We have a president who prefers the other end of the dog to the part that has teeth.

All of that to get to this question – Obama talks about core commitments in his first statement above:  Is it a core commitment of the government of the United States to protect and defend the citizens of the country as outlined in the Constitution of the United States, or is it a core commitment to take other people’s money and redistribute it?

Because that’s the choice we’re talking about here.   Make the commitment to national security and, within reason, the cost that entails, or, as Barack Obama seems comfortable with doing, throw it under the bus in favor of redistribution of income instead.  While serving what he calls the “most vulnerable” he’ll make us all vulnerable.

More on this subject later, but that’s a pretty good start to the discussion.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Was bin Laden in an ISI safehouse?

Lots of bits and pieces coming out about the raid.

This was a targeted kill mission, not just a raid. They didn’t go in to capture bin Laden, they went in to kill him. And they did. It is reported he got the classic "double tap" to the left side of the head. Now he’s fish food. Appropriate. But … it also kills this "justice" nonsense in the legal sense. Legally, that’s not how we dispense justice. So, as some have said, and I agree, this removes the actions he was killed for from the "criminal" realm.

The mission was carried out by the legendary SEAL Team 6. They were the right guys for this type of mission and they apparently carried it out magnificently, even with one of their aircraft going down with mechanical failure. Or said another way, this wasn’t remotely a "Desert One". It was a well planned, well executed job for which everyone in the chain of command, from the President on down, deserve a pat on the back.

The compound bin Laden was in was built in 2005.  At the time it was pretty isolated – well, other than being 1,000 yards from the Pakistani equivalent of West Point.  Since then some other structures were built near it.

That said, there are a lot of interesting rumors flying around not the least of which are claims in the Indian media that the fortress/house/mansion was an ISI “safe house”.  ISI is the Pakistani intelligence services which has always been suspect in its loyalty and frequently cited as having given aid to al Qaeda and the Taliban. MEMRI has the story.   From “India Today”:

"A senior Pakistan military official has told India Today that it was impossible for the army to have not known that Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was in Abbottabad. This has further fuelled speculation that Osama was killed in an ISI safehouse.

Another Indian website reported the following:

"Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] is bound to be cornered in the days to come following the killing of dreaded terrorist Osama bin Laden.

"A source in the intelligence agency says that Osama’s death will no doubt put the ISI in a very uncomfortable position among the Al-Qaeda, Haqqani Network, and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, who now feel betrayed by the agency.

[…]

"Nothing in the Af-Pak region goes unnoticed by the ISI, and if bin Laden managed to play hide-and-seek with the world all this while, it was only thanks to ISI’s patronage. Although the U.S. has claimed that Pakistan was not in the know of this operation, terror groups would not believe so.

"They are aware that nothing is possible unless there has been a certain degree of support from the establishment. Moreover, Osama was living in a place close to the army headquarters in Abbottabad, about 70 kilometers northeast of Pakistan’s capital Islamabad. This is not a fact that would have gone unnoticed by the ISI.

The Times of India also claims the ISI was involved in sheltering bin Laden:

"The finger of suspicion is now pointing squarely at the Pakistani military and intelligence for sheltering and protecting Osama bin Laden before U.S. forces hunted him down and put a bullet in his head in the wee hours of Sunday. The coordinates of the action and sequence of events indicate that the Al-Qaeda fugitive may have been killed in an ISI safehouse.

There’s some ground truth in there – the ISI has a fearful reputation in the region and little if anything is unknown to them.  They’ve been constantly accused of playing both sides of the fence in this conflict.  Few if any in the region, among terror organizations, are going to believe this all happened without the ISI’s knowledge and compliance.  And that puts them in a very tough spot as the report indicates.

So bin Laden death may end up being one of the best things to happen in some time if it casts enough suspicion to break up this unholy alliance between the Pakistani state intelligence agency and the terrorists.  Trust me, it will take a loooooong time (if it ever happens) for those two entities to ever have close ties again.

And that, my friends, is a good thing.

~McQ

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Osama Bin Laden killed in Pakistan by US forces

I actually enjoyed writing that headline.   It’s about time.  I’ll also admit I was wrong when I continued to contend that he’d been killed early on in Tora Bora.  Events, or lack of them perhaps, had led me to that conclusion.

This is going to make a fascinating book by someone because it sounds like one of those intel coups a long time in the making (Reuters says the trail was picked up about 4 years ago) and finally culminating in a successful raid in which bin Laden was killed.

He apparently was living in what one described as a “mansion” (a large 3 story structure) at the end of a narrow dirt road in a town in NE Pakistan (Abottobad) which is almost due east from Kabul.  Not the tribal lands to the SE, but in an area well under control of the Pakistani government and very near the Pakistani military academy.

"For some time there will be a lot of tension between Washington and Islamabad because bin Laden seems to have been living here close to Islamabad," said Imtiaz Gul, a Pakistani security analyst.

Indeed.  Apparently the compound had an 18 foot high security wall, with other interior fencing, two entrances and no phone or internet connection.

The operation included CIA and Special Ops folks in 4 helicopters (one of which crashed due to mechanical problems). 

What got us on the trail? 

"Detainees also identified this man as one of the few al Qaeda couriers trusted by bin Laden. They indicated he might be living with or protected by bin Laden," a senior administration official said in a briefing for reporters in Washington.

That’s right, interrogation of detainees.  They identified a particular man as a very highly placed and trusted courier of bin Laden’s and security services attempted and successfully did follow him to the compound in Pakistan.  Initially the assessment only stated that the compound probably housed high-value targets but eventually the operatives concluded that there was a very good possibility it also housed Osama bin Laden.

Apparently when the raid began, OBL resisted and paid the price.  Reports say he was shot in the head.  Note the odd phrasing on this Obama quote announcing the death:

"A small team of Americans carried out the operation," Obama said. "After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body."

“After” the firefight they killed OBL?  I’m assuming he meant “during” a firefight, but hey, you never know.  One thing that is obvious is a dead bin Laden is preferable to a live one.  In fact, they’re doing DNA testing and running his image through face recognition software for a positive ID and then dumping, er ,burying his body at sea (the thinking  being his grave cannot become a martyr’s shrine).  It is also reported that a son and two other, plus a women one of those brave guys used as a shield were also killed.

The operation took 40 minutes.

Congrats to the intel and SOF folks who carried this off.  Heck of a job.

~McQ

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National security shakeup – what does it mean?

The recently announced moves that will see Gen. David Petraeus taking the helm of the CIA, while CIA director Leon Panetta moves to the Secretary of Defense post (replacing retiring SecDef Robert Gates), may have some interesting reasons behind them.

Petraeus is our most successful general in a generation and credited by many for turning the Iraq war around at a time when it seemed to be spiraling out of control.  His ability to command troops in the field coupled with his ability to deftly handle the diplomatic side of his duties made him the most popular general our military has seen for some time.  So popular, in fact, that he was eventually put in command in Afghanistan to replace President Obama’s hand-picked general there.

Petraeus will resign from the Army to take the CIA post.  But many are asking, why CIA?  Why not Petraeus as the SecDef?

Perhaps the reason is that, with the big drawdown scheduled in July for Afghanistan, this signals how we plan on fighting that war from then on: more emphasis on CIA and Special Operations Force activities and less on conventional forces.  Or, the “Biden plan,” if you will.  Many more covert operations and drone strikes than now.   Less emphasis on coalition operations; more emphasis on training Afghan forces to take the security job over.   Petraeus would have be the best man to make that transition a reality.

So what does the move of Panetta mean for the Department of Defense?  Apparently, Panetta wasn’t particularly enthused about taking the job, but finally said “yes” this past Monday.  Something obviously changed to have him accept the post.  Most think the administration agreed to make it a relatively short-term appointment for the 73 year old Director of the CIA.  Secretary of Defense is a post with a grueling operations tempo, with three wars going and budget battles in the offing.  It’s a tough slog for anyone holding the post.

That means that Panetta will most likely be a “caretaker” SecDef, and as the president’s man, much more open to the budget cuts Obama wants from DoD than Gates.  Gates did his best to protect DoD as much as he could from thoughtless or deep cuts to the defense budget.  He also tried to get out ahead of the curve and nominate cuts of his own in order to avoid those that might be forced on the department by lawmakers.

With Panetta, it is more likely that he will be less of an advocate for DoD and more of a hatchet man for the administration.  He’ll most likely be gone, one way or the other, when January 2013 arrives.  So he has no reason not to do what he and the president agree on concerning cuts to defense.  The only bulwark against administration cuts now will be the Republican House.

Keep an eye on these two appointments and the events that surround them.  Both could signal profound changes in the two agencies effected.

~McQ

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Panetta to SecDef, Petraeus to CIA? (update)

That’s what a POLITICO is quoting from AP in a “Breaking News” tweet:

 

secdefCIA

 

QandO isn’t normally a “breaking news” site, but this is about as fresh as it gets.  I had just read this conjecture on Morning Defense, POLITICO’s morning email list all about defense (it’s a good read if you’re interested).

So what do you think?  Panetta for SecDef?  Why not Petraeus (retire him and move him into the job – although there may be some regulation that would prevent that – and will he retain his military status and rank at CIA)?  And Petraeus to CIA?  Why not leave Panetta there and give the agency some continuity?

I’ll update as more becomes available.

Opinions?

UPDATE: Here’s the story via USA Today.  Apparently the change will take place in July just prior to the date set to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

~McQ

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Gitmo, military tribunals and Obama

Guantanamo was going to be closed and Obama planned on bringing the accused terrorists to trial in Federal Court.  One of the things he said was he believed they were entitled to a day in court and that the Bush administration had held the detainees way too long.  “Speedy trial”, etc.

Now, two years after assuming office, the Obama administration and Attorney General Holder have completely reversed themselves and decided that not only is Gitmo the proper venue for such trials, but that military tribunals, a means which they both savaged, was also adequate for the job.

Predictably the left is out to spin it in such a way that it is everyone else’s fault but Obama and Holder.

John Cole in a post entitled “Cowards”:

And no, I’m not talking about Obama and Holder. I’m talking about the clowns in Congress who apparently don’t have enough faith in this nation and who are so afraid of one man that they have to try him in secret in another country.

Simply said and as usual, mostly wrong.

Jeralyn Merritt also wants to blame Congress but is more specific about it:

I was really hoping Obama and Holder could think outside the box and come up with a way to defeat the Republican-created ban on federal criminal trials. It’s not the trials that were banned, just funding for getting them to the U.S. to stand trial.to lay the blame on Congress –

Republican created?  Merritt clarifies that a bit, but again, for the umpteenth time I want to point out that from 2008 to 2010 Democrats enjoyed huge majorities in Congress and could have done just about anything they wanted to do with the funding of federal trials or moving the venue of the trials to a city in the US.

It didn’t happen not because of Republicans, but because of one of the few bi-partisan moments in those two years.  For the most part no one wanted those trials in the US.  For example:

Senator Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat who objected to holding the trial anywhere in New York State, hailed the administration’s decision Monday.

“This means with certainty that the trial will not be in New York,” he said. “While not unexpected, this is the final nail in the coffin of that wrong-headed idea. I have always said that the perpetrators of this horrible crime should get the ultimate penalty, and I believe this proposal by the administration can make that happen.”

It was a “wrong headed idea” from the beginning.  There were two reasons.  One, most didn’t see the detainees as “criminals” and thus they were not deserving of a “criminal trial”.  They are accused terrorists who had committed acts of war against the US, so military detention and military tribunals seemed much more appropriate.  Two, moving them to the US put whichever city hosted the trials in the crosshairs of terrorists.  It would be an unnecessary risk for what were basically to be show trials.  However, the other risk was, given the sensitive nature of some of the intelligence used to apprehend them and prove their guilt, revealing it in civilian court would compromise the methods used.  So there was (and is) a distinct possibility that they’d get off in a civilian trial even though enough evidence of a secret nature existed to convict them handily. 

The perfect venue then was the tribunal system where such information could be introduced in a venue that would protect that information.

And let’s be clear about a couple other things.

There was no desire to see justice done by either Holder or Obama – it was mostly about trying to back up campaign rhetoric, which this decision finally points out was wrong, with action. 

The White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, for instance:

"Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is going to meet justice and he’s going to meet his maker," said President Barack Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs. "He will be brought to justice and he’s likely to be executed for the heinous crimes that he committed in killing and masterminding the killing of 3,000 Americans. That you can be sure of."

Really?  If the idea is to show the “American criminal justice system works”, it’s hard to see that with words that are really just screaming “show trial” from the spokesperson for the President of the United States.  Gibbs took a lot of heat for that, as he should have, but it was a moment of truth that said they weren’t really interested in justice so much as having their way.  And it was the President himself who also made such a “prejudgment”:

In an interview with NBC News, Obama said those offended by the legal privileges given to Mohammed by virtue of getting a civilian trial rather than a military tribunal won’t find it "offensive at all when he’s convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him."

Also remember that the Obama Administration and the Justice Department endorsed indefinite detention regardless of the outcome of trials.  So had any of the detainees managed to get a verdict of “not guilty”, they might have been detained anyway.  Again, that screams “show trials” – if the verdict comes out the way we want it we’ll execute it.  If not, and we deem it necessary, we’ll keep the detainee for as long as we wish.

So while it may feel good to those on the left to blame Congress for this decision, I actually have to agree with Democrat Chuck Schumer – which pains me a bit – this was a “wrong headed idea” from the get-go and it has finally collapsed under the weight of reality.

We’re at war with these people, not fighting “crime”.  They are “enemy combatants” until proven otherwise.  They should be treated as we’d treat any such prisoners – and have treated them in previous wars – through trial by military tribunal.

And finally, after a two year delay (so much for the “speedy trial” complaint by Obama) we’re back where we were in 2008.

Oh speaking of 2008, by the way:

The defendants indicated in December 2008 that they were inclined to plead guilty without a full trial. But in one of his first steps after taking office, Mr. Obama halted all the commissions under way at Guantánamo while he reviewed the detainee policies he had inherited.

He just endorsed what he “inherited” and also managed to delay justice for two more years.

Well done.

~McQ

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Is a “humanitarian crisis” developing in Libya?

One of the stated goals of this war on Libya has been to “avert a humanitarian crisis”.  But the Washington Post seems to believe such a crisis is now being precipitated there:

Aid organizations scrambled Wednesday to prepare for large-scale relief operations in Libya, as fears grew of a potential humanitarian crisis in a key city besieged by government forces.

International military forces on Wednesday stepped up attacks on government troops in Misurata, 131 miles east of Tripoli. The airstrikes seemed to bring a temporary respite from the fighting that had raged for six days between forces loyal to Moammar Gaddafi and rebels, as government tanks retreated from the city center.

But after nightfall, the tanks returned and resumed their attacks, according to a doctor at the city’s main hospital. “They are shelling everywhere,” he said by telephone.

Patients were being treated on the floor, medical supplies were falling short, fuel for the generator was running low, and water had been cut off, said the doctor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation by Libyan forces.

What I’d guess the coalition will learn eventually is you can’t stop what is going on in Libya from 30,000 feet, no matter how many coalition members and aircraft you use.  He who is on the ground, and controls it, determines who can be on the ground with him. 

Trying to sort “white from red” as one of the DoD briefers termed it (civilians = white/Gadhafi troops = red) is exceedingly hard, especially in an urban area.  While it may be clear that the red guys are shooting up the place, they’re mixed in with the white meaning any strike against them has a very great possibility of killing a whole bunch of civilians.

U.S. and allied warplanes on Wednesday aimed their attacks on Gaddafi’s ground forces in Misurata and other key cities but were constrained by fears that strikes in heavily built-up areas could cause civilian deaths.

“It’s an extremely complex and difficult environment,” said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Gerard Hueber, the chief of staff for the coalition.

So that speaks to the limits of what the present plan (pure “no-fly zone”) can accomplish, especially considering the “no boots on the ground” promise by most of the coalition members, to include the US.  Or so we’ve been told numerous times. 

International aid organizations have been unable to deliver relief goods to Misurata and other contested towns. Asked whether the U.S. military might play a role in distributing emergency relief, one American official said, “All options are on the table.” He declined to comment further.

Oh. Wait.  I thought that option was definitely off the table.  Mission creep?  Or maybe not, since no one has yet to be able to define the mission in any clear and understandable way.  Not the goals of the UN resolution – the mission of the US military committed to the war in Libya. 

~McQ

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French flying over Libya while Gadhafi ignores UN resolution (update)

I’d love to tell you I’m surprised (well I am somewhat surprised that the French are already trying to enforce the NFZ), but finding out that Gadhafi’s forces are still attacking despite declaring a “cease fire” seemed pretty predictable at the time.

According to Nicholas Sarkozy, the French have the situation well in hand:

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said allied air forces had gone into action on Saturday over Libya and were preventing Muammar Gaddafi’s forces attacking opposition fighters and civilians.

"Our planes are already preventing air attacks on the city (Benghazi)," he said adding that military action supported by France, Britain, the United States and Canada and backed by Arab nations could be halted if Gaddafi stopped his forces attacking.

Well, that’s nice.  Seeing as how air attacks don’t really seem to have been very decisive one way or the other to this point, and based on everything I’ve read, I’d suggest the benefit is marginal at best.

However:

Gaddafi’s forces also battled insurgents on the outskirts of the opposition-held city of Benghazi on Saturday, defying world demands for an immediate ceasefire and forcing opposition fighters to retreat.

The advance by Gaddafi’s troops into Libya’s second city of 670,000 people appeared to be an attempt to pre-empt Western military intervention which diplomats say will come after an international meeting currently underway in Paris.

A Libyan opposition spokesman said Gaddafi’s forces had entered Benghazi while a Reuters witness saw a jet circling over the city shot down and at least one separate explosion near the opposition movement’s headquarters in the city.

"They have entered Benghazi from the west. Where are the Western powers? They said they could strike within hours," opposition military spokesman Khalid al-Sayeh told Reuters.

See what I mean about “marginal”?  Apparently they have struck “within hours” but taking out a single plane that apparently wasn’t doing much more than recon isn’t going to swing the balance of power to the rebel side.  And, as mentioned yesterday, once Gadhafi’s forces enter the city, it will become much too dangerous to strike within the city for fear of collateral damage killing civilians (unless you put SOF folks in with the rebels to handle that sort of job – but remember, we’re not committing any ground troops).

Benghazi isn’t the only place Gadhafi’s troops are on the move:

A witness told Al Arabiya television on Saturday that Zintan in western Libya was being bombarded and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s tanks were approaching the town. "Now we are being bombed in Zintan from more than one direction: from the north and the south," said the witness, who was not identified.

"There are tanks heading towards the southern entrance of Zintan, around 20 to 30 tanks, which are hitting the city and residential areas in the south," he said.

Obviously, “preventing air attacks” isn’t going to change much is it?  The tanks are still rolling on.

The words are over, the threats have been made – now it is put up or shut up time.

I think involvement in this is a mistake.  We’ll see how it goes.

UPDATE:  From the Washington Post:

Forces loyal to Moammar Gaddafi entered the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi early in the day after shelling and fierce fighting, a fresh act of defiance of U.N. calls for a cease-fire. Government troops in tanks and trucks entered Benghazi from the west, in the university area, and began to shell the city, including civilian areas. Intense fighting broke out in some enclaves. The city of 1 million quickly became a ghost town, with residents fleeing or seeking cover in barricaded neighborhoods.

So they’re in Benghazi.  Apparently there is a huge civilian exodus to the East (Egypt).

Oh, and about that airplane that was shot down circling Benghazi:

A warplane was shot down over Benghazi, and rebel leaders later claimed it as one of their own. While they said mechanical problems caused the crash, calls from mosques across the city suggested that friendly fire brought down the plane. “Don’t attack the airplanes, because these are our planes,” a mosque preacher urged over loudspeakers.

Apparently the rebels shot down their own plane.

Other reports:

But the besieged town of Misurata, 130 miles east of Tripoli, was still coming under heavy artillery fire, residents said, and there were also reports of continued fighting around Ajdabiya, even farther to the east. The assaults on rebel-held towns took place despite government promises of a cease-fire.

On the rather daffy side (yeah, couldn’t help it):

In what appeared to be a desperate attempt to avert military action, Gaddafi sent two letters to international leaders, according to deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim, who read the letters to journalists. One was a warm, conciliatory note to Obama, and the other was a sharply worded, menacing message to the United Nations, France and Britain.

To Obama, he wrote: “If Libya and the US enter into a war you will always remain my son, and I have love for you.” Libya is battling al-Qaeda, he said, seeking Obama’s advice. “How would you behave so that I can follow your example?” he asked.

In the other letter, addressed to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the leaders of France and Britain, he warned that the entire region would be destabilized if they pursued strikes against Libya. “You will regret it if you take a step to intervene in our internal affairs,” he wrote.

Why does Gadhafi consider Obama his “son”?

~McQ

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Libya: ruthlessness winning while the world dithers and religion takes over the opposition

A week or so ago I wrote a post about ruthlessness and how that usually wins in contests like we see in Libya.  Of course, the fact that the opposition is amateurish in the field and remains unorganized hasn’t exactly helped their situation.  But Gadhafi has been and continues to be ruthless in his pursuit of maintaining his power.

Meanwhile, given the deteriorating situation for the opposition, the time for a “no-fly zone” appears to have passed.  When it might have had some effect was early on in this battle.  As the battle has matured, the advantage seems to be going to the Gadhafi forces.  Not only are they more brutal, they’re better organized (relatively speaking) and performing better in the fight (again, relatively speaking).  At some point, one has to expect Gadhafi’s forces to take control of key areas that will signal, for all intents and purposes, that the revolution has pretty much failed (that’s not to say the civil war won’t go on for some time, but at a much lower key than now).

But back to the opposition and an article in the NYT today.  It’s interesting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is a discussion of why the opposition formed and what is happening  to it according to the NYT.

Nearly 70 percent of Libya’s population is under the age of 34, virtually identical to Egypt’s, and a refrain at the front or faraway in the mountain town of Bayda is that a country blessed with the largest oil reserves in Africa should have better schools, hospitals, roads and housing across a land dominated by Soviet-era monotony.

“People here didn’t revolt because they were hungry, because they wanted power or for religious reasons or something,” said Abdel-Rahman al-Dihami, a young man from Benghazi who had spent days at the front. “They revolted because they deserve better.”

So the argument can be made it was started by the youth and the aim is secular – they have the luxury of oil but they’ve not enjoyed the benefits of that vital commodity within their country as they think they should.  Got it.

But, do you remember this quote from the older post?  It’s a quote from David Warren:

As we should surely have observed by now, whether or not the Islamists command Arab "hearts and minds," they are not only the best organized force, but the most ruthless. They are also in possession of the simplest, most plausible, most easily communicated "vision."

Religion, speaking here of Islam, is ubiquitous in the Middle East.  It just is.  And those who live there, whatever their other desires, sift everything almost unconsciously through the filter of Islam.  That’s why it isn’t difficult for religious leaders or radical religious leaders to quickly gain a foothold they ruthlessly expand in any situation like this.   And that’s precisely what the NYT discovers:

The revolt remains amorphous, but already, religion has emerged as an axis around which to focus opposition to Colonel Qaddafi’s government, especially across a terrain where little unites it otherwise. The sermon at the front on Friday framed the revolt as a crusade against an infidel leader. “This guy is not a Muslim,” said Jawdeh al-Fakri, the prayer leader. “He has no faith.” [emphasis mine]

Other’s continue to fight against that trying to keep it (or change it into) a secular fight:

Dr. Langhi, the surgeon, said he scolded rebels who called themselves mujahedeen — a religious term for pious fighters. “This isn’t our situation,” he pleaded. “This is a revolution.”

But, it seems it is turning into their situation.  Again back to the Warren quote – what is ingrained in the opposition fighters no matter what their ostensible reason for fighting may be?  Their religion.  And what has the “simplest, most plausible, most easily communicated “vision.”?”  Their religion.  When viewed against the complicated process of democratic governance, religion as a one stop shop for both their spiritual needs and their political needs makes the former much more difficult to sell than the latter.  Religion, whether it is a fundamentalist brand, or a more moderate strain, is going to emerge as a huge force in all of the struggles in that part of the world.

Something else to note from the NYT article that is interesting:

Sitting on ammunition boxes, four young men from Benghazi debated the war, as they watched occasional volleys of antiaircraft guns fired at nothing. They promised victory but echoed the anger heard often these days at the United States and the West for failing to impose a no-flight zone, swelling a sense of abandonment.

Obviously their feelings for the US and the West aren’t particularly good these days.  One has to wonder if they ever were, but clearly, now that they’re starting to get rolled back they are complaining about the West’s dithering and lack of response.

I’ve said it before, I don’t support the US imposing a no-fly zone.  That’s not to say I’m necessarily averse to a NFZ if Europe wants to take that bull by the horns.  But I see this as Europe’s fight, not ours.

That said, any good will we in the West had prior to today with the Libyan rebels seems to have dissipated and may, in fact, be in the negative column now.  The outcome could be the beginning of an even bigger problem for the West:

None of the four men here wanted to stay in Libya. Mr. Mughrabi and a friend planned to go to America, another to Italy. The last said Afghanistan. Each described the litany of woes of their parents — 40 years of work and they were consigned to hovels.

Why Afghanistan?  Well not to fight on the side of the US, you can be sure.  As for the other two, disaffected and disenchanted immigrants provide a fertile hunting ground for Islamists.  Should the two get to where they want to go is there a possibility that they, at some future date, become radicalized?  Of course there is. 

Again, who has the “simplest, most plausible and easily communicated “vision”?”

~McQ

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