Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: April 2011


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


War of choice getting in the way of Obama’s preferred message?

Interesting story from Glenn Thrush at POLITICO. And, of course, it is about pure politics.   It seems that Obama’s decision to go to war with Libya has caused a distraction from the most pressing domestic issue – the economy.  And just when some half-way decent news on unemployment is evident.

But in the view of his closest allies, Libya is drowning out his attempts to portray himself as an economic commander-in-chief fighting a series of new threats to the fragile U.S. recovery, especially the devastating and politically poisonous rise in gas prices.

The most recent example: On Friday, press secretary Jay Carney hoped to spend quality time with the White House press corps discussing an upbeat March employment report showing the economy added 216,000 jobs, outpacing analysts’ estimates.

But he was asked a grand total of two questions about the report. He fielded 16 about Libya and at one point had to sneak in a plug for the positive job numbers when a reporter asked a question about budget negotiations with Congress.

“Don’t tell me Libya is not a distraction,” said Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. “Dealing with a military operation of this complexity, with this many moving parts, takes an enormous amount of the president’s time. We’re talking about hours and hours a day dealing with his national security staff. … It has an impact on everything else.”

Now obviously, it we have to go to war for a good reason – an actual imminent danger or threat to our national security – then you don’t worry about how it will effect the political agenda.  You do your duty as CiC.  In fact, a President can normally expect it to help him politically – to get a pretty good bump in the polls – as the nation comes together behind them.

But when the war is perceived as a “war of choice” or a “dumb war”, such a bump may not be forthcoming – as in the case of the war against Libya:

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Voters shows 37% give the president good or excellent ratings on his handling of national security issues. Slightly more voters (40%) say the president is doing a poor job when it comes to national security.

Rasmussen isn’t the only polling service to have those numbers:

Just 39 percent of Americans think Obama has clear goals in Libya, while 50 percent think he doesn’t, according to poll results released Monday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

Just 47 percent of Americans support the U.S. airstrikes, while 36 percent don’t and 17 percent don’t know, according to the Pew poll.

The Gallup Poll found similar results, the lowest level of initial support for a U.S. military action in at least three decades, and the first time in 10 interventions dating to the 1983 invasion of Grenada that a majority of Americans didn’t support the action at the onset.

Translation?   This is a political problem of Obama’s own making.  And on the eve of launching his re-election campaign to boot.  Not smart politics – not smart at all.  He’s literally “created” a story by his decision to wage a war of choice that will dominate the news and any other message he tries to spin.  What is clear is that despite the announced hand-over or pullback in US participation, the press continues to treat it like it should be treated – a war instigated and started by the US (and others) and continuing to have US participation whatever the level.

And we’re starting to hear about how overtaxed our coalition partners are now.  The UK for example,.  Says the head of the RAF:

With the RAF playing an important role in Libya, where bombers, fighter jets and surveillance aircraft have all been involved over the past fortnight, he admitted the service was now stretched to the limit.

[Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen] Dalton, 57, said the RAF was planning to continue operations over Libya for at least six months. His assumption is that planes will be needed "for a number of months rather than a number of days or weeks".

Did you catch that last sentence?  Months instead of weeks.  So we can expect to see this remain in the news for some time and we can most likely expect to see more and more of the coalition members whining about their level of participation and attempting to get a higher level of US participation.  Already, this weekend, the US flew more sorties in the NFZ than previously planned.

So here you have a classic example of not only a dumb war, but dumb politics.  That’s usually what happens when you make snap-decisions without any planning while apparently completely underestimating the reaction of the American people.

Not that anyone on the left will admit that or anything.

~McQ


Corporate taxes: We’re number 1

As of April 1st, when Japan officially lowered its corporate tax rate, we took over the top spot in the world, as James Pethokoukis points out:

With Japan officially cutting its corporate tax rate as of today, America now has the highest rate among advanced economies. Even its effective tax rate is way above average despite the likes of General Electric spending billions to game the labyrinthine code. A smarter approach would be to substitute a business consumption tax.

Now the United States might cling to second place if Japan cancels the rate reduction to help pay for the tsunami and earthquake devastation. After factoring in state taxes, America’s top rate of 40 percent would still exceed the average of 26 percent for the rest of the OECD.

No, it’s not an April fool’s joke.  We do become the nation which taxes corporate entities the most in the world.   As Pethokoukis also points out, tax rates are like sticker prices on cars – the real tax is significantly lower than that.  But in our case, even with the $40 billion in compliance costs, etc. spent by corporations to lower their tax bill, we still remain the highest corporate tax rate in the world:

Headline rates, of course, are like sticker prices on new cars. The real numbers are lower, thanks in part to the $40 billion companies spend annually to comply with, and often sidestep, the maximum levy. GE, for example, has taken heat for consistently paying less than what the U.S. tax code would imply it should.

But even taking into account the efforts of attorneys and lobbyists, the average effective U.S. rate in 2010 was 29 percent against 21 percent for international counterparts, according to the  American Enterprise Institute. And before the recession, corporate tax revenue as a share of U.S. GDP was at its highest since the 1970s.

“Competitive” is a word politicians like to throw around.  But their tax rate is non-competitive.  It is a factor that weighs heavily on where a business may choose to locate.  Or relocate.  So while we maintain the highest corporate rate in the world, we see politicians mouthing off about punishing corporations that “outsource” jobs.  It is a reaction to a problem government has created and now government talks about punishing those who react rationally to their tax rate?  Amazing.

Secondly, as we’ve said ad nauseum – corporations don’t pay taxes, their customers do.  The corporation, for the most part, simply acts as a means to pass those taxes (incorporated in the price of the good or service produced by the corporation) on to the Federal government.  Any tax rate increase in the corporate world is a tax increase on the customers of that corporation. 

What effect would lowering corporate taxes have?  Pethokoukis lays out the litany:

Politicians of all stripes have been talking about lowering corporate taxes and eliminating loopholes to pay for a sharp rate reduction.  A sharply lower rate —  Canada’s will be just 15 percent in January 2012 — would boost worker wages, investment, productivity, jobs and growth. Such reforms, though a big improvement, would still leave in place a flawed and unwieldy structure.

Like the rest of our tax structure, the corporate tax system is in bad need of reform.  And yes, it’s just another problem among a galaxy of problems that most likely won’t be adequately addressed.  That’s not to say some aren’t trying.  Pethokoukis points out an alternative that will, apparently, be introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan in the GOP’s budget plan for next year:

A better alternative might be a consumption tax where business would simply determine its liability by subtracting total purchases from total sales. The tax would then be imposed on what’s left, essentially a firm’s value added. Unlike the corporate income tax, a consumption tax would allow the cost of investments to be fully deducted immediately, providing incentives for more. Such a tax also could be imposed on imports and deducted from exports, as other nations currently do with their VATs.

The Tax Policy Center estimates an 8.5 percent consumption tax — by broadening the tax base and boosting output – would boost corporate tax collections as a percentage of GDP to 4.5 percent from the 2.4 percent the White House forecasts for the next few years. (This is the corporate tax plan, by the way, found in Rep. Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap for America’s Future.”)

If we have to have a tax, this seems eminently more workable and less onerous while not killing competitiveness or having corporations seeking other places to locate.  And the obvious bonus is  it boosts revenue for the Fed – used hopefully to pay down debt, not enact some pie-in-the-sky new entitlement we can’t afford.

~McQ


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 03 Apr 11

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the Koran-burning pastor in Florida, the public union struggle in Wisconsin, and the Federal budget.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2010, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


Terry Jones, Koran burning and Constitutional rights (Update)

I don’t know what to say about this goof except in this country, he has every right to do what he’s doing.

I may not like it (I don’t like the “piss Christ” or Westboro Baptist Church either), I may not support it, I may see it as unnecessary and inflammatory to some, but then the same can be said of my other two examples as well.  His activities provide no more of a provocation than do the examples.

One of the tough things about rights and freedoms is they also apply to actions we don’t like (as long as they don’t violate any caveats to those rights). 

Many here would like to liken this yahoo’s conduct to shouting fire in a crowded theater.  I don’t buy it.  Shouting fire in a crowded theater can cause panic and irrational behavior by people in the theater because of lack of information and fear for one’s life. It is an immediate response to an immediate action.  Panic ensues, people rush to limited exits all at one time and some get crushed or trampled. It can cause immediate death and injury.

There’s no such parallel in this this story as far as I can see.  Trust me, I’m not at all pleased by the deaths of UN workers in Afghanistan, but it was at the hands of a mob that was whipped up there (not by the act in FL at the time it occurred) and chose – important word – to react murderously.   That’s right, they chose to attack people who had absolutely nothing to do with the event in Florida well after the deed was done.

Others want to invoke “fighting words” as a reason to shut Terry Jones down.  Uh, no.  The only “fighting words” I can imagine came from whomever it was in Afghanistan that whipped that crowd into its murderous frenzy.  My guess is most in the crowd had never before heard of Terry Jones or his deed until that day.  And my guess is the incitement took place in a mosque.

Don’t mistake this for a defense of Terry Jones.  I think he’s a waste of protoplasm.  And I think what he is doing adds nothing positive to the world around us.  But –and again, this is the hard part – he has every right to do it.

I’ll continue to denounce him and would be glad to tell him to his face that his actions are harmful to both people and the cause he supposedly represents – Christianity.

I doubt he’d listen.  Zealots never do.  But as long as he confines himself to the activities he has so far, it’s his right as an American to continue to do them despite how others in the world choose to react to them.

UPDATE: Figures (debt, deficit, out of control spending, over regulation, ObamaCare – all taken care of I suppose):

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told CBS’s Bob Schieffer on Sunday that some members of Congress were considering some kind of action in response to the Florida Quran burning that  sparked a murderous riot at a United Nations complex in Afghanistan and other mayhem.

"Ten to 20 people have been killed," Reid said on "Face the Nation," but refused to say flat-out that the Senate would pass a resolution condemning pastor Terry Jones.

"We’ll take a look at this of course…as to whether we need hearings or not, I don’t know," he added.

Here, Harry, let me help you out:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The first five words (the fourth one in particular) are all Congress needs to know about this.

~McQ


10 Rebels killed in coalition air strike

So far the “No-Fly Zone” is going swimmingly.  Yesterday we had a report of 40 civilians killed in coalition air strikes in Tripoli (remember, the coalition’s mission is to protect civilians) and today we learn that the coalition managed to kill 10 rebels in a strike yesterday (they’re supposedly helping the rebels, remember?).

Fog of war?  Eh, yes and no.  Mostly just a piss poor war.  As I’ve mentioned before, any competent army will learn to adapt and overcome when possible and that’s apparently what pro-Gadhafi forces are doing.

First they went to vehicles similar to the rebels making it very hard to sort out who is who on the ground.   Then they took it a step further, according to Reuters:

A Western coalition air strike hit a group of rebels on the eastern outskirts of Brega late on Friday, killing at least 10 of them, rebel fighters at the scene said on Saturday.

A Reuters correspondent saw the burned out husks of at least four vehicles including an ambulance by the side of the road near the eastern entrance to the oil town.

Men prayed at freshly dug graves covered by the rebel red, black and green flag nearby.

"Some of Gaddafi’s forces sneaked in among the rebels and fired anti-aircraft guns in the air," said rebel fighter Mustafa Ali Omar. "After that the NATO forces came and bombed them."

Rebel fighters at the scene said as many as 14 people may have died in the bombing, which they said happened around 10 p.m. local time (2000 GMT)

Wonderful.

Meanwhile it appears the possible, or should I say anticipated end state may be – stalemate?  Really?   That’s what all this effort is about?

U.S. officials are becoming increasingly resigned to the possibility of a protracted stalemate in Libya, with rebels retaining control of the eastern half of the divided country but lacking the muscle to drive Moammar Gaddafi from power.

Such a deadlock — perhaps backed by a formal cease-fire agreement — could help ensure the safety of Libyan civilians caught in the crossfire between the warring sides. But it could also dramatically expand the financial and military commitments by the United States and allied countries that have intervened in the six-week-old conflict, according to U.S. officials familiar with planning for the Libyan operation.

Ya think?  That’s always a sign of a well thought out, well planned strategy, isn’t it?

What you’re talking about then is a semi-permanent NFZ, because immediately upon its withdrawal, Benghazi would be under siege again.

What a great solution, no?  Split the country, prop up and support some government in the east (an area that produced 20% of the suicide bombers for Iraq and  has admitted jihadis in the governing councils and rebel fighters) and then fly cover for the next, oh, 10 years or so?

Brilliant.

~McQ


Is a government shut down gaining favor among voters?

Apparently, according to a Rasmussen poll, a majority think a government shutdown would be a good thing if it led to deeper cuts in spending.

I’m not sure how seriously to take this in light of other polls which say Americans want cuts but not to any number of our most expensive entitlements.

That said, let’s look at the numbers in the Rasmussen report.  Again, as far as I’m concerned, the key demographic here is “independents”.  They’re the swing vote in any national election.

Fifty-four percent (54%) of Democrats say avoiding a government shutdown is more important than deeper spending cuts. Seventy-six percent (76%) of Republicans – and 67% of voters not affiliated with either of the major parties – disagree.

That works out to 57% of the total saying that deeper spending cuts are more important than avoiding a government shutdown.

To most that would mean the GOP is on the right track pushing deeper cuts.

Oh, and one little note here, just in passing – all of this could have been avoided if the Democratic Congress had done its job last year and passed a budget.  As it turns out, I’m glad they didn’t because just like the health care bill, I’m sure we’d have been stuck with an expensive monstrosity.  But what’s happening now about “government shutdown” is a direct result of Congressional Democrats not doing their job. 

That said, let’s look at another interpretation of the numbers from Rasmussen.  This one shows the divide between “we the people” and “they the politicians”:

There’s a similar divide between Political Class and Mainstream voters. Fifty-two percent (52%) of the Political Class say avoiding a shutdown is more important than deeper spending cuts. Sixty-five percent (65%) of Mainstream voters put more emphasis on spending cuts.

Seventy-six percent (76%) of Political Class voters say it is better to avoid a shutdown by authorizing spending at a level most Democrats will agree to. Sixty-six percent (66%) of those in the Mainstream would rather see a shutdown until deeper spending cuts can be agreed on.

Most of those in the Political Class (52%) see a shutdown as bad for the economy, but just 38% of Mainstream voters agree.

So … what is it going to be GOP?  Stick with your guns or cave?

BTW, using the Rand Paul “we spend $5 billion a day in government” standard, a shut down sounds like a money saving opportunity doesn’t it.  Call each day a defacto spending cut.  10 days, $50 billion. 
 
I like it.

~McQ


Quote of the Day – Wile E. Coyote edition

The perfect Libya analogy via Mark Goldblatt:

Why do I have a sinking feeling that expecting the Libyan rebels to overthrow Qaddafi is like expecting the Coyote to catch the Road Runner . . . and that we’re about to become the Acme Corporation?

Can’t improve on that (unless there’s a way to work Elmer Fudd into it).

~McQ


Libyan update

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.

Also worrying:

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?

~McQ