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Libya


UN Security Council votes to impose No Fly Zone over Libya – too little, too late? (update)

The UN Security Council finally got its act together long enough to pass a resolution blessing the establishment of a No Fly Zone over Libya. Of course on the ground in that country, Gadhafi’s military forces are moving toward the last rebel stronghold in the city of Benghazi.

Benghazi erupted in celebration at news of the resolution’s passage. “We are embracing each other,” said Imam Bugaighis, spokeswoman for the rebel council in Benghazi. “The people are euphoric. Although a bit late, the international society did not let us down.”

Well, we’ll see about that, however, one has to wonder if the UN’s call for an NFZ leads to more civilian deaths rather than less.

What am I talking about?

Gadhafi has offered civilians who don’t want to be caught in the final push to take Benghazi the promise of safe passage if they’ll simply leave the city.

Yes, I know, we’re talking about a ruthless madman here – how can anyone believe him?  The fact is even Gadhafi realizes he needs at least token popular support to retain power.  It isn’t in his best interest to massacre or otherwise mess with any civilians seeking a way to avoid the fighting that will take place in and around Benghazi.  Plus, given the outcry from the rest of the world, this is a means of placating world opinion somewhat.  It also gives Gadhafi room to claim that anyone left in the city who was killed was either a rebel or a rebel supporter.  Gadhafi has promised:

“We will come house by house, room by room. It’s over. The issue has been decided,” he said, offering amnesty to those who laid down their arms. To those who continued to resist, he vowed: “We will find you in your closets. We will have no mercy and no pity.”

You have to wonder now if many civilians who might have fled the city will now believe that they and their city can be saved by the imposition of a No Fly Zone and refuse to leave. That would be a huge mistake.

Another thing to consider is that when and if Gadhafi’s forces enter Benghazi, the effectiveness of an NFZ will be marginal at best.  Unless you have Special Operations Forces from the participating countries working with the rebels in that city and calling in precision strikes, the mixing of the population with fighters from both sides will all but nullify the ability of air power to effect the battle.

The United Nations Security Council voted Thursday to authorize military action, including airstrikes against Libyan tanks and heavy artillery and a no-fly zone, a risky foreign intervention aimed at averting a bloody rout of rebels by forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

The inclusion of tanks and artillery as targets makes it more of a No Drive Zone than a No Fly Zone.  Face it, Gadhafi’s air assets have been marginal at best in the fight against the rebels.    So what the UN’s resolution does is expand the mandate to hitting armored vehicles and artillery as well.

Also included in this, before any such strikes can occur are taking down Libyan air defenses.  That means first and foremost, SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) missions will have to be run.  That can be done in a fairly local area, i.e. the immediate operational area around Benghazi, a broader area, perhaps Tripoli which is Ghadifi’s headquarters and the coastal road that runs to Benghazi, or country-wide.

Obviously local or regional would more quickly allow attack missions on Gadhafi’s forces approaching Benghazi, and including Tripoli would give the dictator something more to think about than attacking the last rebel city.   Recall that the last time a bombing raid hit Tripoli it scared the stuffing out of Gadhafi. 

But, then there’s the threat Gadhafi promises to carry out if there is foreign intervention.  Sure it’s a coward’s threat (think Pan Am 103) but still a threat that can be carried out none the less.  As far as Gadhafi is concerned, he has nothing to lose.

On the brighter side, France and the UK are taking the lead in this and there are Arab countries also interested in participating:

The resolution stresses the necessity of notifying the Arab League of military action and specifically notes an “important role” for Arab nations in enforcing the no-fly zone. Diplomats said Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were considering taking a leading role, with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt also considering participating.

The participation of Arab countries in enforcing a no-fly zone has been seen as a prerequisite for the United States, keen not to spur a regional backlash.

All good.  But two things to remember – Saddam Hussein managed to crush a rebellion aimed at toppling him after he was defeated in Desert Storm and an NFZ was imposed there.   And:

Yet some critics also noted that a no-fly zone authorized in the early 1990s in Bosnia had failed to prevent some of the worst massacres there, including the Srebrenica massacre.

So – the establishment of an NFZ is not a panacea guaranteed to stop the slaughter of civilians or the defeat of the rebels.  In fact, about all it guarantees, unless Gadhafi is willing to stop his advance and negotiate a settlement with the rebels, is that the government side will change tactics as it pushes toward Benghazi.   As James Lindsey says:

“It’s going to be tougher to stop Qaddafi today than it was a week ago. The issue is not going to be settled in the skies above Benghazi, but by taking out tanks, artillery positions and multiple-launch rocket systems on the ground.”

Mr. Lindsay said that would require helicopter gunships and other close-in support aircraft rather than advanced fighter planes. Other analysts said repelling Colonel Qaddafi’s forces might require ground troops, an option that has been ruled out by senior American officials.

But don’t expect Gadhafi to throw his hands up and say “I quit” just because the UN has authorized action against his regime.  He’s first going to see if the rest of the world actually means to carry it out and, if they do, how effective it is at stopping him from doing what he wants to do.  My guess is that he’ll find he still has the means to finish what he as started, even though it may be a little more painful and prolonged.  Then, once he’s crushed the rebellion, we might see him attempt to negotiate an end to foreign intervention.  But if he’s still in charge when the rebellion is crushed, there’s little the world can do about it other than overt military intervention to topple him. 

Sanctions, as they always do, will only end up hurting the poorest among the Libyans.  And, remember, Libya has oil – so it has a means of persuasion that Saddam used to his benefit to hold on to power in Iraq.

We’ll see how this all works out, but suffice it to say, there’s a definite down side to an NFZ and we may see that down side in Libya.

UPDATE: Libya’s Foreign Minister has unilaterally declared a “cease fire”:

Libya, after having seen the resolution, would like to explain the following.

As the country will try to deal with this resolution. Libya now has knowledge of this resolution, and according to article 25 of the UN charter, and taking into consideration that Libya is a full member of the UN, we accept that it is obliged to accept the security council resolution.

Therefore, Libya has decided an immediate ceasefire, and the stoppage of all military operations.

Libya takes great interest in protecting all civilians, and offering them all necessary humanitarian aid, and respecting all human rights, and obliging to the international and humanitarian laws and it is also obliged to protect all of the foreigners in Libya and protecting their assets.

In doing so, Libya is in accordance with the resolutions of the security council and the articles of the charter of the United Nations.

However, Al Jazeera is reporting that government forces continue to shell the rebel city of Misurata, a doctor there reporting that 25 people have been killed. 

So how much of this is designed to cause confusion among the possible participants in a NFZ and to build support for non-intervention?  Probably most of it. 

~McQ


The leaderless presidency

Anne-Marie Slaughter has a piece entitled “Fiddling While Libya Burns” in the NYT.  She opens with this:

PRESIDENT Obama says the noose is tightening around Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. In fact, it is tightening around the Libyan rebels, as Colonel Qaddafi makes the most of the world’s dithering and steadily retakes rebel-held towns. The United States and Europe are temporizing on a no-flight zone while the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Gulf Cooperation Council and now the Arab League have all called on the United Nations Security Council to authorize one. Opponents of a no-flight zone have put forth five main arguments, none of which, on close examination, hold up.

The Libyan rebels aren’t particularly happy with the rest of the world at all.  As Gadhafi’s forces close in on Benghazi, the rebel commander has said the world has failed them.

Speaking of the world:

Foreign Ministers from the Group of Eight nations failed to agree yesterday on imposing a no-fly zone. In Paris, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe of France, which along with the U.K. has pressed for aggressive action against Qaddafi, said he couldn’t persuade Russia to agree to a no-fly zone as other allies, including Germany, raised objections to military intervention.

So since Russia can’t be persuaded and Germany raised objections, no go on the NFZ.  Notice who is not at all mentioned in that paragraph.  Oh, too busy filling out the NCAA brackets?  Got it.

"President Obama opened up with a plea for bracket participants to keep the people of Japan front of mind, saying, ‘One thing I wanted to make sure that viewers who are filling out their brackets — this is a great tradition, we have fun every year doing it — but while you’re doing it, if you’re on your laptop, et cetera, go to usaid.gov and that’s going to list a whole range of charities where you can potentially contribute to help the people who have been devastated in Japan. I think that would be a great gesture as you’re filling out your brackets.’

There that’s covered – anyone for golf?

Oh wait, Lybia Libya.  Morning Defense (from POLITICO) says:

Here’s your readout from Tuesday evening: "At today’s meeting, the President and his national security team reviewed the situation in Libya and options to increase pressure on Qadhafi. In particular, the conversation focused on efforts at the United Nations and potential UN Security Council actions, as well as ongoing consultations with Arab and European partners. The President instructed his team to continue to fully engage in the discussions at the United Nations, NATO and with partners and organizations in the region."

Well the great gab fest is underway, or at least planned to be under way.  Oh, what was it President Obama said on March 3rd?

With respect to our willingness to engage militarily, … I’ve instructed the Department of Defense … to examine a full range of options. I don’t want us hamstrung. … Going forward, we will continue to send a clear message: The violence must stop. Muammar Gaddafi has lost legitimacy to lead, and he must leave.”

Uh huh.  So there is a reason for the rebels in Libya to at least feel a little let down, isn’t there.  There’s a reason they’re saying things like:

“These politicians are liars. They just talk and talk, but they do nothing.”

Yes sir, now there’s a group that obviously thinks much more highly of America since Obama took office.  Or:

Iman Bugaighis, a professor who has become a spokeswoman for the rebels, lost her composure as she spoke about the recent death of a friend’s son, who died in battle last week. Her friend’s other son, a doctor, was still missing. Western nations, she said, had “lost any credibility.”

“I am not crying out of weakness,” she said. “I’ll stay here until the end. Libyans are brave. We will stand for what we believe in. But we will never forget the people who stood with us and the people who betrayed us.”

Fear not Ms. Bugaighis, the UN is on the job:

The United Nations Security Council was discussing a resolution that would authorize a no-flight zone to protect civilians, but its prospects were uncertain at best, diplomats said.

I think an episode that best typifies what is going on in the Obama administration (and is being mirrored around the world) is to be found in the British comedy “Yes, Prime Minister”.  If this isn’t what we’re seeing, I don’t know what typifies it better (via Da Tech Guy).  Pay particular attention (around the 8 minute mark) to the “4 stage strategy”.  It is what is happening in spades:

 

 

In case you missed it, weren’t able to view the vid for whatever reason or just need a recap, here’s the 4 Stage Strategy:

Dick: “In stage 1 we say ‘Nothing is going to Happen’”

Sir Humphrey: “In stage 2 we say ‘Something may be going to happen but we should do nothing about it’”

Dick: “In stage 3 we say “maybe we should do something about it but there’s nothing we can do.’”

Sir Humphrey: “In stage 4 we say ‘Maybe there was something we could have done, but it’s too late now’”

Folks, there it is in a nutshell.  The Obama variation, aka the “Obama Doctrine” as outlined by Conn Carroll is this:

It assumes that big problems can be solved with big words while the messy details take care of themselves. It places far too much confidence in international entities, disregards for the importance of American independence, and fails to emphasize American exceptionalism.

And gets absolutely nothing accomplished.

Oh, about that golf game …

[ASIDE] This is not a plea for a No Fly Zone in Libya. It is an assessment of the way this administration has approached almost every crisis it has been faced with. Back to my point about this president trying to defer everything that requires any sort of difficult decision to others. This is just another in a long line of examples of that and his refusal to anything more than talk and give the impression of relevant action without any really being done.

~McQ


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


Are Egyptian commandos operating in Libya

An interesting little tidbit to pass along from the Strategy Page (along with the 700th different spelling of his Gadaffi’s last name):

The rebellion against the Kadaffi dictatorship in Libya has not produced any official outside help, but Egypt has apparently sent some of its commandos in to help out the largely amateur rebel force. Wearing civilian clothes, the hundred or so Egyptian commandos are officially not there, but are providing crucial skills and experience to help the rebels cope with the largely irregular, and mercenary, force still controlled by the Kadaffi clan. There are also some commandos from Britain (SAS) and American (Special Forces) operators are also believed wandering around, mainly to escort diplomats or perform reconnaissance (and find out who is in charge among the rebels).

The Egyptian commandos alleged to be operating in Libya are from Unit 777 which, according to Strategy Page, is considered to be a highly “competent” counter-terrorist unit:

Unit 777 trains with the help of the German GSG-9, French GIGN, and American Delta Force commandos. All Unit 777 members are qualified in static-line (low altitude) airborne operations, and possibly with HALO (high altitude jumps) as well.

But Unit 777’s job in the past, under the Mubarak regime, was the suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood.

So, here they are, allegedly in Libya, advising the rebels. 

Question: if true, who sent them (given Egypt’s current “turmoil”)?

Question: if their previous duty was suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood, what’s their current mission in Egypt?

Question: what is their real mission in Libya – is this a move by Egypt to annex a part of Libya eventually?

Any Egyptian involvement in Libya has to be handled very carefully. While the two countries fought a three day war in 1977, the real cause of tension is the fact that for thousands of years, most of Libya was considered part of Egypt. Given the fact that Libya has all that oil, and less than a tenth of the population of Egypt, well, then, you can figure out the rest. But for the moment, everyone is a revolutionary brother. At least for as long as the moment lasts, then history takes over.

And should the rebels eventually win and given the obvious turmoil that would follow, who would be positioned then to perhaps annex a part of Libya – most likely the part with oil – claiming historical sovereignty?

Oh … and what would we (or could we) do about it?

~McQ


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 06 Mar 11

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the situation in Libya, and this week’s employment numbers.

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.


About a no-fly zone over Libya

Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson had this to say on one of the Sunday shows today:

Richardson made recommendations for that policy. "What I think the U.S. Needs to do is, one, covertly arm the rebels. We should take that step. Develop a no-fly zone."

"Some kind of no-fly zone is going to be necessary mainly to send a message to Libya’s military and Gadhafi that the U.S. and international community is not with them," he continued.

Does anyone know what all of that entails?  Establishing a No Fly Zone I mean.  We need a reality check.

Here’s a guess based on what I know has to happen to establish air superiority/air dominance (and this is being written quickly without any real attempt to research it) in an area.

First, intelligence has to be developed pinpointing both air defenses and where hostile aircraft are located.  That takes a little time.  Most likely that’s an on-going effort right now.

Secondly, a time and date have to be established and communicated to the Libyan government of when the NFZ will be established.  The obvious message is “if anything is in the air and identified as a Libyan military attack asset, it dies.”

Third, someone gets to go test it out to see what the state of Libya is willing or unwilling to do.  I.e. some intrepid pilots get to sortie into the airspace and see what the reaction will be. 

If they are fired upon by enemy air defense, then step four is a country wide (perhaps, depending where the NFZ is located) SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) missions must be run.  Step four may be run with or without a check to see the Libyan reaction to foreign aircraft introduced into their air space.

SEAD missions are usually a combination of cruise missiles and what used to be called Wild Weasel missions (they may still be, I’m just not up on the parlance).  The WW missions are usually the job of multi-role fighters toting HARM missiles.  Once a site lights up their sector with radar trying to lock on the WW, this missile is fired, locks on to the radiated signature of the search radar and follows the beam right back to the source.  Meanwhile the source is feeding missile sites the WW’s data and trying to knock it out of the sky. 

Once the air defenses are suppressed (which can take some time with a proficient enemy and mobile air defenses), then you can introduce air superiority platforms into the conflicted skies to keep other aircraft from flying.  Their job is to keep the Libyan attack air assets from flying in the areas designated NFZ.

And they can only engage hostile aircraft according to whatever Rules of Engagement (ROE) have been agreed upon and issued.  And then there’s the SAR piece to be put together.

That’s just the tactical portion of it (or at least the portion that comes to mind as I write this).

On the planning side of things, you have to determine, given the size of the NFZ, how many aircraft are going to be necessary to patrol that 24/7 until the mission is called off.

Now you back off of that and try to figure out A) where they’ll be based, B) how they’re be supported logistically and C) where that logistical support will come from.    Then you have to get it all together at the proper places.

Since you’re going to have to base out of the country, you’re talking increased flying time to get in an out of Libya which decreases the time on station/target.  You want to maximize their time on station, which means tanker support. 

If it is a multi-nation effort, like NATO, now add in all the coordination over an above the usual coordination problems that such an effort brings to the table.  Things such as what the share of the mission will go to each country, what logistics assets they’re going to have to share, who’ll be in command, etc.

Said succinctly, doing this isn’t something you just snap your fingers and boom, NFZ established.  I’m sure there are things I’ve left out.  But you get the idea.  Establishing an NFZ is a huge undertaking (and, as I understand it the first site for land based aircraft near Libya is 350 miles away).  And it brings me to something White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley said today about the same subject – something I agree with completely:

"They talk about it like it’s a game or a video game or something."

"When people comment on military action, most of them have no idea what they’re talking about," he said.

Precisely.  Most people and politicians are clueless about what it takes to mount this sort of an operation.

And factored in on top of all of this, are the politics of the situation.  We have to ask, do we really want American planes flying over Libya?  In fact, you have to ask, given the colonial past, do we want any Western aircraft flying over it?

Of course that leaves few choices as to countries that could capably handle it, but my druthers are that if the West decides a NFZ must be established, countries other than the US do it.

This is as much a European problem as anyone’s.  My guess is (and unfortunately I have a feeling this administration will play right along and eventually get sucked into it) they’ll try to lay it off on the UN with an eye on the US being the major participant in a UN backed effort to enforce an NFZ.

Of course that won’t stop the importation of civilian mercenaries into Libya unless those enforcing the NFZ are prepared to shoot down chartered civilian aircraft or unarmed military cargo aircraft.  And if the air route is cut off, I have no doubt that Gahdaffi’s minions will establish an overland route as an alternative to the air routes. 

Anyway, I understand the desire for an NFZ and the hoped for outcome – keep Gahdaffi’s fighters and attack heli’s on the ground so they’re not bombing and rocketing innocent civilians.  Got it.  The question is, is that our job?

I’m feeling a big “no” as the answer.  Time for others to step up.  Time for others to take the bulk of the action if there’s to be any (we could lend some tanker and other log support).  It would actually be good for the world for that to happen … to see the Western powers who’ve depended mostly on the US to be their military arm having to pick up the mission and conduct it.

I’m wondering if they could (I know the Brits understand how it is done since they flew Desert Fox missions with us).  Oh, and as a side note, every day spent dithering about whether or not to do it means another day’s delay in actually doing it (and it could take a few weeks to a month or so to get everything in place, depending on who is doing it).

But I’ve got to say, I’d like to see someone else do it for a change.

Wouldn’t you?

~McQ


“Regime alteration” new US policy in Middle East?

According to the Wall Street Journal, that’s the outcome of “weeks of internal debate on how to respond to uprisings in the Arab world”.

To put it more succinctly, they’ve decided the “Bahrain model” is superior to the “Egypt model”.  I’m not sure I disagree.

In the Egypt model, the end result was the US throwing Hosni Mubarak under the bus … finally … and fully supporting the protesters.   Of course it didn’t end up pleasing either side in Egypt and it certainly didn’t please other Arab governments in the least.   They felt that President Obama had abandoned Mubarak and were worried he’d do the same to them as protests mounted.  The US eventually throwing it’s full support behind the Egyptian protestors had the governments of other countries very concerned.  Among them, interestingly, was Israel:

As Mr. Mubarak’s grip on power slipped away in Egypt, Israeli officials lobbied Washington to move cautiously and reassure Mideast allies that they were not being abandoned. Israeli leaders have made clear that they fear extremist forces could try to exploit new-found freedoms and undercut Israel’s security, diplomats said.

And there is evidence in Egypt that Israel’s concerns have a just foundation.  So, the administration approached the protests in Bahrain somewhat differently:

"Starting with Bahrain, the administration has moved a few notches toward emphasizing stability over majority rule," said a U.S. official. "Everybody realized that Bahrain was just too important to fail."

The reason it is “too important to fail”, to repeat the cliché, is because it is home to our 5th Fleet and other war fighting headquarters.  The fear was that if the government there fell, the new government would have ties and leanings toward Iran.  Suddenly “stability” became much more important than it had previously been. 

The solution hit upon has the goal of “help[ing] slow the pace of upheaval to avoid further violence.”

Why slow the “pace of upheaval?”  Well the most obvious reasons are to attempt to maintain stability and important strategic alliances while also attempting to persuade the effected governments to negotiate in good faith with protesters with the eventual goal of implementing reforms in each country which would make the government more representative. 

Yeah, admittedly, a little on the moon pony side.  The alternative choices, however, are few.

As the article points out there is a lot of opportunity for failure in this particular approach, but while it may be a lower probability approach, if it works it would actually end up strengthening the governments and our ties with them.  And in all honesty, there is no real “high probability” approach for the US in this situation.

However, the argument against it working are founded in some simple truths – A) autocratic governments don’t like to give up their power, B) people in revolt are leery and cynical about promises like that and impatient for change and C) a slower pace might allow other more destructive factions the time to organize while “negotiations” are under way.

Obviously, as one official said, this is all done on a “country by country” basis – with the obvious exception being Libya.  Libya’s in a civil war and it’s outcome is anyone’s guess – although, as I’ve mentioned, usually the most ruthless side wins, and right now the most ruthless side appears to be that of Ghadaffi.   Meanwhile the world dithers and discusses while the massacre proceeds.

Back to the new diplomatic approach.  Do I think it will work?  It might is the best I can say.  It obviously depends on good faith negotiations being a priority for both sides and a real willingness to make change.  Do I think that exists?  I’m not sure.  My gut reaction is “no”.  Instead I wouldn’t be surprised to see governments use the time such a policy offers as a means to consolidate their power while throwing a few bones to the protesters. Do I think it is worth a try?  Yes, given that the choices are limited and instability in the region is not in the best interest of the US.

But, let’s also be real about its chances – we’re talking about two very different views of outcome here (government v. protesters) and reconciling them wouldn’t be easy even if both sides were fully committed to good faith negotiations.  The question is have these governments been scared enough to actually agree to make significant changes or are they simply buying time and using the US as a means of doing so?

Old cynical me, again referencing Human Nature 101,  thinks it’s probably the latter.

~McQ


Chavez’s relationship with Gahdafi says more about Chavez than Gahdafi

Hugo Chavez is really interested in pulling his good friend Moammer Gahdafi’s bacon out of the fire.  Did I say bacon – how insensitive of me.  Let’s just call it “fat” and leave it at that.

Yes, Hugo is good buddies with the guy who is in the middle of doing whatever he can to hold on to power to include bombing his own people.  And, of course, Chavez is also using it as an opportunity to blame the US and divert attention from the atrocities his good buddy is ordering committed daily:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has called for an international good will commission to mediate in Libya; in contrast the U.N. Security Council over the weekend voted for tough restrictions and possible war crimes charges against the Libyan regime.

On Monday, Chavez said Gadhafi, "has been my friend and our friend for a long time," in remarks broadcast on Venezuelan state television.

And in comments made on Thursday, Chavez described alleged preparations to invade Libya as "a madness, and in front of that madness, as always, the Yankee empire that tries to dominate the world, at the cost of fire and blood."

You’ve got to love a guy who can delude himself so completely.  He’s the prototypical autocrat.   And he’s watching tyrants very similar to himself falling one by one. 

And you have to laugh at how lame it is when he tries to push it all off on "the Yankee empire”, when we’ve got an administration that has been mostly silent about everything and was so timid that it sent a commercial ferry for its evacuees instead of using the military.  Yup, “the Yankee empire” is just dyin’ to lay a little “fire and blood” on the world.

So Hugo Chavez, now the head of the dictator protection league, peddles his “peace plan”, with an eye to keeping a mad man in power.

Yeah, that ought enhance his reputation.

~McQ


Where are the Navy and Marines to protect and evacuate US citizens in Libya?

Right now, in Libya, there are hundreds of Americans waiting for evacuation … by ferry.

Seriously.  The State Department has chartered a ferry to take the hundreds of waiting Americans to Malta.  But rough seas have delayed the ferry’s departure until Friday.

So where is our military and why aren’t they involved in the evacuation of Americans threatened by the violence in Libya?

Well there’s actually a simple answer to that:

So far the State Department has not requested the U.S. military to assist in the evacuation of civilians from Libya, something it would specifically have to request. Several U.S. officials have confirmed to CNN there is a vigorous debate inside the administration about whether to involve the military because of concern it could cause further provocations by the Libyan regime.

Ah … fear and intimidation.  Assume the worst and … do nothing.   And when I say nothing, I mean “nothing”. Per POLITICO’s Morning Defense newsletter:

THERE IS NO U.S. MILITARY ROLE IN LIBYA FOR NOW, officials across Washington said Wednesday. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley didn’t explicitly reject calls by McCain, Lieberman and others for a no-fly zone above the country, but that seemed unlikely for the present. Gates told The Weekly Standard the U.S. hasn’t talked with NATO about doing anything. Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan told reporters Wednesday the Pentagon had received no requests to stand up a no-fly zone or use its ships or aircraft to help evacuate Americans.

Nothing.   That’s not to say that the military isn’t trying to at least be prepared should someone decide to call them and ask that they help look out for the safety and security of Americans in an apparent war zone:

In the first indication the crisis with Libya could take on a military dimension, the Pentagon is looking at "all options" it can offer President Barack Obama in dealing with the Libyan crisis a senior U.S. military official tells CNN.

The official declined to be identified because of the extremely sensitive nature of the situation but he has direct knowledge of the current military planning effort.

"Our job is to give options from the military side and that is what we are thinking about now," he said. "We will provide the president with options should he need them."

While all true, we’re in the 10th day of this blowup … 10th day!  And apparently the military, on its own initiative, is trying to provide options to the national governing authority that it has just as apparently not requested.  Notice the wording in the very last sentence above.  “Will provide” and “should he need them”.  That says to me he hasn’t requested them and the military is trying to get ahead of the game without any guidance.

It took the President 9 days to speak out about the situation there and then his remarks were anything but forceful.  Even Chris Matthews found them wanting saying they “lacked dignity”.   Essentially we got the “unacceptable” line and a promise to send the Secretary of State to … Geneva?  Well yes, that’s where she’ll repeat how “unacceptable” all of this is – in 5 days from now, of course.

So in sum, we find out that our government has no plans, other than a ferry  – which I’m sure isn’t big enough to carry the full number of Americans from Libya who might need to be evacuated, but, because of violence, haven’t been able to make it to that particular evacuation point – to evacuate the thousands of American citizens there.  No military plan.  No orders to ships such as the Kearsarge group (which is the closest) or the Enterprise group off Pakistan to redeploy to the coast of Libya to aid in the evacuation of Americans.

No.

As POLITICO’s Morning Defense reminds us:

The Navy and Marines evacuated some 15,000 Americans from Lebanon in 2006, but that was a major undertaking that required several ships.

Well, yes, of course … and we should have had “several ships” moving toward Libya 10 days ago when this thing blew up  — that’s what a prudent administration concerned with its citizens abroad would have done in order to try to ensure that the lives of those citizens in Libya were protected.

Instead, 11 days later those citizens get … a ferry?

~McQ


So what’s happening in N Africa and the ME?

All sorts of fun stuff … but has anyone noticed how the coverage of Egypt had all but ceased?  What’s up with that?

Uncovered by most of the media has been the return from exile of the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who has, for years, hosted one of the most watched talks shows on Al Jazeera. 

And this:

Some of the young activists who launched the Egyptian uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak say they are skeptical about the military’s pledges to hand over power to a democratically elected government.

They also warned Western diplomats in Cairo Monday that the remnants of Mubarak’s regime that still hold positions of power could overturn the uprising’s gains.

Nah … that can’t be true can it?  And who do those who ran through the streets denouncing Mubarak, Israel and the US want to help ensure the military keeps its word?

The seven activists – representatives of a broad coalition of youth groups – also called on the international community to support Egypt’s transition toward democracy, and asked for help in tracking down Mubarak’s assets – rumored to be in the billions of dollars.

The activists spoke as senior U.S. and European officials, including British Prime minister David Cameron, were to arrive in Cairo for talks with the country’s military leaders.

Why us, of course.

Meanwhile in Gadaffi land, things have gone from bad to worse.  The old boy has managed to get a fatwa issued against him.

‘Whoever in the Libyan army is able to shoot a bullet at Mr Gaddafi should do so,’ Qaradawi, an Egyptian-born cleric who is usually based in Qatar, told Al-Jazeera television.

Qaradawi also told the Libyan army not to fire on protestors.  And there are reports in some areas of Libya that those instructions are being followed.

Probably most interesting about the collapse going on in Libya are the words of Gadaffi’s son about what may follow:

"Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt. Libya is composed of clans and tribes. There are alliances. Libya does not have a civil society with political parties. No, Libya is composed of clans and tribes. [...]

"There will be civil war in Libya. We will return to the civil war of 1936. We will kill one another in the streets. Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt. Libya has oil, and that is what united the country. An American oil company played a pivotal role in the unification of Libya.

"We have a single source of income – oil. It is found in central Libya – not in the east or the west. It is in central and south Libya. That is what all five million Libyans live off. If secession takes place – who will give us food and water? Who will control the oil wells? Who is capable of managing the oil sector in Libya? [...]

"We will be forced to emigrate from Libya, because we will not be able to divide the oil between us. There will be war, and all of Libya will be destroyed. We will need 40 years to reach an agreement on how to run the country, because today, everyone will want to be president, or Emir, and everybody will want to run the country.

"Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt. Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt."

Interesting points about Libyan society (lack of political parties meaning lack of democratic institutions/tribes and clans – Afghanistan in N. Africa, except it has oil.) Of course he also said:

"There is no alternative other than to adopt a firm stand. I tell you that the army will play a central role in this, and the Libyan army is not like the army of Tunisia or of Egypt.

"Our army will support Libya and Mu’ammar Al-Qadhafi to the last moment, and it will be victorious, Allah willing. Matters will be set straight. We will destroy all the dens of strife. [...]

"In any event, our morale is high. The leader Mu’ammar Al-Qadhafi is here in Tripoli, leading the campaign. We stand by him, and the armed forces stand by him. Tens of thousands of people are on their way to Tripoli. We will not sell Libya short. We will fight to our very last man, woman, and bullet. Under no circumstances will we leave our country.

"Let Al-Jazeera TV, Al-Arabiya TV, and the BBC laugh at us. Let those bullies and those traitors, who live abroad, laugh at us, and say that we are destroying our country, but we will not leave it." [...]

And he’s considered the “reasonable” one in the Gadaffi family.  My guess is our State Department has no clue about the societal implications and probable outcome of this particular revolution – so I expect sunny, moon-pony pronouncements about “democracy advancing” in Libya to be their stock answer to everything.

Morocco, Bahrain and Yemen are also undergoing disturbances and protests in some form or fashion  – and some of those are being met with violent government crackdowns.

Meanwhile in Iran:

Antigovernment protesters gathered throughout parts of Iran on Sunday, most concentrated in the capital Tehran, to mark the deaths of two men killed during demonstrations last Monday. The government mounted a stultifying security presence in the capital, with the police making arrests and using tear gas to try to prevent the unrest from escalating.

[…]

The security forces seemed prepared for them, and in some locations, witnesses reported that police officers and baton-holding mercenaries outnumbered the protesters. There were reports of police officers firing on the crowds, although those could not be confirmed, because most foreign journalists were not allowed to report in Iran.

Opposition Web sites and witnesses said that ambulances were driven into the crowds. Security forces, including riot-control units on motorcycles, deployed tear gas to disperse crowds in several places, including near Valiasr Square and Vanak Square.

Plainclothes officers stopped and frisked people on the streets and removed people from vehicles, witnesses said.

Business as usual.  And if not busy enough at home, Iran has decided now was a good time to provoke Israel by sending two warships through the Suez canal for “exercises” with Syria – the first time in 30 years Iranian warships have transited the canal.

Finally, something else to keep an eye on:

BEIJING—Chinese authorities detained dozens of political activists after an anonymous online call for people to start a "Jasmine Revolution" in China by protesting in 13 cities—just a day after President Hu Jintao called for tighter Internet controls to help prevent social unrest.

Only a handful of people appeared to have responded to the call to protest in Beijing, Shanghai and 11 other cities at 2 p.m. Sunday, a call first posted on the U.S.-based Chinese-language news website Boxun.com and circulated mainly on Twitter, which is blocked in China.

Yeah, probably not happening — yet.

Not a good week for authoritarians it appears.  Of course be careful what you wish for – while we may see one crop of authoritarians shunted to the side, there is no indication that anything other than a different type of authoritarian regime would replace it in many of these places.  Change is definitely in the air.  But whether that’s finally a “good thing” remains to be seen.

~McQ

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