Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Sinking into the Libyan Quagmire...

I'll comment on the Budget soon but I'm so excited about a 1p cut in fuel duty I can barely think straight. Anyway, in Libya, events have moved pretty much as I thought they would a week or so ago. After a few days of airstrikes, a British-led assault on Gaddafi's forces near Adjabiya led to a general pursuit of retreating pro-Gaddafi forces round the Gulf of Sirte coastline.

For a moment over the weekend, it seemed possible the rebel advance might go all the way to Sirte and yesterday morning, the rebels claimed improbably Sirte's capture. Sirte is Gaddafi's birthplace and a powerbase of his support and while there had been a withdrawal of sorts on Sunday evening, the Gaddafi forces were able to halt the rebel advance well to the east of Sirte and even throw it back to Bin Jawaad earlier today.

None of this suggests a Gaddafi army on the point of collapse or a rebel force capable of achieving operational success on the ground without significant air interdiction from NATO forces.

And that's the problem...

Resolution 1973 allows for air strikes to protect civilians from Gaddafi's forces and that's fair enough and can be used to justify for example airstrikes on Gaddafi's armour around Misratah and the implementation of the no-fly zone has clearly helped the rebels withstand the Gaddafi regime's attacks. However, the Resolution doesn't allow for airstrikes to actively assist the rebel advance where there are no civilians involved so that would seem to preclude an attack on the Gaddafi positions facing the rebels west of Bin Jawaad in the open desert.

With the rebels seemingly unable to threaten Sirte though secure to the east and the Gaddafi regime holding firm in Tripoli but unable to recapture the ground lost to the rebels, there is every chance of a prolonged stalemate and de facto division of the country. It is that prospect which must be troubling David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy and other NATO leaders while a US intelligence report tonight suggesting there were "flickers" of Al Qaeda and Hizbollah presence among the rebels has got conservatives in the US spooked.

The disingenuous nature of the Republican and conservative position on Libya is quite breathtaking. Hostile as they have been to Gaddafi over the years, it now seems American conservatives are simply trying to oppose anything and everything President Obama does. There are notable exceptions such as John McCain but Libya has shown the total inadequacy of the Republicans in particular and US conservatives in general.

That's not to say NATO and the other partners don't have some tough questions to confront in the days ahead. No one wants to see Libya degenerate into another Somalia and with turmoil growing in the hugely-important state of Syria, the impetus behind regime change and the opportunity such change offers for the entire region cannot be overlooked. It may be that Resolution 1973 will have to be bent a little in the hours and days ahead but the overall possibility of evicting Gaddafi and possibility dismantling the Syrian Ba'athists would pay such huge dividends for the region and the world that it may be a risk worth taking.


Too Tall Jones said...

However, the Resolution doesn't allow for airstrikes to actively assist the rebel advance where there are no civilians involved so that would seem to preclude an attack on the Gaddafi positions facing the rebels west of Bin Jawaad in the open..

The "coalition" pays little attention to restraints of the Resolution. If it did, it would not be actively embroiled in an internal civil war. In fact the "Coalition", pious proclamations notwithstanding, has been actively assisting the rebel in advancing. In such advances the rebels themselves are attacking other civilians that do not support their goals. And there has been "active assistance" of the rebels by the pious Coalition all along. "Spin" from London or Washington cannot hide the obvious.

My blog details 5 central contradictions of "coalition" warfare:

The anti-Libyan "Coalition", for all intents and purposes a European/US affair, cannot even follow its own UN Resolution, and is riddled with contradictions. Here are merely five:

(a) The 'Coalition' says it is protecting civilians, yet it is urging on and arming insurgent forces, who themselves are attacking other civilians they disagree with (people who back the Colonel) and providing their anointed proxies with free flying artillery and logistics support- not to mention unfettered access to captured loyalist arms.

(b) Coalition leader Obama can't keep his rhetoric straight in the same speech. He first says its "not about regime change" but then demands that Khadaffi leave.

(c) The Coalition says it intervened for "humanitarian" purposes, yet it is urging on war via its proxies, and its bombing campaign, and the potential for an extended guerrilla war even if Khadaffi leaves may well cause many more civilian casualties, than if Moamar had been allowed to put down his internal rebellion in the first place.

(d) The Coalition points to language in the UN Resolution about the will of the Libyan people, but is already dictating to said people about what and who should lead them. There are other people in Libya who do NOT support the insurgents. Somehow though, they don't count, only the Coalition's anointed proxies are "representative" of "the people".

(e) The UN resolution embargoes arms to Libya period, but somehow this does not apply to the insurgent forces, who are being openly armed by 'Coalition' forces, supposedly tasked with enforcing said "Resolution."

Now don't get me wrong. I am no Khadaffi fan. It could be argued that he is getting his just desserts after years of supporting terrorism, and interference in the affairs of other countries such as Chad in Africa. Indeed in the 1980s, his forces were ignominiously routed by Chadian fighters and expelled from that country. But the mendacity of the "Coalition" (see above), the commitment of US prestige to another possible wearying Middle East war with few vital interests at stake (if 'democracy' was so precious for example, why haven't we forcefully implemented it in Iran or Saudi Arabia), the duplicity of the Arab League, and the troubling precedent this European led "coalition" presents for small nations in the future should make any independently thinking person uneasy.

loadofoldstodge said...

Thank you for the comment, TTJ, or should that be "Mr Jones".

I don't disagree with much of your comment and have always had doubts about the Libyan involvement.

It seems to me there were two credible positions - do nothing, allow Gaddafi to suppress the revolt and deal with the humanitarian aftermath on the Egyptian border. This would probably have ended the protests in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, secured oil prices and tyrants alike.

The second option was to intervene directly on the side of the rebels either with a view to imposing a de facto partition of Libya or to actively seek the overthrow of Gaddafi. This would have involved ground troops which would have swept the Gaddafi forces aside quickly and been in Tripoli in a few hours. The Iraq experience has mitigated against that - there's an obvious fear that Tripoli would become the new Baghdad and Sirte the new Fallujah and of course no one wanted that.

The result of facing two undesirable outcomes was that Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama tried to come up with a "third way" that was neither one thing nor the other and has arguably got us the worst of all worlds.