Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Libya wrap-up: Nato should stay away from Sirte, Alexander Cockburn should stay away from analysis

1. The hard part in Libya is over, and an easy path to clean, Norway-style petro-democracy lies ahead. (Pssst - no, I don't actually believe that, but so many people are warning us not to believe it that I thought I could drive traffic here by being the only person on the Internet saying it, who could then get linked and debunked by all the wise people out there.)

2. I was pretty unconcerned about Obama's War Powers Act violation, but maybe I can balance it here: Nato/US air support for the final attack on Sirte and maybe Sabha is illegal and unethical, although it might make good politics. I'm not aware of any evidence that Gaddhafi forces are attacking civilians in Sirte, where his tribal affiliations seem to keep him popular. Nato's right of action is to protect civilians, so that legal justification goes away. Ethically, the loss of air support might make the TNC a little more willing to negotiate things to avoid bloodshed. While the TNC has the natural right to revolution and this battle appears to be the final stage of exercising that right, it's their right and not Nato's when civilian protection isn't involved.

3. I am also concerned about a President Rick Perry using the Libya precedent to justify a repeat of the Venezuelan military coup, but this time with US air support in an internal war. Or maybe somewhere else like Bolivia. However, this type of Flubber argument isn't enough to overcome the value of our justified involvement in saving civilians and helping the Arab Revolution continue.

4. It remains mysterious to me why the rebels successfully fought off military force for over two weeks early in the revolution, then collapsed and had to be rescued. This led to my rotten prediction of quick victory in late February, although ultimately it seems correct. The rebels had two weeks of military success in a time period I figured that they would be the most disorganized, so I thought there was no turning back. I've yet to see analysis explain why Gaddhafi was unsuccessful for the first two weeks and then turned things around. I'll guess that he couldn't and didn't trust his own forces and had to fight an auto-coup first, but that's just a guess.

5. News reports generally described the war as a stalemate from late March to end of July, even early August. By mid-May, they were wrong (see the previous link). I think you could start a one-month rule looking forward from that point: virtually no territory rebels held a month earlier would be taken from them a month later, and rebels always held more territory than they did a month earlier. Maybe it was a stalemate in the east, but rebels were slowly winning in Misurata and the west.

6. In the field of Libya predictions that start wrong and stay wrong, let's try Alexander Cockburn, one of the very few lefties who also disbelieves in climate change:

It requites no great prescience to see that this will all end up badly. Qaddafi’s failure to collapse on schedule is prompting increasing pressure to start a ground war, since the NATO operation is, in terms of prestige, like the banks Obama has bailed out, Too Big to Fail. Libya will probably be balkanized.

(Via Juan Cole.) He got his lack of prescience right, at least. I think Cockburn has his own version of hippie punching. He hates liberals from a leftist perspective, so anything moderate liberals believe is therefore wrong. I'm not aware of any evidence that he's backed from his climate denialism, btw, but I'm happy to bet him if he wants to put his money where his mouth is.

7. Domestic politics means the US is locked into a biased position on the Arab-Israeli conflict that will remain a major obstacle in relations with Arabs. However, the same domestic politics creates problems for China and Russia regarding the Arab Revolution. It might take some time, but the US and Western Europe might slowly generate some goodwill, because the Arab Revolution isn't going away.


William M. Connolley said...

2 is easy to finesse, if you want to: civilians will die in the fighting, inevitably, so NATO ending the fighting earlier will save civilian lives, and is therefore justified.

Meanwhile, if you want to exercise your prescience, you should try predicting Syria.

Anonymous said...

Concerning point 4 and the apparent contradiction, I think you have to see towards the rate of "shadow help" received, in terms of training, ammunition, weaponry secretly lifted by some countries (US, France and Qatar for instance).
Leaks say a sizeable contingent of Lybian insurgents were taken to Qatar and trained thoroughly before going back to frontline. A fresh trained troop can make a difference for these fights. You may also have logistic difficulties putting a halt of operations.
And maybe the sudden success on Tripoli was the result of a patient infiltration decided some time ago. That would explain the lack of success before (best troops being put in Tripoli) as well as the acceleration after, when the plan was set in motion.
Last point : this is a civil war, not a regular one. Frontlines are not clear, people fighting each other are not battle hardened soldiers (except Khadhafi's elite troops), shifts of allegiance are common. This is usually highly non-linear - the American Civil War being the exception.

just my uneducated 2 cents


John said...

ANY new Republican president is a real threat to Venezuelan sovereignty (i.e. oil).

But it is not clear why a Libyan precedent should be the concern when there exists direct precedent, set by the last Republican president, of TWO previous anti-Chavez coups, one short-lived and one foiled.

It's also not clear why this blog needs to join in on the pathetic, tribal, jingoist war cheerleading when it would more appropriately focus on a direct and protracted challenge to Cockburn and the lab coat behind whom he hides, Herzberg.

So what is worse: "moderate liberals" denying climate change or cheerleading the perpetual war machine?

John Puma

J Bowers said...

"2... I'm not aware of any evidence that Gaddhafi forces are attacking civilians in Sirte, where his tribal affiliations seem to keep him popular."

It was reported on the news last night (ITN IIRC), that civilians in Sirte are being threatened with death if they don't fight against the rebels.

The sooner this finishes the better as the usual pattern of war on civilians is increasing. It was also reported last night that stranded migrant workers (black Africans) are being disappeared and the women raped (there was an interview with a six month pregnant woman who was gang raped last week, two hours after her husband was taken). It's unknown whether the perpetrators are Gadaffi loyalists, rebels, or both. The migrants' passports are being torn up, too, which makes sure they can't get leave the country even if they were able to afford passag. One such passport was shown to the camera.

Brian said...

Belette - I'm clearly not too prescient about civil insurrections, but I think the bad guys will win in Syria, at least for the short term. The military hasn't seemed divided there, which is the only way for the unarmed good guys to win.

Bratisla - I was referring to the two weeks of success at the beginning of the shooting war. I agree with your interpretation of the accelerating success in the two weeks prior to taking Tripoli.

John P - Cockburn isn't a moderate liberal, he dislikes moderate liberals.

J. Bowers - I guess if that type of info became sufficiently clear, it would change things. I'm not looking to finesse a reason for Nato involvement, though, but whether the problem does rise to a level of justifying foreign involvement. Re the civil war, it seems mostly over - I'm just concerned that rebel attacks in the two areas where Gaddhafi may be popular could be especially bloody. Negotiating would be better.

EliRabett said...

The old version of an air war is a siege. It cannot win immediately by itself, but it keeps the other side from resupply and offensive sallies. After ~ 6 mo. the supplies run out, the less committed leak away and the besieged collapse. Let God take care of his own, some doubt exists wrt Gaddafi.

J Bowers said...

@ Brian: I agree that negotiation is better, but Gaddafi's vowed to fight on ("Let Libya be on fire"), and with guns held to the heads - and probably families - of eligible fighters in Sirte, I can't see any good outcome in Sirte. It's a question of how bad does it have to be.

@ Eli: Historically, the longer a siege continues then the bloodier the outcome once the besiegers get in.

David B. Benson said...

Strike last two words from title; then becomes correct.