Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Libyan Situation

Here are my opening two cents on the complicated situation in Libya:

Value and limits of US power: The US cannot and should not try to impose its will on the world unilaterally. It doesn't need to do so really. Many countries benefit enormously from a world organized in the way the US likes it to be organized. The US should not need to always be the unilateral "international cop." Sometimes direct US involvement simply isn't worth much of a US commitment even if the stakes are high for some of our allies. I think that is the situation in Libya. The stakes are much higher for Europe than they are for us and it is as correct as it is novel that Europeans shoulder the majority of the burden here. But even if the US doesn't want commit much, the US is unique in its ability to project power around the world. The Western European militaries are very capable. They have air forces that are nearly as capable as ours. They operate fancy jet fighters like F-16s, the Rafale and the Eurofighter/Typhoon. These forces are more than a match for the aging and poorly trained Libyan air force. But they will be hard pressed to operate those air forces even in nearby Libya. The Europeans will probably need US logistics support if not US combat support. A friend of mine in the USAF told me that even if they are operating from bases in Sicily, F-16s (for example) would probably need to refuel on the way to and on the way back from Libya to give them much air time over the combat area.

Why the Situation in Libya Matters More to Europe than to the US: If there is a bloodbath in Libya, it would provoke a massive refugee crisis in Tunisia and Egypt both of which are in no position to deal with such. Very quickly, many of those refugees would end up in Western Europe (especially France, Italy and Spain). Also, there is the possibility that European leaders still feel some shame about their inability to act in Bosnia in time to prevent a bloodbath there. While Americans may look at Libya and see Iraq: Part II, Europeans see besieged Libyan towns like Misrata and Benghazi and fear another Srebrenica. At the same time, the current President of France, Sarkozy, is facing Bush-like disapproval ratings. Two thirds of Frenchmen disapprove of his policies. Sarkozy may be trying to "wag the dog." Much of that disapproval is tied to Sarkozy's reaction to the revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East (his initial move was to stand by Tunisia's ousted dictator - le oops).

What the US Should Do: I think Obama is correct that this is NOT a situation that warrants the commitment of US ground troops. The only exception to that I could imagine being worth while would be a temporary deployment to secure a landing zone to evacuate a small number of foreign nationals or perpetrate a snatch and grab operation to kidnap/arrest Gaddafi and get the heck out of Dodge. I don't think anything that happens in Libya (even the emergence of an Islamist regime or the shut off of Libyan oil) is worth the long term deployment of US troops.

What Will Happen Next?: The short answer is: "who knows?" It's up to Gaddafi, who is probably lurching from one psychotic break to another, and the people around him. All of the inner circle people in Libya probably fear, with much justification, that there are few options for them other than to go out in a blaze of gunfire. If the US has visions of a decade of quagmire in Iraq and the Europeans have visions of Srebrenica, Gaddafi probably has nightmares of Saddam Hussein's execution and the killing of his sons in gun fights. If he would have thought more clearly, he would have jumped on a plane to Venezuela as soon as things looked to get ugly. But the man is clearly insane. If you make me guess, I'd put my money on Gaddafi trying to go down fighting. So far it looks like Gaddafi is trying to retake as much of the country as he can before European forces can get into action. There are rumors that Egypt is arming the rebels in Benghazi. If that's true, there may be a scenario whereby France, Spain and the UK et al, cripple Gaddafi's forces with air strikes which gives the rebels time to get organized and equipped to take over the country themselves. It's worth noting that every time the Libyan army (based on the Islamic Legion and its successor organizations) has gone up against organized resistance they have been routed.


The Law Talking Guy said...

I think the Allies are clearly hoping that the rebel forces can use the airstrikes to seize power from Gadhafi. It's not clear how else this can end. All the Arab governments want that too - they just don't want to be publicly saying it.

Raised By Republicans said...

Yeah, I think that's the main idea. The US and UK are now firmly on record as saying "we're not sending ground troops." The interviews with rebels in Benghazi all say they don't want "foreign ground troops." But whether that includes covert Egyptian "volunteers" or not is not something Chicken Noodle News has looked into yet.

USwest said...

The problem that we have face, however, is what happens if the rebels don't succeed. The US has been ambivalent toward Gadhafi, sort of seeing him in the same way we do Castro. He's an evil, but an evil we can live with. RBR is right that this is a European thing. And a Croatian friend of mine made the interesting observation that this reminds her so much of what happened in Yugoslavia. The Europeans pushed the US into it, and then left us with it. I think this is one reason why the Obama administration is being cautious. The other reason may be the delicacy of its general position in the wider Middle East.

What message are our actions on Libya sending to our Arab allies who uncharacteristically have openly supported the Libyan rebels and the UN Security Council?

I think the message we are sending is that the US really doesn't want to get involved in more wars in that region. As Sec. Gates famously said, anyone who does is out of their mind.

That leads me directly to Saudi Arabia and their troops in Bahrain. It is very unusual for Saudi Arabia to send troops in as directly as it has, even if they have done so under the cover of the GCC. The calculation may be that the US is not dependable and these states have to move on their own. I know that the US has not supported Saudi deployment and this has created a noted rift between the two countries. Note that the day after Sec. Gates visited King Abdullah, and discouraged direct military action in Bahrain, the Saudis sent in 1000 troops.

So again, Libya was a side issue for the US, but one that has some serious implications for our Foreign Policy in the Middle East and among the oil producing states. And just wait! The Iranians will exploit all of this. Notice that suddenly there are attacks on Jerusalem again. It's all got to be linked.

Raised By Republicans said...

US West, I think you are right that any commitment (even a minimal commitment) in Libya probably precludes any US military intervention anywhere else in the Middle East (e.g. Bahrain, Syria, Yemen). I wouldn't put it past the Arab League to kind of offer up Qaddafi as a kind of sacrifice. They feed him to instincts in the West to support these revolutions and sit back while we're tied down in Libya knowing that they can shoot into crowds with impunity now.

I'm not sure how Iran can take advantage of this other than to assume they always benefit from chaos. Everything I've heard from people observing the Middle East on the ground suggests that very few people think adopting an Iranian model is preferable to the secular dictatorships and Ultra conservative monarchies they have now. I think it is easy to over estimate the extent to which this benefits Iran. After all, Iran's regime is hanging on by their finger nails themselves.

I think the situation with the Bombing in Jerusalem is more a consequence of divisions within the Palestinian movement than some directive from Tehran. I think the bombing in Tehran is how Hamas and Fatah try to show their constituents that they are still fighting the good fight.

USwest said...

I think, RBR you underestimate Iran. You assume that many of these "uprisings" are internal. In Egypt and Tunisia and even Libya, I'd agree. I am not sure I'd agree in Bahrain of Yemen.

Iran does take advantage of chaos. However, as I have said before, Iran has territorial claims on Bahrain and would love more influence there. It isn't a matter of what the people want or don't want. Where there are Shia, there is Iran. Hamas and Hezbollah are fine examples of Iranian work. I just find it odd that you've had 4 years of quiet and suddenly Hamas takes off again, right when there is ample instability in the region.

Most of the Middle East watchers I speak with and read are pointing right at Iran. Iran wants to be the big player in the region. They want to pull strings. So they will take advantage of the chaos to gain influence. It's not much different from the proxy-type situations we saw in the Cold war. Iran doesn't want territory but they want influence.

I don't think Iran is hanging by its fingernails. I think there will be change in Iran eventually, and it may even be bloody, but for the time being, I am pretty sure the regime has things under control.

Raised By Republicans said...

Let me clarify...
I think Iran will TRY to take advantage of events. But I do not believe they can do much to guide these events. I think they are just as at risk from this wave of demonstrations as any other status quo regime.

The latest is that there are mass anti-regime demonstrations in Syria. I doubt Iran is behind those.

There are a lot of governments in the Middle East that depend on a continued, violent Palestinian-Israeli conflict for their political existence. Hamas is at the top of that list. But so are any number of authoritarian regimes opposed to Iran that use the Israeli thing like "bread and circus" to distract their populations.

I think Iran would like to see more violence in Gaza but I don't think they're the only ones who would. And I'm not convinced they're behind much of anything. I think they're just as off balance as everyone else in the region. They're trying to surf this wave as best they can but they're not guiding it.