(Reuters) - U.S. re-engagement in combat operations in Libya could help break a stalemate between rebels and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi forces, but Washington appears reluctant to step back fully into an already messy conflict.
Only the US has the air power needed to precisely hit at Gaddafi's troops, who are moving around in civilian vehicles that are hard to identify as transporting soldiers. My guess is the Western allies need to wait for Gaddafi's men to get out and start shooting and then hit them precisely in small groups. Much harder to do, especially without some of their own troops on the ground to call in more precise air strikes.
Of course, the French could send in their Foreign Legion like they did against Libya in Chad in the 1980s (and note the former Foreign Legion guys discussing their fighting in Chad then). If France was willing to commit fighters on the scale of the 1600 Foreign Legion troops it sent into Libya in 1986 then they could take down Khadafy's regime. Plus, they could get a pretty good movie made about it.
Obama really needs for the Libya war to end in a favorable manner. He wants to get reelected and a war that drags on would hurt his prospects. So is he going to send in CIA trainers or maybe funnel money to some other country to hire some really professional mercenaries? Or will he continue to try to distance the US from the war by claiming it is a NATO operation - as if the US isn't the most powerful and influential member of NATO? Maybe. After all, Americans aren't clear on the details of US alliances and he's not above conducting a paper-thin deceit with the help of liberal press supporters to conduct smoke screen operations for his benefit.
The bizarreness of the Libya war: The US, France, and Britain want regime overthrow. Why? Not clear. But they do. Yet the US isn't even willing to use full air power and all of them won't use soldiers on the ground. Why? Why not just get it over with fast? I hate pussy half measures.
You might have expected the CIA was already on the ground in Libya. Maybe so. But now the Obama Administration is at minimum using CIA agents in Libya to gather intelligence and coordinate with rebels. The New York Times reports British MI6 and British special forces are in Libya with the special forces calling in air strikes and tracking Libyan government troop movements.
Obama so far denies he wants to overthrow Khadafy and he's just trying to protect the civilians. So he's lying, boxed in by his desire to portray his foreign policy as less aggressive and more respectful of the sovereignty of other nations than George W. Bush's. Yet Obama does not want Libya to become yet another long running American war in the Middle East with lots of chaos and decay. Therefore he needs Qadafi's regime to fall - and quickly before his coalition falls apart. So, all his rhetoric aside, the US and its allies are going to help the rebels in more ways.
The Brits (who are running low on pilots for the air campaign) and probably the French as well are already using spies and special forces to topple Gaddafi. Plus, Qatar and Saudi Arabia will probably provide weapons to the rebels.
The US voted for a UN Security Council resolution that authorized the air war while at the same time disallowing outside support for either side in Libya. But now it looks like the US, France, Britain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar will violate the the very Security Council resolution they are currently using to legitimize the air war. Is that cool, or what?
Hypocrisy in the service of what? The rebels are lame. In spite of impressive air support and capture of a number of tanks and Grad rocket systems, the rebels are once again in retreat, abandoning cities they had just recaptured yet again. With massive air superiority they can't even hold ground? Lame, lame, lame.
Remember when the White House was trying to portray the US role in the air strikes as minimal? As recently as March 19, 2011 Obama tried to portray US involvement in Libya as a support role which would not involve US troops on the ground. So he'll have to use mercenaries.
Good afternoon, everybody. Today I authorized the Armed Forces of the United States to begin a limited military action in Libya in support of an international effort to protect Libyan civilians. That action has now begun.
As a part of this effort, the United States will contribute our unique capabilities at the front end of the mission to protect Libyan civilians, and enable the enforcement of a no-fly zone that will be led by our international partners. And as I said yesterday, we will not -- I repeat -- we will not deploy any U.S. troops on the ground.
If Obama sticks with that promise either the Brits and French will have to send in many more special forces or it is time for professional mercenaries to get paid to fight for the rebels.
Here is an incredible irony: By trying to avoid leading a coalition Obama managed to create the smallest coalition out of any US intervention of the last 20 years. His very attempt at multilateralism made the coalition must less multi.
President Obama has touted his emphasis on multilateralism in the U.S. military intervention in Libya, but — for political, operational and legal reasons — his “coalition of the willing” is smaller than any major multilateral operation since the end of the Cold War.
Half-hearted commitment to half measures leads to failure.
The cost could reach up to $800 million to fully establish the no-fly zone and another $100 million a week to maintain it going forward, said Zack Cooper, a senior analyst for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
I sympathize with the people of Libya for having to live under Gaddafi. But what is the benefit to US interests if he is overthrown? The biggest benefit is if we kill the guy who sent out Libyan agents to take down the Pan Am 747 over Lockerbie Scotland. Is there another benefit to the national interest? If so, what is it?
We should not casually take on more ways to spend billions of dollars since we are living beyond our means and need to pull back and retrench.
Barack Obama is making a big deal out of how the United States is not leading the push against Muammar Gaddafi (whose name is so cool it does not need spell checking ever). But the French and British have welfare states too big to afford proper modern militaries suitable for knocking out tanks in a desert.
The first major strike involved 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from US Navy ships (and one British submarine) against SA-5 Russian-made surface-to-air missiles, early warning sites, and key communication modes.
On Sunday, US Navy EA-18G radar jammers began flying over Libya as part of the effort to enforce the no-fly zone. In addition, US Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier jets, which can take off and land vertically, were launched against ground targets from the amphibious ship USS Kearsarge in the Mediterranean. US Air Force F-15s, F-16s, and B-2 stealth bombers reportedly were involved in the US-coordinated effort to establish air superiority and prevent Libyan army attacks on civilians.
Barack needs to work this problem. He could give the Brits an aircraft carrier and some F/A-18s and support ships. Like with Lend-Lease in World War II (ignoring Barack's dislike of the Brits - politics makes for strange bedfellows).
Of course, carriers are expensive to maintain. So the US will have to give the Brits foreign aid to support upkeep of their expensive gifts from America. I think it would be a tougher sell to convince Congress to fund the French military. But if we make the Brits strong enough then in event of a conflict they could paint some of their British F-16s and F/A-18s with French colors and let some French pilots do some bombing runs.
The Brits brought one whole sub to the the cruise missile launch fest. So we could give them a few more subs to use the next time. Or give them a cruiser. Hey, fiscal stimulus: Build cruisers to give away as foreign aid.
Really, this could be the new US strategy. Pretend to be isolationist while funding other Western nations to fight for us. Who knows, with the Canadians playing a role against Libya perhaps even they could become aid recipients receiving our ships and aircraft. The Brits, Canadians, and French could operate our military for us. That will free up lots of Americans to work in jobs supplying our allies. We'll become exporters. It will be good.
Is this a cool idea or what?
Whoever controls Libya is going to sell the oil. So that's really not an issue in the Libyan civil war. But a point rarely mentioned should be a major factor in choosing American policies toward the combatant factions: Muammar did order the Pan Am Lockerbie terrorist attack after all.
Jalal Elgallal, a Benghazi businessman educated in Britain who supports the revolution, added: "I lived in Britain for years, I admire Britain - as most Libyans do - and I would expect Britain to help the underdog. If we get a no-fly zone he can't bomb us, and our fighters could march on Tripoli and end this.
"We need your help to get rid of Gaddafi. Just think about what he has done to you in the past - Lockerbie, Yvonne Fletcher, terror attacks.
"This is your chance too to get rid of him. We could get rid of him quickly with some foreign help, otherwise doing this could cost tens of thousands of lives."
For that reason alone I say send in special forces to knock him off or supply anti-tank weapons and some anti-aircraft missiles to the rebels. Do what it takes to tip the scales against Khadafy. When he dies celebrate the death of the Lockerbie killer.
Mercs are terrorizing the people of Tripoli as Gadhafi loses control of large swathes of Libya. He's a goner. If he survives in exile he's going to have to consolidate his last names or fade into obscurity.
Human Rights Watch said it had confirmed 62 deaths in two hospitals after a rampage on Monday night, when witnesses said groups of heavily armed militiamen and mercenaries from other African countries cruised the streets in pickup trucks, spraying crowds with machine-gun fire.
The eastern half of Libya's coastal cities are in the hands of rebels. So apparently Kadhafi did not import enough foreign soldiers to hold all cities. That mistake will cost him fatally.
Colonel Qaddafi has lashed out with a level of violence unseen in either of the other uprisings, partly by importing foreigners without ties to the Libyan people. His four decades of idiosyncratic one-man rule have left the country without any national institutions — not even a unified or disciplined military — that could tame his retribution or provide the framework for a transitional government.
Meanwhile, the the battle over Khadafy's last name shows no sign of abating with WikiLeaks cables showing the US State Department embracing Qadhafi as their preferred spelling.
As the Qaddafi clan conducts a bloody struggle to hold onto power in Libya, cables obtained by WikiLeaks offer a vivid account of the lavish spending, rampant nepotism and bitter rivalries that have defined what a 2006 cable called “Qadhafi Incorporated,” using the State Department’s preference from the multiple spellings for Libya’s troubled first family.
Why doesn't the New York Times follow the State Department's cue? Seriously, does this divergence signal a split between the Gray Lady and Foggy Bottom over the future direction of the American empire?
Historian David A. Bell has an essay in Foreign Policy that is worth a read: Why We Can't Rule Out an Egyptian Reign of Terror.
There are, of course, many different ways of categorizing historical revolutions. But for the purposes of understanding what is happening in Egypt -- and the challenges it may pose for the United States -- one simple, rough distinction may be especially useful. This is the distinction between revolutions that look more like 1688 and revolutions that look more like 1789. The first date refers to England's "Glorious Revolution," in which the Catholic, would-be absolute monarch James II was overthrown and replaced by the Protestant William and Mary and the English Parliament claimed powerful and enduring new forms of authority. The second is, of course, the date of the French Revolution, which began as an attempt to create a constitutional monarchy but ultimately led to the execution of King Louis XVI, the proclamation of the First French Republic, and the Reign of Terror.
He says the revolutions that are like 1789 are less common. Most revolutions are noted for their brevity. The 1979 Iran Revolution was more like 1789 in that the mullahs killed a large number of people and greatly reordered Iranian society. Will that be Egypt's fate? He argues that revolutions that are long lasting are not necessarily initially led by those will eventually get power and initiate far more violent and wrenching changes.
Though it was not a driving force behind the demonstrations that began Jan. 25 and grew into a popular uprising, the Brotherhood has wasted no time setting the groundwork for a political resurgence. Its leaders have now claimed their place among those who met Sunday with Omar Suleiman, Mubarak's newly appointed vice president, to discuss constitutional reforms and a transition plan.
The development has left some of the more liberal, secular protesters visibly unnerved.
Bell says the risk of a revolution going down a more radical path rises if the first leaders to take power can't deliver meaningful reforms that better the conditions of the people. Well, I am very skeptical that a regime change can do much to improve conditions in Egypt, where half the population lives on $2 or less per day (or maybe only 18% of Egyptians live on $2 per day). In such a parlous state these people can ill afford for the government to cut food price subsidies. Yet Egypt will soon shift to being an oil importing nation. The costs of imported oil and the need to also import more food for a rapidly growing populations suggests that Egyptians are going to become poorer regardless of who rules. So any initial round of replacements for Mubarak will inevitably disappoint the poorer and more religious peasants. If they are given the right to vote will this placate them? Will a democratically elected Islamic slate of politicians
The consensus of left wing liberals and right wing liberals is that economic growth can heal all the world's political troubles. I am skeptical of this consensus for a number of reasons. I see Peak Oil approaching and expect it alone to rip the heart out of the world economy. Also, suitable land for expanded agricultural production is in short supply in a growing number of countries.
Tyler Cowen's new Kindle book (a mere $4) The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History,Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better makes the argument that the rate of innovation has slowed down due to a slow rate of fundamental discoveries that enable new industries. So, for example, mid 20th century discoveries such as the transistor, laser, and some other technologies that enabled great economic growth in the 1950s and 1960s have not been followed up by as many enabling discoveries in recent decades. So the world's economy is running off of too any refinements of old technologies.
I think we are headed for a period of greater revolutionary upheaval because political reforms won't be capable of meeting rising expectations. As those expectations collide with declining living standards governments will fall.
The thin professional class in Egypt most wants Mubarak gone from power. Recall that many educated Persians wanted the Shah gone. How'd that work out?
While rich and poor alike have joined the call for democracy, the movement has been led by the professional middle class - lawyers, doctors, university students and engineers. Many of the poor, who constitute the majority in Egypt, said they mistrust demonstrators' motivations and are concerned that the movement has a hidden foreign agenda.
That foreign agenda isn't all that hidden according to the (conservative) Daily Telegraph of London: "The American government secretly backed leading figures behind the Egyptian uprising who have been planning “regime change” for the past three years, The Daily Telegraph has learned. "
The funny thing about the US elite support for regime change in Egypt with democracy is that only a fairly thin elite segment of Egyptian society really supports the Camp David accords. What major foreign policy interest does a large chunk of the the US foreign policy elite see itself has having in the Middle East? Maintaining at least minimally cordial relations between Israel and its neighbors. What will a more populist Egyptian leadership be like toward Israel? Less cordial seems like a really good bet. The only question is just how much less cordial.
Anyone for literacy requirements for voters? A literacy requirements strikes me as well below bare minimum ability needed for voters in order for a democracy to function well.
But back to the WPost. Mubarak went to university. This makes him qualified to lead the illiterates as an illiterate Egyptian mechanic points out:
Sayed, dressed in worn jeans smeared with oil, said no decent Egyptian would insult the president as demonstrators have Mubarak.
"I don't read or write myself, but I know that Mubarak went to university, and since then he's done nothing but serve us," he said. "It doesn't make sense to me that after all that, we're just going to throw him away."
Suppose the illiterate of Egypt get the right to vote. They will not understand the nuances of what competing elite factions are trying to do by gaining power thru the ballot box. American voters are comparatively much better educated and yet they are hardly paragons of rationality or fairness. Take a populace far less skilled, less supportive basic freedoms, and more driven by a religion that is broadly hostile toward non-believers and who will they vote for? This isn't rocket science.
Do Israelis or their neoconservative Jewish supporters in America have a more accurate assessment of Israel's best interests vis a vis Egypt? The invasion of Iraq and its aftermath suggest the neocons are more likely wrong.
But the events in Cairo have exposed a schism between two longtime allies: neoconservative Republicans, who strongly advocate democracy and the George W. Bush "freedom agenda" around the globe, and Israelis, who fear that a popularly chosen Islamist regime could replace that of President Hosni Mubarak.
I suspect the Israelis fear an inevitability. So it really does not matter whether any neocons support Mubarak's approaching loss of power. It will happen regardless of what the United States does.
I do not expect great improvements in Egypt as a result of regime change. Ouster of a secular dictator and replacement with a popularly elected government that enforces more Islamic law isn't going to bring on a new era of freedom and tolerance. The protesters are frustrated by high food prices, corrupt government, and poor career prospects. They are not pushing for freedom of religion or equality for women.
On the bright side, Egypt under democracy probably won't be radically worse than it would have been under Mubarak Junior either. The bad trends in Egypt (growing population in a resource poor nation, more intense embrace of Islam) will continue regardless of whether Egypt gets democratic Muslim rule or if a different top officer from the military takes over.
Writing at The Corner on the National Review Raymond Ibrahim thinks the US can make a big difference in how events unfold in Egypt. Count me skeptical.
It is clear that the media’s host of analysts is split into two camps on the Egyptian revolution: one that sees it as a wonderful expression of “people power” that will surely culminate in some sort of pluralistic democracy, and another that sees only the Muslim Brotherhood, in other words, that sees only bad coming from the revolution. These extremist views need balancing. The fact is, depending on what the U.S. does—or doesn’t do—the result of this revolt could either be the best or worst thing to happen to the Middle East in the modern era.
The world does not revolve around US foreign policy. The ability of the US to influence events in other countries is exaggerated by too many commentators who debate US foreign policy. America's influence around the globe is much exaggerated.
The Egyptian military wants to continue getting a few billion dollars per year from US taxpayers. So that gives the US some leverage. But the protesters aren't going to be swayed much by what the US government says. The revolutionaries are much more focused on domestic concerns, including battles with Mubarak's security forces. They've got street battles to win.