“War is the unfolding of miscalculations” Barbara Tuchman
In 1914 an assassination in Bosnia-Herzegovina led to the First World War. In 2011 a civil war in Libya may lead to the destabilization of an entire region and to a regional conflict. A few weeks ago many thought that Libya would take the same course as Egypt and Tunisia. That was before Muammar Gaddafi began to launch an organized campaign of slaughter against his own people using members of his clan as well as African, Arab and Eastern European mercenaries. Now we wonder what will happen as many actors try to discern courses of action praying that their calculations are correct.
If we look at the players we see the Gaddafi clan and its allies who include mercenaries from Africa, other Middle Eastern nations and Eastern Europe battling in a life or death struggle with a disparate and not yet very organized revolutionary movement which has taken many key cities in Libya. Gaddafi’s forces have become quite brutal in their response even as Gaddafi denies attacking his own people and appear in some places to be gaining the upper hand. The rebels have a limited amount of arms and ammunition and few heavy weapons but have given a good account of themselves against Gaddafi’s forces.
The United States is really too heavily committed to do much and even if NATO and or the UN agree to establish a no-fly zone over Libya it is doubtful if it will do much to much good on the ground against Gaddafi’s mercenary army and party thugs. President Obama has asked Saudi Arabia to help arm the rebels and the Saudis and the Gulf Cooperation Council states have asked the United States and NATO to establish a no fly zone to at least protect the rebels from Gaddafi’s helicopter gunships and attack aircraft. Gaddafi has stated that such a no-fly zone would be an act of war.
The words of Western leaders to include President Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and France’s Nicholas Sarkozy announcing that Gaddafi has to step down has hardened Gaddafi’s resolve and have whether we want it or not signaled that we are about to engage in another war. Military forces from NATO including the USS Enterprise Carrier Battle Group are being moved to positions that they can either enforce a no-fly zone or assist in humanitarian operations.
While the West debates what to do the fighting continues and Gaddafi’s military unhindered by anyone continues its attacks others in the region seek to gain from the Chaos. Syria has been supporting the Gaddafi regime and it is likely that Iran is seeking to gain more influence in Arab countries that have been hostile to it. The presence of the two Iranian warships in the Eastern Mediterranean added to the tensions but those ships have now returned to the Red Sea after passing through the Suez Canal after exercises with the Syrians.
The fact is that this is a chaotic and ever changing situation. NATO will meet on Thursday to discuss possible courses of action. Adding to the crisis is the specter of NATO’s abysmally slow response to the Bosnia crisis as well as the United Nation’s, American and European response to the Rwandan genocide. Since the ongoing battle in Libya to include Gaddafi’s slaughter of his own people and the massive refugee crisis on Libya’s borders is televised like the previous crises is in Bosnia and Rwanda Western Leaders are caught in a bind. They can turn a blind eye and chose to let the rebels die on the vine attempting to overthrow Gaddafi and be accused of ignoring crimes against humanity as were their predecessors during the Bosnian and Rwandan events.
There are many possibilities for the situation in Libya to get worse and potentially engulf the region in a war that no one wants or really is prepared for.
We can only see what develops but there are no good options only options of bad or worse. Will the region like Europe in 1914 be engulfed in war where there are no winners or will somehow the situation be resolved before it can get that far? Those are very real questions.