Tag Archives: libyan revolution

All In or Stay the Hell Out: Syria, the United States NATO and the Middle East, the Guns of August All Over Again

hi-syria-gas-rtx12sc9

The Balkans aren’t worth the life of a single Pomeranian grenadier.”  Otto Von Bismarck

The terrible civil war in Syria appears to be reaching its crescendo as someone, probably the Assad Regime or its allies, or possibly the Syrian rebels are using Chemical weapons to kill non-combatants and rebel combatants. The evidence that the weapons have been used is apparently convincing enough for the UN to send in inspectors and for the US Secretary of State John Kerry to state that it is certain that they have been used.

Now NATO allies as well as representatives of Jordan and the Gulf States are meeting to decide what to do in response. Since most experts believe that the Assad regime is culpable for these attacks the belief is that the United Sates, NATO and the Arab Allies could be preparing for some kind of attack Syria. The Russians, long time supporters of Syria are pushing back against this and the Syrians are promising that any attack will result in a war that envelopes the region.

Chaos-in-Syria

What is happening in Syria is a tragedy and must be stopped. War crimes have certainly been committed by all sides in Syria and the direct involvement of Hezbollah and Iran on the side of the Assad regime and Al Qaeda affiliates on the side of the rebels complicate any response. However, that being said the question must be asked “just whose responsibility is to stop it?”

Some say the United States and NATO, others the Arab League while others the various factions of Syrians themselves.

My heart cries out for intervention in Syria if for nothing else but on humanitarian grounds. But the fact is intervention in Syria has to be much more thought out and organized than intervention that we have conducted since the fall of the Berlin Wall. It will not be a cake walk and quite likely will lead to consequences far worse than the average citizen or boneheaded Congressman has never given a cogent thought.

Syria is an incredibly complicated country. It is multi-ethnic and multi-religion. Arabs, Kurds, Druze and others live in patchwork communities and regions even as various sects of Sunni, Shia, Sufi and Salafist Moslems vie for power while the divided Christian minority , Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and others hope to live and remain in their own country.

As far as others in the Region besides Iran and Hezbollah, various Sunni and Shia Iraqi insurgents have crossed over into Syria, while Israel teeters on the bring of being drawn in to the conflagration.

No matter what happens there will be no winners in what is happening in Syria. There is a high probability that the Syrian civil war will overflow the borders of that unfortunate country and drag the region and possibly major world powers into the war. If that happens there are no winners, only losers. The biggest question is who will be the biggest loser?

That being said even tonight there are reports of military movements in the region even as NATO and Arab coalition partners gather to discuss a response. I am resigned to the fact that the Syrian Civil war will overflow Syria’s borders and draw in the powers of many countries. Just who I am not exactly sure at this time. In the US there is a marked tepid feeling among voters about getting involved. That may be a good thing. It may temper our response and make us deliberate the consequences of military action or inaction.

Bertrand Russell once said that “War does not determine who is right – only who is left.” I wonder if anyone in any of the nations currently involved or possibly that might be engaged in the war actually things about what Russell said.

The fact is that what is going on in Syria is the proverbial “Tar Baby.” There is no clean easy solution to the situation. Lobbing in a few hundred cruise missiles and launching airstrikes in support of the rebels is unlikely to have a profound strategic affect. Instead, unless NATO and its allies are willing to risk an actual ground war after the missile and air strikes then the fact of the matter is that those strikes will have little long term effect. If a ground invasion happens it will be bloody and not the cake walk that so many in Western Governments, media and populations that rely on a very small number of military professionals to fight their wars think it will be.

If by some chance the United States and its allies get drawn into the Syrian Civil War than all of them had better think of what the consequences of that involvement will be, for the region, the world and our own countries. The fact is that a major war in Syria will drag the rest of the region into it. This is not 2003 Iraq or 2011 Libya. The fact is that Syria is heavily splintered into various regional, ethnic and religious groups, most who have lived among each other for millennia and most of whom hate each other.

I cannot speak for other governments around the region and the world, allied to the United States or not. However I do know that our Constitution has in it the formula of who should committed the country to war and that, despite our recent history is not the President by his executive authority Commander in Chief but by Congress after due deliberation and a vote to declare war.

My thoughts are that if we in the United States are serious about this, that we believe that Syria and Assad need to be taken down then fine. Let us call Congress back to Washington now and have them debate the issue. If they vote for war then they need to do two things, the first is that Congress needs to be called away from its vacation and get to work debating the issue. If the President backed by a declaration of war from Congress and a repeal of the sequester that is gutting the country and the military.

If they cannot do this then let’s stop the bullshit and tell the work that the situation in Syria is terrible but the consequences of going to war without either an end in mind or analysis of the costs involved is criminal. Bismarck said it well in regard to the Balkans and his comments should be taken to heart by the United States and its allies.

The situation in Syria cries out for action, but that action must be action that helps the people of Syria, the region and the world and is not just an action to salve our collective consciousness and say that we did something. Simply throwing some cruise missiles at Syria accomplishes nothing unless there is a plan of what we intend to see happen. William Tecumseh Sherman said: “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.”

My thoughts on this are to make going to war difficult. If the President and his cabinet determines that they believe in consultations with our allies that war is the last and best of the worst case options, the Congress needs to cut short its vacation. Republican and Democrat leaders need to gather and a decision has to be made. If we go to war it can no longer be done under the very loose and terribly vague rules of the War Powers Act because any attack on Syria will certainly escalate beyond a short term military strike done “on the cheap.”

There is no cheap or easy to Syria. If military action is the only way to solve the problem then Congress must convene, make a formal declaration of war and also repeal sequestration. A war in Syria will be costly in blood and treasure and will likely pull in many other countries. The human costs in the region, not just Syria will be beyond imagination while the costs to the world economy will be severe and quite possibly push the world into another recession or possibly depression.

The military power alone of the United States has been used far too many times as our governments under successive Republican and Democrat leadership have opted not to use the full measure of our diplomatic, intelligence, military and economic power to solve problems. Instead we fall back to the easiest and most ready means to satiate our need for a quick solution to complex problems, the military option. Military power alone, especially if it is incapable of ending the conflict and bringing a just peace is not an answer in Syria.

Syria03_GQ_07Dec12_getty_b_642x390

The fact is that we Americans do not know the world nor do we understand it. Americans have become simple and lazy when it comes to dealing with complex issues. We deal in sound bites and tweets, the more fiery the better even as we stick our heads in the sand as to what is happening in the world. Ask how many people are more interested in the beginning of the College and Pro-Football seasons in the next couple of weeks versus those interested in really important issues of war and peace and you will get your answer on our priorities as Americans. We have no sense of history and are quite ignorant of the world around us and the political, cultural, religious, philosophical, ideological and economic factors that make up our world so our first response is almost always the sword.

If the President and Congress feel that it is absolutely necessary to go to war over the atrocities being committed in Syria let them make that decision, but only after considerable debate, consultations with allies, the United Nations and the Arab League followed by a vote on an actual declaration of war, the repeal of sequestration and a major stimulus to prevent the economy from tanking when the cost of oil goes through the roof and cripples the world economy.

Winston Churchill cautioned leaders “Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.” 

images-56

To paraphrase Bismarck, Syria is not worth the life of one American or Allied Soldier unless our governments are willing to do it right. All in or stay the hell out and don’t go in without counting the real and the potential costs.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under middle east, Military, national security, Political Commentary

Padre Steve’s Arab Spring Articles: Tahir Square to Sirte

It is hard to believe that Moammar Gaddafi is dead and that the people of Libya have thrown off the shackles of his tyrannical dictatorship which caused them and the world so much grief.  These are links and brief descriptions of the articles of this series.  There have been revolts across the Middle East as oppressed people have risen up peacefully against their repressive governments only to be met with force. Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and now Syria, each is rooted in history and each is different. Taken together they are inspiring others around the world.  I have not written much on Yemen or Syria but expect in the coming weeks and months there will be plenty of opportunities to look at the history, culture and unique aspects of these revolts and their potential impact in the region and around the world.  It is my belief that they are helping usher in a new age of revolution with results that will be as dramatic and important as the fall of Empires at the close of the First World War.  Looking at each article you can see how my thought process has evolved as the situation has developed.

Also a page update. I have updated the Middle East Page found in the top menu.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Walk Like an Egyptian: The Egyptian Revolution and the Radicalization of the Middle East Published31 January 2011. An analysis of the probability of the radicalization of the Middle East as revolution spreads.

The Beginning of Chaos in Egypt: Watching and Waiting as the Situation Deteriorates Published2 February 2011 as the situation began to deteriorate in Egypt as Mubarak loyalists attacked protesters in Tahir Squar.

Egypt: As Mysterious as the Sphinx and as Dangerous as a Cobra….What Next? Posted11 February 2011.  A continuation of my observations of  the revolution in Egypt prior to the fall of Hosni Mubarak.

Danger in the Arabian Gulf: The Fires of Protest Spread to Bahrain Posted18 February 2011. The article deals with the protests in Bahrain and my experiences and observations having traveled there many times.

Damned if you do…Damned if you Don’t: The Middle East Protests and U.S. Foreign Policy Posted 19 February 2011. An examination of the difficulties facing U.S. Foreign policy officials in light of the recent spread of revolution in the Arab World.

To the Shores of Tripoli: The Flames of Revolution Spread to Libya as Gaddafi Fights Back Posted February 21st as the protests in Libya provoked a response from dictator Moammar Gaddafi. Saif Al Islam Gaddafi said We will take up arms… we will fight to the last bullet… We will destroy seditious elements. If everybody is armed, it is civil war, we will kill each other.”

Göttdammerung in Libya: Shades of Hitler as Gaddafi Promises to Die as a Martyr Published 22 February 2011 Moammar Gaddafi promises “I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents … I will die as a martyr at the end… I have not yet ordered the use of force, not yet ordered one bullet to be fired … when i do, everything will burn.”   Moammar Gaddafi accurately predicts his death.

The Guns of March Published 9 March 2011. “War is the unfolding of miscalculations” Barbara Tuchman Libya in the context of the broader Middle East and US Military capabilities.

Gaddafi Taunts the West and Kills his People: Our inaction speaks so loud he can’t hear a Word that we are Saying  Published 11 March 2011.  The cost of inaction and the risks of making threats that you do not back up with force.  When I wrote this I believed that if nothing was done that Gaddafi or terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and others could turn this revolt into a regional war.

Strike on Libya: The Unknown outcome of Operation Odyssey Dawn Published20 March 2011. The beginning of the NATO air campaign in Libya.

Damned if you do and Damned if you Don’t: The Allied Intervention in Libya Published March 21st 2011.  War is the province of chance. In no other sphere of human activity must such a margin be left for this intruder. It increases the uncertainty of every circumstance and deranges the course of events.”- Karl von Clausewitz The opportunities and peril associated with the NATO intervention in Libya.

Gaddafi’s Götterdämmerung: The End in Tripoli Published 21 August 2011.  The fall of  Tripoli, the Libyan Rebels drive out Gaddafi.

The Promise and Peril of Revolutionary Times: A Warning From History  Published 18 October 2011. Putting revolutions around the world in context.

Gaddafi is Dead so what happens Now? Published 20 October 2011. The death of Moammar Gaddafi and questions of what comes next.

Why the Libyans were able to Overthrow Gaddafi and what We can learn from It: A Lesson from the work of T E Lawrence  Published 21 October 2011 What NATO and theUnited States did right inLibya and a look at Middle East History.

2 Comments

Filed under Foreign Policy, History, middle east, Military

Gaddafi is Dead so what happens Now?

“We announce to the world that Qaddafi has been killed at the hands of the revolution. It is a historic moment. It is the end of tyranny and dictatorship. Qaddafi has met his fate.” Abdel Hafez Ghoga, spokesman for the National Transitional Council

Note: This article contains graphic images of Gaddafi’s body. They may not be suitable for all readers.

The Arab Spring gained new momentum today with the killing of Moammar Gaddafi by forces loyal to the National Transitional Council. The NTC had captured Tripoli in August and the former dictator had been on the run attempting to rally loyalists to help him regain power.  His efforts were in vain. The NTC forces which are best described as a collection of irregular forces rather than a real army continued to gain territory and liberate cities which had been terrorized by Gaddafi’s forces.

Gaddafi was killed today while he and close advisors were attempting to flee Sirte his hometown which was in the process of  falling to NTC forces.  Reports are sketchy but his convoy appeared to be hit by French Jets and American Predator drones  killing many of his loyalists.  Gaddafi reportedly was wounded but escaped to hide in a drainage ditch tunnel.  He was later captured by pursuing NTC forces, captured and reportedly died of his wounds after his capture.  The circumstances of his death are unclear some say that the vehicle that he was being transported in was caught in a crossfire and other reports indicate that he may have been summarily executed by his captors.  Pictures of his body seem to show a bullet wound in his forehead, one in his left arm and several just below his sternum.

Along those killed with Gaddafi was his Defense Minister Abu Bakr Yunis Jabr, head of Intelligence Services Abdullah al-Senussi and his son Muatassim and other loyalists who were killed during or following a firefight with NTC forces.  Another report by Al Arabya News says that one of their reporters in Sirte has confirmed that Saif-Al Islam Gaddafi is also dead.

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2011/10/20111020111520869621.html

Gaddafi wounded and still alive (above) after his capture and his corpse below

 

The death of Gaddafi ends a 42 year reign of terror in Libyaand of Gaddafi’s support for terrorism and terrorist organizations. Among those terrorist acts included the downing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland on December 21st 1988 killing all 270 souls aboard and the April 5th 1986 bombing of the West Berlin nightclub La Belle which killed 3 people and wounded 230. The latter was directed at US Army soldiers that frequented the club.  He trained and supported tyrants in Sierra Leone and Liberia who killed hundreds of thousands of people.  Tens of thousands of Libyans died at his hand.

Despite this Libya faces difficulties.  Tribal, ideological, economic and political rivalries long contained and suppressed are showing. The Misrata Council in the West does not recognize the NTC despite the latter group’s recognition by governments around the world.  There are tensions between those of a more secular democratic view and Islamists so it remains to be seen what Libya will evolve or devolve into over the coming weeks, months and years.

The killing of Gaddafi is likely to have broad repercussions throughout the Middle East and may further encourage the now months long revolts against Yemen’s long term dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh and Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad.  Other regimes could face uprising and there is potential for the Arab Spring to inspire those in other nations who feel oppressed or that have real or imagined grievances against their governments or those that they see as the real power brokers in their lands.

Bashar Al Assad and Ali Abdullah Saleh…are they next?

Since war, economic crisis and perceived inequities between the rich and the poor are fertile ground for such movements it is my belief that the Arab Spring is helping to usher in a new era of revolution around the world such as not been seen since 1918 and the overthrow of long established governments and the collapse of empires which lasted until the 1960s.  The world is still shaped by those events.

As Alexis de Tocqueville said “In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end.”

As I said a few days ago this is a time of promise and peril. But for now we can rejoice for the people of Libya as they begin a new chapter in their history.

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under Foreign Policy, History, middle east

Adjusting Strategy to Reality

Taliban Fighters

“The core goal of the U.S. strategy in the Afghanistan and Pakistan theater remains to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al-Qa’ida in the region and to prevent its return to either country…” US Strategy in Afghanistan for 2011

“The aim of war should be the defeat of the enemy.  But what constitutes defeat?  The conquest of his whole territory is not always necessary, and total occupation of his territory may not be enough.” Carl Von Clausewitz

Strategic goals cannot remain fixed on geographic objectives which have lost their strategic importance because it is no longer the enemy’s center of gravity. On September 11th 2011 the Taliban ruled Afghanistan which harbored Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda terrorist organization became the central front in the new “War on Terrorism.”  For about a year Afghanistan remained the central focus of United States efforts against Al Qaeda until President Bush and his administration changed the primary effort to the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime.

The effect of switching the American strategic focus from Afghanistan where we were making headway despite the limited resources provided to Iraq was a mistake of epic proportions that only became evident when Iraq did not go the way that the Bush administration led by Vice President Dick Cheney. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer the head of the Coalition Provision Authority planned.  Instead of a quick withdraw a series of mistakes and miscalculations turned the majority of the Iraqi people who had welcomed US Forces with open arms against us and an insurgency which claimed over 4000 American military personnel deaths and over 30,000 wounded became our primary focus.  We are still trying to figure out how to end our involvement in that country hoping that Iraq will not sink into another civil war.

Contrary to expectations Iraq became a front which consumed U.S. Forces and limited strategic flexibility in other regions of the world including Afghanistan.  In that country the indigenous Taliban which had been driven from power in 2001 began a gradual and deliberate return to political and military viability which was finally noticed by the United States in 2008 and 2009.  The Taliban were supported by the Pakistani Taliban, elements of the Bin Laden organization and in many cases duplicitous elements within the Pakistani military and intelligence services which were using the situation to support their own strategic goals of gaining influence in Afghanistan while strengthening their position against their perceived mortal enemy India.  Throughout the war the Pakistanis acted in their own interest while placating American demands to do more against the Taliban and Al Qaeda operating in Pakistan proper.

The Obama administration attempted to regain the initiative with a “surge” of 30,000 additional troops which raised the overall commitment of the United States to a force of over 100,000 troops assisted by NATO Allies and the corrupt, ill-trained and often Taliban Afghan Army and Police.  The surge was controversial and marked with controversy was the US Commander General Stanley McCrystal was relieved of command after an article in the Rolling Stone magazine which made it appear that he held the Obama administration in contempt. Since McCrystal recently returned to the Administration in a civilian capacity one wonders if the administration discovered that the article was meant to discredit McCrystal. McCrystal was relieved by his superior CENTCOM Commander General David Petreaus who had helped devise the strategy which in conjunction with the Anbar Awakening turned the tide against Al Qaeda and indigenous Iraqi insurgents in 2007-2008.  It achieved some success but even the United States recognizes that whatever success has been wrought is fragile and could easily be erased.

Unfortunately while the United States and its Allies continue to reinforce the campaign in Afghanistan their efforts are often undercut by the corrupt and duplicitous regime of Mohammed Karzai as well as our supposed Pakistani allies.  The Karzai regime hunkered down in Kabul has little influence outside the Presidential Palace except in its dealing in the Opium trade which helps finance the Taliban. The Pakistanis have over the 10 year duration of the war failed to maintain the security on their side of the border and often have clandestinely supported the Taliban and according to some may have given sanctuary to Al Qaeda.  The most recent setback came today when the Pakistani Chief of the General Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Chief of Intelligence Ahmed Shuja Pasha issued a demand for the US to stop Predator Drone strikes in the border regions, cut Special Forces and CIA Staff and give the Pakistani Intelligence Service, the ISI visibility on CIA operations.  This has been long in the works but came to a head with the arrest of a CIA contractor under the suspicion of murdering two Pakistanis.  The incident created quite a rift in US and Pakistani relations in part brought about by internal Pakistani politics.  Of course the ISI has long been a source of aid to the Taliban so the United States has good reason not to trust the ISI with information that could endanger American lives.

Protests in Bahrain: The Arabian Peninsula as the new Center of Gravity

The fact is without full Pakistani cooperation and substantial Afghani political reform to end corruption and provide real security to Afghani people there is no way to set conditions for a US withdraw that would leave Afghanistan a less dangerous place for its own people and for US and Western security interests. After all no one wants another 9-11 attack.  The US plans to begin withdrawing forces this year but the mission has been extended to at least 2014 at a cost of 119.4 billion dollars per year at the estimated 2011 rate and has increased exponentially since the US involvement began in 2001. The cost of the Afghanistan war in human, material and economic terms has imperiled other strategic priorities and limits the flexibility of the United States in other more vital regions.

Afghanistan is now an expensive sideshow in a larger war where the strategic center of gravity has shifted decisively to the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean where Al Qaeda seeks to use democratic revolts against autocratic despots to further its own ends. The key countries are Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt with Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict boiling over.  While all of these crises grow on what seem to be a daily basis the United States and its Allies are mired in Afghanistan reinforcing failure.  Our troops on the ground have not lost a battle but like our brothers in Vietnam could “lose” the war.

This is the point where political and military leaders have to count the cost of the operation and weigh them against our actual strategic interests. The fact is if we withdrew the bulk of our ground combat forces and shifted to a lower footprint special operations and CIA campaign with a goal of ensuring that Al Qaeda cannot operate in Afghanistan with impunity as they did before 9-11 that we would likely be no worse off than we are now and have a greater amount of strategic flexibility to deal with other crises, political, military and humanitarian around the world.

The real crux of the issue is that Afghanistan is much like Stalingrad to the Germans in 1942. It has become a psychological more than a military campaign. We have invested so much in it that we do not believe that we can withdraw even though a scaled back presence would do much to improve our overall strategic situation.  Hitler denuded more important areas to attempt to capture Stalingrad and lost everything. Yes Al Qaeda used Afghanistan as its base to attack us in 2001 but they have moved on and Al Qaeda in Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula is a far greater strategic danger simply because of the oil supplies and strategic waterways in the area.

We simply need to look at all components of national strategy and decide where to concentrate.  Sometimes a strategic withdraw is necessary and actually vital to recover the initiative and set the stage for long term success. In Afghanistan this is not an admission of defeat but rather an acknowledgement that the central focus of the war and our strategic interests are elsewhere.  Our enemies would love to have us continue the campaign in Afghanistan in its current form, they know that our commitment drains our military, imperils our overall strategy and bleeds us dry economically all the while providing propaganda grist for them in their war against us.

However despite the cost the political situation in the United States keeps President Obama invested in Afghanistan. If he withdraws his opponents will say that he lost the war. Unfortunately the war in Afghanistan was ceded to the Taliban in 2003 when we decided that Iraq was more important. Now we reap the terrible consequences of that decision.  Now we have to decide how to make something positive out of this unenviable strategic position. But as Napoleon Bonaparte said “In order to govern, the question is not to follow out a more or less valid theory but to build with whatever materials are at hand. The inevitable must be accepted and turned to advantage.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

2 Comments

Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

Damned if you do and Damned if you Don’t: The Allied Intervention in Libya

Libyan Rebels gather around a destroyed T-72 outside Benghazi

War is the unfolding of miscalculations.
Barbara Tuchman

Back on the 9th of March I wrote this closing line to an article entitled The Guns of March where I discussed the developing situation in Libya and the really terrible options that world and regional leaders had in response to Muammar Gaddafi’s criminal actions against his own people. I concluded that article with this statement.

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?”

It is obvious to all that the region stands a very good chance of becoming engulfed in a regional war unless the rebels drive Gaddafi from power, Gaddafi steps down on his own or he is killed or captured. Gaddafi has promised a “long war” against the “colonial and crusader” enemy.

Gaddafi Defiant

In the days since I wrote the referenced article the Arab League spoke up in support of establishing a no-fly zone and the United Nations Security Council voted for member nations to enforce a no-fly zone and take “all necessary measures” in order to stop Gaddafi’s forces attacks on other Libyans. By the time the Security Council acted Gaddafi’s forces had retaken many rebel held cities inflicting great slaughter on civilians and were on the outskirts of the rebel capital Benghazi with Gaddafi threatening to send his forces “house to house” to kill the opposition and promising to show no mercy.  Within a day French and British aircraft were flying missions and striking the spearhead of Gaddafi’s forces outside of Benghazi and United States Navy ships were launching Tomahawk Cruise Missiles at the Libyan air defense system. They were joined by aircraft from the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force as well as Canada, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Norway, Denmark and Qatar.  Gaddafi’s forces were decimated outside of Benghazi and forced to retreat and a renewed rebel force, this time acting more like a military organization began a pursuit which has reached Ajdabiya.  In the west Gaddafi’s forces continue to attack the towns of Misrata and Zintan and according to observers and medical personnel inflicting heavy casualties on civilians.

President Obama in a briefing

Around the world there is much criticism of the operation as well as support. In the United States representatives as diverse as Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich are raising concerns on the Constitutional issues of the intervention in that President Obama did not secure the approval of Congress prior to sending American forces into battle. Kucinich even calls it an impeachable offense.  Likewise a diverse assembly of politicians, former military and executive branch officials including those with experience at the State Department, the United Nations, NATO and the Middle East are voicing their concerns about the fact that the end state of the operation is not defined and about the possibility of mission creep. The administration has not helped matters in sending a number of messages over the past few days of a desired end state. It is obvious that President Obama did not want this fight nor did he want it to appear that we were again leading an attack on an Arab nation.  His hesitancy has led to some conservatives attacking his lack of decisiveness even as other conservatives criticize his decision to join the military operations. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has been outspoken in his opposition to becoming involved in another war and seems to want U.S. involvement to decrease sooner rather than later.

Rebels with damaged 152mm Self Propelled Howitzer

The situation is still evolving by the hour and one thing is clear. The outcome is very unclear and the repercussions across the region are also uncertain. One problem is the apparent discontinuity in U.S. and Western policy to various despotic Arab regimes, supporting the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, a military operation against Gaddafi in Libya and very muted and lukewarm support to popular political movements in Bahrain and Yemen. The Bahraini demonstrations have been put down with the help of Saudi forces but in Yemen numerous influential military officers have taken their units to support the Yemeni protestors. Of course the situation in all of these nations is different with the exception of the fact that all are ruled by long term undemocratic and repressive regimes of varying degree. Likewise actors in each country are different as are the geo-political interests of the United States.

A friend of mine pointed out to me that we are not viewed as “the good guys” in much of the Arab World as much as we see ourselves as such. I think that is true to a large extent because of foreign policy choices of the past century in regard to the Arab World as well as the past decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan where even today photos taken by a rogue Army unit of soldiers posing with the mutilated and dead bodies enemies of the enemy further degrade opinion in the region against us.  But we are also the hope of many of those in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other nations and in those places and others popular uprisings have called out to us for political support and in the case of the Libyans military protection.

Parallels of 1989 in the fall of the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe are drawn by the optimistic observers of what has been called the “Arab Spring.” However as much as I would like to believe that this is the case I think the miscalculations of 1914 are more readily apparent. There is nothing simple about what is going on and it seems to me that the region is sinking into a war with very unpredictable and grave consequences. Those consequences will probably with us for a generation was were the unanticipated outcomes of the First World War. Of course one of those outcomes was the breakup of the Ottoman Empire and the arbitrary redrawing of boundaries and selection of leaders in the newly created Arab nations and emirates by the victorious Allies. That is something that we are dealing with even as I finish this article.

As I wrote in another article I believe that acting to prevent the slaughter of Libyans by Gaddafi was the right thing to do.  Unfortunately as most observers know the people of Libya will not be safe unless Gaddafi leaves power. I think by backing Gaddafi into a corner early, even before he began his offensive against what were peaceful protestors and not giving him a face saving way out that we may have brought about a war that no one wanted and has few possible good endings. We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

Peace

Padre Steve+

3 Comments

Filed under Foreign Policy, History, middle east, Military, national security

Strike on Libya: The Unknown outcome of Operation Odyssey Dawn

Libyan Rebels among tanks and vehicles destroyed by coalition air strikes outside Benghazi (AFP photo)

“No plan survives contact with the enemy.” Field Marshal Helmuth Von Molkte the Elder

“War is the province of chance. In no other sphere of human activity must such a margin be left for this intruder. It increases the uncertainty of every circumstance and deranges the course of events.”
– Karl von Clausewitz

Under the authority of a United Nations Security Council resolution the military forces of a number of NATO nations began air and missile strikes against Libyan air defenses command a control facilities and ground forces.  While the United States and British Royal Navies lobbed salvoes of Tomahawk cruise missiles aircraft from France, Britain, the United States launched the initial air strikes. They have been joined by or soon will be joined by aircraft from Italy, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Canada and Qatar, the first Arab nation to participate. A number of other Arab countries may join the force as operations move from air strikes to the enforcement of the no-fly zone itself. The French Navy has deployed the nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle from Toulon and it will join the naval forces in conducting air strikes and enforce the no-fly zone.

Air strikes have significantly degraded Libya’s air defenses and blasted Libyan forces arrayed against the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. The attacks on the ground forces stopped the Libyan attack in its tracks and the rebels have returned to the advance after appearing to be on the verge of a last stand against Gaddafi’s forces. In the past few days Gaddafi and his son Saif Al Islam Gaddafi have said that they would destroy the revolt and show “no mercy” in doing so. It is my belief that Libyan military officers and forces which have been “on the fence” will join the revolt in short order as the rebel forces renew their advance to the west as their loyalty to the regime is tenuous at best.

The strikes though extensive seem to have avoided doing to the Libyan people what was done to the Iraqi people and not targeted power plants or other infrastructure needed by the Libyan people. In other words NATO is trying to make sure that the Libyan people do not suffer for Gaddafi’s crimes. Gaddafi is trying to play up the attack as an attack against Libya by the “Crusader or Colonial enemy.”

Gaddafi has said that he will wage a “long war” and that he would arm a “million civilians” as loyalists gathered in his compound to act as a human shield to protect Gaddafi.  Gaddafi is known for his propaganda and his ruthlessness so we have to believe that he will at least attempt to resist but arming a million civilians is likely beyond his logistical capabilities while under heavy bombardment. The United States and NATO have said that they have not targeted Gaddafi but of course as everyone knows no one would object if Gaddafi happened to be in the neighborhood of a military target.

As the operation is in its early stages it is unknown how it will turn out. Morally and under the United Nations charter it is the right thing to do as Gaddafi was killing civilians and on the verge of killing many more and making the humanitarian crisis even worse. Unfortunately when any military operation is undertaken the consequences are and outcomes are never pre-determined. One hopes that the strikes will keep Gaddafi from killing more of his own people and causing greater chaos in the region. One also hopes that it will encourage the pro-democracy and secular movements that began in Iran but was crushed but which has taken root in Tunisia and Egypt to continue to spread across the Middle East. One hopes that other Arab nations will help Libya recover from Gaddafi and do what is right for the Libyans and for their own people. One also hopes that the strikes will level the playing field enough for the rebels to overthrow Gaddafi and bring him to justice.  So analysts in the Middle East believe that this will be the case. Al Jazeera reports that “Faysal Itani, deputy head of Middle East and North Africa forecasting at Exclusive Analysis tells Reuters that Gaddafi’s use of heavy weaponry against civilians has narrows his options considerably. He says: The doors are really shut for negotiation …  We think Gaddafi will be killed, or commit suicide or simply run away. It’s over.”

Of course one never knows. Gaddafi has stated that he has issued a cease fire but witnesses in Misrata which has been under heavy attack for the past week state that Gaddafi’s forces are still waging a campaign against civilians in that city. Likewise as Nicholas Burns a former United States Undersecretary of State notes that “one of the gambles that Britain, France and the United States, and indeed the Arab League, have taken is not having an agreement on what the mission is. Is the coalition trying to protect civilians in harm’s way, or in essence trying to overthrow Gaddafi? The coalition has intervened in a civil war on behalf of one of the protagonists. They have got to straighten out exactly what they are trying to accomplish.”

That is a big question mark. The real danger in this kind of unscripted intervention is the unforeseen consequences of each action taken. Even an action undertaken with the noblest of reasons can run afoul of unforeseen and undesirable outcomes. Thus only time will tell and we can only hope that freedom comes to Libya and that the bloodshed will end, hopefully with the Gaddafi regime thrown upon the ash heap of history by the Libyan people.

The die has been cast….

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

2 Comments

Filed under Foreign Policy, History, middle east, Military

All necessary Measures….the Coming End of the Gaddafi Regime

Gaddafi (Reuters photo)

After weeks of dithering the United Nations Security Council has authorized a “No Fly Zone” and authorized “all necessary measures” to protect civilians from the onslaught of Muammar Gaddafi’s military.  The vote came after days of urging by the French, British, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Arab League and belatedly the United States. The vote of 10 for and 5 abstentions authorizes member nations to act together to protect civilians in Libya and comes as Gaddafi has threatened to attack the rebel capital of Benghazi and to “show no mercy” in doing so. Gaddafi responded to the vote by proclaiming “The UN Security Council has no mandate. We don’t acknowledge their resolutions” and he promised to respond harshly to any UN-sponsored attacks stating “If the world is crazy, we will be crazy too.”

While Gaddafi pledged to mount an attack against Benghazi tonight his forces were repulsed for the first time by rebel forces at Ajdabiya with the rebels using tanks and artillery of their own for the first time. Gaddafi’s air force launched attacks on Benghazi but it is my assessment that these strikes were to instill terror in the civilian population and break the back of rebel supporters. His announcement that his forces were coming “tonight” was obviously a propaganda claim.

It is true that the situation on the ground has shifted in favor of Gaddafi’s forces and that they have enjoyed a run of success over the past week and a half. However the success is illusory as it came at the expense of ill equipped and trained rebel forces in the western part of the country near the main operating bases of the forces that Gaddafi has employed with the greatest effect. Likewise his success east of his tribal home of Sirte has come against rebel forces which had advanced too far and had neither the training or firepower to hold the ground that they had taken. Deployed on open ground with no air support they were no match for Gaddafi’s forces. The further east Gaddafi’s forces go the more that they will face military forces which went over to the rebels, forces that will do better than those in the west and this was evident today at Ajdalbiya.

The repulse at Ajdabiya is significant and more significant than some people will believe. Gaddafi’s Army is now operation far from their home bases and the trek across the Libyan Desert is probably facing logistical problems. The first is that they have had to advance hundreds of miles. His armored forces are probably not well maintained and likely are experiencing mechanical difficulties especially since logistic support in most of the Arab World’s militaries is not a high priority. Lacking skilled mechanics and technical personnel they have probably lost a good number of vehicles. Photos of Libyan forces show no military cargo trucks accompanying the Army which indicates to me that the pro-Gaddafi forces are operating at the edge of their logistical support system.  Anyone who has operated in a dessert war can testify to this fact. Should the rebels yield to him at Ajdabiya they will fall back to far more defensible terrain to the southwest of Benghazi, the heavily forested and mountainous uplands of the Jebel Akhdar which would even the playing field in favor of the rebels who until now have been fighting in open terrain which would even the playing field.  To further help the rebels the first confirmed shipments of Egyptian arms have reached rebel forces.

Another component to the story is that Gaddafi’s forces are divided. He has a significant number of troops attempting to overcome rebel forces at the town of Zindan about 120 kilometers southwest of Tripoli.  These forces are operating in a region less hospitable than those near Ajdabiya but because they are closer to their supply base have a better chance of success than those in the east.

However all of this goes away once the airstrikes from American, French, British and Arab air forces start pounding his exposed forces at Ajdabiya. These forces are operating outside of the range of the Libyan air defense network. What little anti-aircraft capability they have will not protect them against modern air forces. As soon as Gaddafi’s tanks and APCs start getting “brewed up” by air attacks the forces manning them will give up the fight.  Likewise the air defenses that Gaddafi has in his arsenal are antiquated and no match for what will be coming after them. The fact is that many of the officers in command of these forces only stayed loyal because it appeared that the world would not stand up to Gaddafi and until today they were correct. This marriage of convenience will end once the bombs start falling.

What looked like a certain victory for Gaddafi will disappear as fast as a mirage in the Libyan Desert. At some point the officers that had reluctantly supported Gaddafi will turn against him as they would have weeks ago had the actions of world leaders matched their words. There will not be a need for ground troops and thankfully the U.N. authorization does not authorize occupation.  The Libyan’s military and people knowing that Gaddafi stands alone will topple his ruthless regime on their own and because the west, led by the French acted to support them Al Qaeda and its allies who were hoping to commandeer this revolt will be left in the dust. As for Gaddafi he will be luck not to avoid the fate of another dictator who ruled Libya, Italy’s Benito Mussolini and end up handing from a meat hook.

Of course I could be wrong, but I expect that within a week the situation which looked so bleak for the rebels will look very different and Gaddafi will be fighting not for the survival of his regime but for his life. But it has to go down this way. Neither Egypt Tunisia nor Europe can handle the influx of refugees should Gaddafi survive. They all have a vested interest in stopping Gaddafi now as do we as we cannot let Gaddafi remain in control and turn Libya into a haven for Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

One can hope that the carnage in Libya will end soon and that something of a democratic and peace minded Libya will be the result.  Somehow I think that there is a chance for this now.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

2 Comments

Filed under Foreign Policy, middle east, national security