Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

For once, Washington may do the right thing

Posted by Charles II on March 11, 2011

Libya presents American policy makers with a conundrum. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t care all that much who won the nascent civil war, because we wouldn’t be dependent on Middle Eastern oil. But in the world as it is, we can either overtly intervene, in which case we risk becoming as popular in Libya as we are in Iraq, or we can fail to intervene, in which case, Gaddafi (who has the money and the guns) will eventually crush the resistance.

But there’s a third way, which is to arm the rebels and let them fight on an equal footing with the dictator. That’s what the French did for us in the American revolution. The fact that we had to fight for our freedom, rather than have a benevolent outside nation give it to us, had the effect of forming the ties of trust and commitment among Americans that were necessary to get us through the factional and fractious early days of the nation. This approach can work, whenever we support a popular uprising against an unpopular dictator. It does not work when we arm unpopular Contras against an elected government, even if that government has tendencies toward caudillo-style governance.

Robert Fisk tells us that Washington is trying to arm the Libyan rebels, and failing because it doesn’t want to do so openly and because Saudi Arabia doesn’t want to serve as the intermediary this time. The downside is that if Saudi Arabia helps in arming the rebels, we couldn’t criticize the Saudis for their own repression. Since we won’t do anything serious to criticize them, no matter what, I don’t see that as much of a downside. While it’s sometimes hard to see an upside to civil war, the prospect of forming a government-in-training in the same manner as happened to us in our Revolution is an upside.

Let’s hope that the Administration succeeds in doing the right thing. Whenever I think of Obama, the phrase that comes to mind is I’d like to compliment you on your work. When will you begin?

7 Responses to “For once, Washington may do the right thing”

  1. mahakal said

    Arming both sides and letting them fight is the American way, and Jesus approved! ;)

  2. Stormcrow said

    The weapons they lack are ones we cannot practically supply them with.

    AKs, RPGs, and other assorted light infantry weapons are all over Africa. There may be a shortage amongst the Libyan insurgents, but that’s not why they’re losing ground.

    They’re losing ground because the pro-Ghadaffi air force is bombing and rocketing the hell out of them.

    That sort of hardware isn’t something you just hand out like the Stingers the CIA shipped to the mujahadeen 25 years ago.

    They are inherently impossible to smuggle: military attack aircraft are just too damned big. And what’s worse, you need a pre-existing infrastructure in order to keep them running and armed.

    To the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever had much success slipping that sort of contraband across a national border. No matter how porous it is.

    • Charles II said

      I agree that anti-aircraft missiles are out of the question. I was thinking about resupply of food, ammunition, anti-aircraft weaponry, and light anti-tank weapons.

      Gaddafi will eventually run low on bombs and missiles. His aircraft will need maintenance parts, which might not be so easy to replace. If the rebels don’t give up and don’t run out of food, ammunition, and willing bodies, resupply becomes a real problem for Gaddafi. He’s stretched thin, his mercenaries are not exactly as good as Blackwater/Xe’s, he’s old, and the world is pretty much united in regarding him as a problem. Given time for it to form, the new Egyptian government might even supply the planes.

      As for national borders, Benghazi is a port. And, even were those facilities to be damaged, it’s hard to control an entire coastline.

      • Stormcrow said

        Light antitank is in the same class as AKs: they’re all over the place.

        AA breaks down into two groups: light man-portable AA, i.e., stingers and their descendants, and heavy AA: crew-served AA guns and SAMs.

        The first group we can ship, assuming a secure transfer point. More on that below. The second group falls into the same bin as attack aircraft: even if we could ship the hardware, we couldn’t ship the infrastructure.

        A secure transfer point is going to be a problem. Let’s assume insurgent control of Benghazi. Do they also control the airspace above it and the waters offshore? If not, we’ll have to.

        You can see where I’m going with this. This is how we got into Big Fucking Ugly wars in places like Korea and Vietnam: we start out with “small” measures and when they fail, we escalate.

        With this one, we may not even be able to start small, since the Libyan shore of the Med isn’t a mountainous Afghanistan border. The latter is a smuggler’s wet dream, the former is far too easy for an intact airforce to keep watch over.

        Of course, if we want to shoot down that airforce, we start down the path I outlined above.

        And our track record with things like this isn’t very good. I don’t think you need to work your imagination very hard to imagine the sort of thug we’d probably end up shoehorning into Ghadaffi’s old spot.

      • Charles II said

        Your last point, that the US would expect to appoint the successor and would probably choose badly, is spot on.

        On the other hand, the way things are going, if the rebels don’t get resupply, Gaddafi is going to re-take the territory they had. If he does so, he’ll probably be able to starve them out. So, if Washington does nothing, it will be the same as if they had supported Gaddafi… which is how the Arab world will see it.

  3. Stormcrow said

    .. if Washington does nothing, it will be the same as if they had supported Gaddafi… which is how the Arab world will see it


    50 years of double dealing and support of the very worst factions in both Israel and the Arab world has left us without any good options.

    But IMO, getting involved in yet a third war, on top of the two we’re losing right now, is an even worse option.

    The thing that really worries me about the way Americans see this, is that pressure for this “worse” option may come as much from the left as from the right.

    I think this is one of those situations which is booby-trapped by its nature. The strategic equivalent of mine-clearing.

    When you’re dealing with one of those, you need to be very very careful not to let your head be swept into action by your heart. And you have to work out the consequences a dozen steps along any path you consider taking.

    Because if you don’t think things through with utmost clarity, you’re liable to get blown up.

    • It may already be too late: Qaddafi’s retaken a key city, cutting off petrol supplies to the rebels just as they’re learning how to use the weapons systems they’ve taken.

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