13 April 2011

Libya As A Blood Sport

Gaddafi and the rebels are gladiators in a blood contest confined to a Libyan arena whose terms are controlled by the international community. In this contest Gaddafi has already received the thumbs down from a modern Casear.

Four months ago, Gaddafi was the unquestioned absolute ruler of his country, as he had been for forty years, and there was not even an organized political opposition. Now, the writing is on the wall.

With that kind of reality to face, perhaps it isn't surprising that most of the assertions that Gaddafi's regime have been lies so bald faced that they appear delusional.

The inevitabilty of the outcome boils down to one key fact: Libya is not a viable autarky.

Libya runs on oil wealth (with imports make up more than 28% of its domestic consumption) and without export revenues, mostly oil, it would swiftly collapse. It is not food self-sufficient. It does not have a significant domestic arms industry. It can't make its own cars or medicines, and certainly can't do so with domestic materials. It can only use its $60 billion in international financial reserves and 4.62 million troy ounces of gold reserves if the international financial community recognizes the authority of someone to use those resources, which Gaddafi's regime is not at the moment. A brief NATO intervention has already rendered its air force, its navy, its tanks and its heavy artillery useless.

Until now, the international community has respect Gaddafi's legitimacy and Libya's sovereignty, allowing the nation to keep oil wealth that the outside world was perfectly capable of taking by force. With international recognition of his legitimate authority as head of state lost, his days are numbered.

Libya has already lost the support of the international community. The UN authorized international coalitions to impose a no-fly zone, embargo it from arms, and freeze the nations assets (and the assets of Gaddafi and his inner circle). New regimes in Tunisia and Egypt are no longer allies. Convoys of resources brought across the Sahara from Algeria, Niger, Chad or Sudan would be obvious to spy satellites and reconnaisance aircraft, and could be stopped by NATO airplanes if they wished.

Chad is not friend, it had to drive out Libya forces in an international war that just ended in 1987. Italy, whose prime minister Berlusconi had pleaded $5 billion in aid a reparations for Italy's 32 years of colonial rule in 2008 is not going to honor its promise through a Gaddafi lead regime. Sudan has its own discontented masses, international sanctions (including a war crimes indictment for its sitting head of state), the loss of its Southern provinces in an independence referrendum, and ongoing insurgency in Darfur, and more to worry about. Niger's totalitarian dictator has to worry about escaping the North African revolutionary trend, is one of the poorest nations in the world, and has a Tuareg insurgency (one that probably draws considerable succor from Libyan benefactors as Saharan tribal groups are at the heart of the Libyan state apparatus) to try to keep from reinvigorating itself. Gaddafi has always bought himself friends in the past, but the only country still willing to stick its neck out for him now is Uganda, which is ill suited to be a capable ally. Moreover, strong reliance on predominantly Christian Ugandan support would turn Islamist forces against Gaddafi in a way that might impair his own coalition.

Most of Libya's oil comes from oil fields in the East and leaves via ports near rebel controlled Benghazi, and the international community has a special military interest in preventing Gaddafi from gaining control of those resources.

International forces aren't getting their hands dirty by putting troops on the ground in Libya, where rebels and forces loyal to Gaddafi fight each other. But, Libya is so dependent upon resources that they control and is so weak itself, that NATO can control the terms of the battle. If NATO decides that it is unhappy with the way that the battle is playing out in this arena, it has the power to change the rules.

Realistically, there is no easy to visualize face saving way that the international community could restore access to the resources they control to Gaddafi in the absence of a treaty concluded with the rebels. Gaddafi direct role in the Locherbie, Scotland aircraft bombing has been established by defectors. He will likely be linked to other terorist acts against Western interests by defectors. His conduct of the civil war and his delusional statements during it have forever proven him to be a violent madman. If he managed to crush the rebels militarily, despite NATO involvement, he would be viewed in the international community as an illegitimate butcher and denied access to international trade, military resources and the country's foreign assets apart from some sort of oil for food arrangement.

Without a treaty and if he fails to crush the rebel regime based in Benghazi, the rebels will probably be granted exclusive use of the oil resources they control and Libya's sovereign wealth, the arms embargo and no-fly zone and NATO coalition efforts to stop the use of heavy weapons by Gaddafi will continue, foreign oil companies will not send workers back to Gaddafi controlled oil fields and pipelines, rebels will manage to destroy the pipelines necessary to bring that oil to market, and Libya-Tripoli will lose a war of attrition. The mercenaries loyal to Gaddafi critical to keeping him in power will mutiny sooner or later when it becomes clear that they will not be paid. The standard of living will collapse. The oasis farmers and herders who are loyal to Gaddafi won't be able to produce enough food to feed the Eastern part of the country without outside support. Western rebels, even if forced to go underground, will fester as a resistance force striking whenever the Gaddafi regime can't catch them. Gaddafi has lost the option of transitioning to a constitutional regime that democratizes and liberalizes while leaving him a role as head of state in some capacity.

The exact way that the end game will play out isn't clear, so the spectators can still watch with baited breath. Will the rebels rally and seize the rest of the country? Will international forces increase their involvement and end it? Will covert CIA and other international covert assistance give the rebels a decisive edge? Will Egypt or Tunisia or France intervene more directly to topple Gaddafi? Will Gaddafi's mercenaries, loyal military officers and inner circle stage a coup or defect? Will a stable stalemate be reached and produce a treaty or armistice or enduring cease fire that splits Libya into two or three different countries? Will Gaddafi be killed or die or flee leaving his forces leaderless to surrender? Will Gaddafi crush the rebels and control the entire country, but hold onto only an internationally isolated shambles of a nation until he dies in a prolonged seige? Will pretenders to a monarchy mobilize the rebels with the promise of a constitutional monarchy regime?

In an age where targeted killing is U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan and in the global war on terror, can we doubt that CIA operatives in Libya are authorized to assassinate Gaddafi and his top aides?

The civil war in Libya is still young. The ability of internationally supported forces in Ivory Coast to forcibly remove the incumbent president who lost the Presidential election with French military support offers hope that this struggle need not be a long one. Libya is not a huge country. Gaddafi controls no more than 4 million or so of the country's 6.3 million people, and only a fraction of the 76,000 soldiers the nation had before the civil war began. While Libya's territory is vast, almost of the people the combatants are fighting for control over live close to the coast. There isn't any obvious way that the Gaddafi regime will be decisively ended, but there is no obvious way that it can restore its prior tranquility, wealth and international stature either.

The lesson of post-Cold War conflicts in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbajain, Bahrain, Bosnia, Georgia, Kosovo, Kuwait, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Moldova, and now Libya has been that in a post-Cold War world, international powers often can and will intervene decisively to determine the outcome of military conflicts according to their interests and international norms, and that Third World dictators can't count on not facing consequences for their actions. A new generation of leaders watched Star War I and decided that real world Naboos don't deserve to suffer in the face of international indifference. The world order that the League of Nations tried to bring into being after World War I, and that the United Nations tried to bring into being after World War II has finally arrived.

We aren't all of the way there yet. Letting local forces engage in blood sports to determine who will win control while providing decisively outside influence, as the United States did when it intervened on behalf of the Northern Coalition that was losing a war for control of Afghanistan with the Taliban in 2001 has become a model, while the model of the Iraq War, in which foreign forces occupy and rule a country with their own troops to effect regime change, viewed through the lens of previous failure in Vietnam, has been determined in hindsight to be a model not to be repeated if at all possible. Decisive large scale military intervention not limited in scope would probably end the fighting sooner, but the widespread fear is that local forces who aren't capable of securing territory on the ground by themselves won't be capable of holding onto it either. So, the international community has decided that it can manage to set the rules of engagement, but not to fight the battles within the arena itself.

Western powers aren't the only superpowers in these cases. Bahrain has established that small Arab monarchies can't survive an uprising without ceding power to the masses or relying on Saudi Arabian military support. The Saudi military could put up a fight with the military resources that the United States has provided it for year after year in the arrangements designed to earn Arab acceptance of Israel reached in the Camp David Accords, but Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman would be finished without Saudi Arabian support in the face of foreign or domestic military opposition. Yemen, which as a no monarchy has ceded Saudi backing has proved that to be the case. Morocco and Jordan, while still absolute monarchies, have learned that they must heed public opinion if their regimes wants to remain in power. The King of Swaziland must know that a serious offense to either South Africa or other international parties that make his regime possible could snuff out his regime in a matter of days without serious repurcussions if a genuine domestic uprising took hold. Lesotho's regime is similarly situated.

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