As Time Runs Out – Libyan Options

Published on The Money Party, by Brian Downing, March 16, 2011.

The Libyan uprising once seemed sure to follow the pattern in Tunisia and Egypt where longstanding autocrats stepped down after large popular demonstrations. Colonel Kadafi, however, has rallied his forces and is quashing the opposition. This has put policymakers in the region and around the world in a dilemma between their preference for democracy and their reluctance to intervene. There are a few actions that can be embarked upon, but which is optimal and who if anyone will take the lead? … //

… Whose Army?  

Thus far the nationality of these foreign forces has not been mentioned, though undoubtedly an American force has naturally occurred to many. This would be the least attractive force as it would raise the specter of a US grab of Libyan oil and gas resources, possibly bolstering the loyalist cause and prolonging the war.

In any case, the US is already deeply involved in Afghanistan, on guard around North Korea, and called upon for security by many states around China’s periphery. Further, the US is beset by fiscal problems and its public, though concerned by the rebel plight, is quite wary of arguments of quick deployments followed by smooth transitions to a new government.

Forces from the European Union are an alternative. Three of those countries – Italy, France, and Britain – once administered the land and much of the EU has substantial trade relations with Libya. EU forces include numerous first-rate airborne, commando, and marine units who would be well suited for the twin landings astride Tripoli. The specter of a foreign land grab might be somewhat less worrisome with EU troops rather than US ones.

The optimal scenario is for Egyptian and other Arab forces to land around Tripoli. Egypt has a formidable army that has benefited from US equipment and training. It would undoubtedly excite far less anti-imperialist passion. An Egyptian lead would bolster the Egyptian public’s perception of the army’s commitment to democracy and enhance the country’s prestige in ensuing regional cooperation on political and economic matters.

It is unlikely that Egypt or the Arab League or the EU will intervene in Libya without the help of the US for logistics and transport. One might recall that in the mid-90s European powers were reluctant to intervene in the Balkans without US support, even though it was only a few hundred kilometers from key capitals and military bases. Heads of state will also seek assurance of US air support and infantry reinforcements should they be needed – a prospect that is not unlikely.

Reluctance to intervene is both considerable and understandable. As a famed poet of one of the powers once noted, even the most skillfully-made plans gang aft agley and bring much grief and pain. Public concern has been pressing for intervention over the last week or so but eyes are now on the Japanese catastrophes and relief efforts there.

Nevertheless, neighboring Arab states and the EU and the US might well ponder the region’s stability should Colonel Kadafi reassert his power and wealth then look at the hostile democratic countries around him and seek vengeance for their present positions, timid though they are. (full text).

(Brian M Downing is a political/military analyst and the author of The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: War and Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam. He can be reached by e-mail).

Link: Libya and the Surge in the Price of Crude Oil: Humanitarian Wars are Good for Business – Speculators Applaud. PART III, by Michel Chossudovsky, March 16, 2011.

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