Thursday, March 10, 2011

Is the world stuck between a strike and a mad man in Libya?

By Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, March 10, 2011
For all the hand-wringing in Washington about a no-fly zone over Libya, that’s the verdict of Gen. Merrill McPeak, a former Air Force chief of staff. He flew more than 6,000 hours, half in fighter aircraft, and helped oversee no-fly zones in Iraq and the Adriatic, and he’s currently mystified by what he calls the “wailing and gnashing of teeth” about imposing such a zone on Libya.

I called General McPeak to get his take on a no-fly zone, and he was deliciously blunt:
“I can’t imagine an easier military problem,” he said. “If we can’t impose a no-fly zone over a not even third-rate military power like Libya, then we ought to take a hell of a lot of our military budget and spend it on something usable.”
There are always statements like this from military personnel, even with extensive experience about how simple such a simple objective would be to implement. And there is general credence to the claim.
However, it is what happens next that is the question. Would those same forces, even if the communications of the Libyan dictator were to be jammed, have to move into the country on the ground? And would such a move create a third theatre of conflict basically between the U.S. and another Islamic state? And would such a third conflict, now more than the Libyans and the Americans signed up for, bring the ire and reprisals that could only be imagined against the "west" for such a move?
Here is another piece of information that may be cause for sober reflection in the world's capitals.
By James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, March 9, 2011
The Libyan leader Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi has “tens of billions” in cash secretly hidden away in Tripoli, allowing him to prolong his fight against rebel forces despite an international freeze on many of the Libyan government’s assets, according to American and other intelligence officials.
Colonel Qaddafi has control over the huge cash deposits, which have been stored at the Libyan Central Bank and other banks around the Libyan capital in recent years, the officials said.
Since the protests and fighting erupted, some of the money may have been moved into Colonel Qaddafi’s Tripoli compound, Bab Al Azizia, according to one person with ties to the Libyan government. While United States intelligence officials said they could not confirm such a move, one official said that Colonel Qaddafi “likely has tens of billions in cash that he can access inside Libya.”
The money — in Libyan dinars, United States dollars and possibly other foreign currencies — allows Colonel Qaddafi to pay his troops, African mercenaries and political supporters in the face of a determined uprising, said the intelligence officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The huge cash reserves have, at least temporarily, diminished the impact of economic sanctions on Colonel Qaddafi and his government. The possibility that he could resist the rebellion in his country for a sustained period could place greater pressure for action on the Obama administration and European leaders, who had hoped that the Libyan leader would be forced from power quickly
This situation grow more difficult every day, with the complexities increasing as the dictator gains a foothold in the oil fields where the rebels have previously had the upper hand.
We now know that Libya is so different from the other "uprisings" and that the world really does not know what to do, how to do it, or what the results of any action will or could be.
And politicians are nothing without "action" spite of the arguments in favour of the "let the peaceful uprisings take their course" position.
The calculus that taking military action of any kind will trigger reactions and then more responses from the outside world and then more reactions from the "mad-man" of the Middle East is not beyond feasible. In fact, it is more likely than a quick surrender and an end to the conflict.

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