Tuesday, March 29, 2011

If We Go to War, Let's Pay for it, Honestly

On top of Ezra Klein's very fiscally cogent post about how wars do indeed cost money  comes this one today by Benjamin Friedman at The National Interest.  After a well-argued discourse on the foolishness of Congress funding wars with supplementals rather than from the military budget directly, he concludes:
Without costs they can feel, democracies cannot meaningfully evaluate policies. Wars that seem free are likely to be foolish.

Obama, US Power, and American Exceptionalism

Peter Beinart contrasts Obama's with John Bolton's sense of American exceptionalism.  For Bolton,
American virtue is a given. American presidents should never apologize because America never has anything to apologize for. Our mistakes are never crimes, and if others don’t see our moral greatness that just proves their moral cynicism.

For Obama,
 because he can see America through post-colonial eyes, knows this is a fable. He knows that in many places on earth, America has abetted dictatorship and corruption and slaughter. In some cases he has apologized, which has led men like Bolton to claim that he sees America as no different from any other great power.

For Obama, American exceptionalism is not a fact; it is a struggle. Bolton and company like to invoke World War II and the Cold War because in those conflicts we fought the evil that lay out there. Obama, by contrast, often invokes the civil-rights movement: a struggle against the evil within. . . .

I don’t know how Obama’s Libya intervention will end; in his speech, he made it seem tidier than it really is. But the speech had something notably absent from his addresses on Afghanistan: the ring of authenticity. When he said that he refused to sit by and watch Benghazi be raped, he sounded like a man speaking from the gut. Obama does not romanticize the history of American power and yet he is wielding American power. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Indeed.  And by my lights, those media outlets who choose to provide Bolton a platform upon which to thump America's chest serve only to kneecap US public diplomacy.

"Allies": Qaddafi Must Go; But Then . . .?

As reported in the NYT, from today's meeting of "Allied Leaders" (shades of FDR and Churchill. Can't you see the Boy Emperor, sitting in Texas, wishing he could be part of this?): Qaddafi has to go, and then the "Allies" need to step in to fix Libya.

But then?
Mrs. Clinton met a second time with a senior leader of the opposition, Mahmoud Jibril, deepening the administration’s wary embrace of the provisional political council created to represent the rebels, both politically and militarily. American officials have acknowledged a dearth of information about the views of all those fighting under the opposition’s umbrella. The administration’s envoy to those rebels, John Christopher Stevens, is expected to travel to the rebel-held parts of Libya soon.

“We know some of them,” the American ambassador to Libya, Gene A. Cretz, said in Washington late last week. “We’re trying to get to know more of them, but I don’t think we’re at a point where we can make a judgment that this is a hundred percent kosher, so to speak, group.”

Michael Oren: "Wait! It's about Israel, not Libya!"

Back in full hasbara mode (not that he ever really left it), the once-respected historian Michael Oren - now Israel's ambassador to the UN - writing in today's Wall Street Journal, labors  mightily to re-focus the world's attention, not on Libya and the "Arab Spring" (where that focus rightfully belongs), but on the continuing "threat" to poor, always embattled, always-on-the-brink-of-existential-catastrophe Israel (and by the way, on this theme, the wonderful Egyptian analyst Mona Eltahawy made a brilliant appearance at the recent J-Street conference where she made the same point about the Israelis trying to make the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt all about Israel).

The word "Israel" appears only once in his essay, though.  Rather, Oren segues from "what if that monster Qaddafi still had WMDs" to how Iran, that bazillion-ton monster recently relegated to the corner by the Arab Spring, "continues to make steady progress today" [his words; no evidence, of course, but since when has anyone really cared about that?] on its nuclear weapons program. And if Iran acquires the bomb, the dominoes will begin to fall:

 other Middle Eastern states will also pursue nuclear capabilities, transforming the entire region into a tinderbox. The global enthusiasm recently sparked by Arab protesters demanding freedoms would likely have been limited if Middle Eastern autocrats had nuclear arsenals. Under such circumstances, the question would be not only which side—the ruled or the rulers—gains ascendancy in the Middle East, but who controls the keys and the codes.

You can probably guess the rest, but Oren does it cleverly.  Says he:
  •  Iran's nuclear program therefore threaten the rise of new democracy in the Middle East [translate: America, all your sacrifices of blood and treasure in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya are for naught]
  • ergo, refocus your attention on Iran, which is Israel's your true enemy
  • the sanction against Iran aren't cutting it, so my American dupes allies, you gotta smack that military option against Iran right back onto the table, and hard.

Here are his words:
And while the allied intercession in Libya may send a message of determination to Iran, it might also stoke the Iranian regime's desire to become a nuclear power and so avoid Gadhafi's fate. For that reason it is especially vital now to substantiate the "all options" policy.

Now is the moment to dissuade the Iranian regime from obtaining a nuclear weapon that might deter any Libya-like intervention or provide the ayatollahs with a doomsday option. If Gadhafi had not surrendered his centrifuges in 2004 and he were now surrounded in his bunker with nothing left but a button, would he push it?

Dissuade? Now? Is the ambassador of America's most beloved ally saying what I think he's saying? That now is the time for the US to launch airstrikes against Iran's nuclear facilities?
  • With the new made-by-America Iraq ready to bust open at the seams as soon as the US troops are out?
  • With the Taliban more than holding their own against the US in Afghanistan - and with the spring fighting-season fast approaching there?
  • With the people of neighboring Pakistan mad as hell at the US for its drone attacks and trigger-happy spies (reference Raymond Davis)?
  • And, with the world still holding its breath as it anticipates the deadly impact of another attack (this one, by mother nature) on another nuclear facility (or have Libya and "Dancing with the Stars" - which forced Obama to move his Libya speech to an earlier time-slot - sucked all the attention away from Fukushima?)

Of course, if Oren can't get the US to rise to the bait to attack Iran, at least Israel's other diplomat named Lieberman (I mean Joe, not Avigdor) has conveniently begun to grease the rails for the US to grab a consolation prize: hit Syria instead if Bashar al-Asad opts to unleash his military against the building protests there.

With friends like these . . . golly, how could America go wrong?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Channeling Brooks and Dunn

Obama's Libya Lecture: claims vs. realities

Mr. Obama has spoken about why he committed US forces to a no-fly-zone-plus in Libya.  Transcript is here.  Among the more useful post-speech analyses, the AP fact-checker is well worth a look - as well as a reminder that when one can divorce Obama's words from how he delivers them, one might come away considerably less impressed.  And note especially the AP comment on BO's assertion that as of Wednesday, NATO will be taking the lead:

In transferring command and control to NATO, the U.S. is turning the reins over to an organization dominated by the U.S., both militarily and politically. In essence, the U.S. runs the show that is taking over running the show.

And the rapid advance of rebels in recent days strongly suggests they are not merely benefiting from military aid in a defensive crouch, but rather using the multinational force in some fashion - coordinated or not - to advance an offensive. . . .
As by far the pre-eminent player in NATO, and a nation historically reluctant to put its forces under operational foreign command, the United States will not be taking a back seat in the campaign even as its profile diminishes for public consumption.

NATO partners are bringing more into the fight. But the same "unique capabilities" that made the U.S. the inevitable leader out of the gate will continue to be in demand. They include a range of attack aircraft, refueling tankers that can keep aircraft airborne for lengthy periods, surveillance aircraft that can detect when Libyans even try to get a plane airborne, and, as Obama said, planes loaded with electronic gear that can gather intelligence or jam enemy communications and radars.

The United States supplies 22 percent of NATO's budget, almost as much as the next largest contributors - Britain and France - combined. A Canadian three-star general was selected to be in charge of all NATO operations in Libya. His boss, the commander of NATO's Allied Joint Force Command Naples, is an American admiral, and the admiral's boss is the supreme allied commander Europe, a post always held by an American.

And as Marc Ambinder notes at National Journal, one could conclude that, quite simply, Obama committed US forces to the Libyan theater "because we could and our interests and values demanded it." This was, in fact, a chance for the US to ride to the rescue of the underdog - and for the US military to score some global-leadership points for an embattled commander-in-chief.  With US troops departing a still unsettled Iraq without a deck-of-the-USS Missouri kind of victory moment and being both hammered and accused of atrocities in Afghanistan, thwarting Qaddafi's drive on Benghazi serves to provide the military and the public a "let's feel good about ourselves" moment.  US/NATO intervention may indeed have saved hundreds of Libyans in Benghazi and elsewhere, and that in itself is a good thing.  But neither Obama nor anyone else on god's green earth knows how this is going to end, but unless the best of all possible scenarios shapes up (Qaddafi and his entire brood evaporate, and a Libyan George Washington + Thomas Jefferson emerges), it's difficult to envision an ending without (1) the US coming down squarely and openly on the side of the rebels, and (2) some Western military boots scraping the soil of the Libyan homeland. 

At which point, the Libyan war that Obama refuses to call a war, indeed becomes unequivocally a war, with all the expense and commitment of resources that war entails.

A US-Saudi Condominium (or Tag Team?) in the Middle East

No, I don't mean a shared condo on the beach (although I suspect our Boy Emperor George and his Saudi cousin Prince Bandar Bush have shared some fun times in such a setting); I mean condominium as originally coined (according to Wikipedia, since 1714 in English): "a political territory (state or border area) in or over which two or more sovereign powers formally agree to share equally dominium (in the sense of sovereignty) and exercise their rights jointly, without dividing it up into 'national' zones." 

What put me on to this is a new Daily Star essay from Mai Yamani, on how "The World Plays Both Sides" when it comes to Middle Eastern democracy.  The US and its allies (including Qatar) claim the prerogative to intercede in Libya (and earlier, in Iraq) based on "humanitarian" concerns and the protection of human rights (unless, of course, the humans who need protecting have somehow run afoul of Israel - reference Gaza in 2008, Lebanon in 2006).  The US's partners, the Saudis (under the cover of the GCC), claim the prerogative to step in on Bahrain under the guise of maintaining "peace and stability" - putatively in a general sense, perhaps more specifically for the flow of oil through the region, but in actuality, to preserve their hyper-Sunni autocratic domination of the Arabian peninsula from possible disturbance, even overthrow, from disenfranchised Shia who comprise a majority of Bahrain's population and are also concentrated in the nearby eastern, oil-producing region of their own kingdom.

It's a nice tag-team, isn't it?

But Yamani's final words warrant notice:
A crude truth has emerged from the charade and hypocrisy of the international response to the Arab revolutions: Despite lofty rhetoric to the contrary, the rights of citizens really are secondary to their countries’ oil wealth. The leaders of oil-rich Arab autocracies have known this for a long time – indeed, their hold on power depends on it. As a result they have proven eager to uphold their side of the bargain by giving Europe and the United States the political support that they needed to legitimize Western military intervention in Libya.

But in this security theater of the absurd – in which Qatar stands for “human rights” in Libya, Saudi Arabia stands for “stability” in Bahrain, and the West tries to stand for both – some leaders are sowing the seeds of their own destruction. The Saudi regime, for example, is linking the Shiites of Bahrain and its own Shiite minority to Iran, and in that way it is only deepening the sectarian divide.

After Neville Chamberlain acquiesced in Nazi Germany’s dismantling of Czechoslovakia in 1938, Winston Churchill famously told him: “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You have chosen dishonor, and you will have war.” In Bahrain, the West – and the United States, in particular – thought the choice was between dishonor and instability. President Barack Obama chose dishonor, and he will get instability.

Rebels' Advance in Libya Halted

As reported in the NY Times, Libyan government troops in Qaddafi's bastion at Surt have stopped the rebel advance there - and the US general in that theater is making the case that the rebels cannot succeed - and their advance can still be reversed - unless NATO airstrikes are applied.

General Ham’s warning . . . underscored the essential role of Western airstrikes, now focused mainly on Colonel Qaddafi’s ground troops, in reversing the rebels’ fortunes. It also framed anew the question of how the poorly equipped and disorganized rebel forces might fare against Colonel Qaddafi’s garrison in Surt, where air cover may be less useful.

Left open, as well, was the question of how the allies could justify airstrikes on Colonel Qaddafi’s forces around Surt if, as seems to be the case, they enjoy widespread support in the city and pose no threat to civilians. On Monday, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, strongly criticized the allied attacks, saying “we consider that intervention by the coalition in what is essentially an internal civil war is not sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council resolution,” news agencies reported.

It's difficult to communicate how jarring the irony is here for someone of my generation.  In the early 1960s, the UN was seen as a global political arena where bellicose Soviet Russian representatives threatened us "Free World" peoples with defeat and destruction, while the US led the effort to roll back the Communist tide that had swamped eastern Europe and, by 1950, "Red" China.  Fifty years later, it's the  Russian foreign minister protesting that it's a bellicose  US and its European allies who are overstepping the bounds of UN resolutions.

Libya: Be Careful What You Wish For

. . . or, as the expression goes, surely you will get it.  And as Jon Lee Anderson's from-the-front-lines in Libya report makes plain, if Qaddafi is brought down, no one can possibly know what's going to come afterward.  He closes with the following:

Gheriani [one of the rebels] tried to assure me that the new state the rebels envision would be led not by confused mobs or religious extremists but by “Western-educated intellectuals,” like him. Whether this was wishful thinking, of which there has been a great deal here in recent weeks, was uncertain. After forty-two years of Muammar Qaddafi—his cruelty, his megalomaniacal presumptions of leadership in Africa and the Arab world, his oracular ramblings—Libyans don’t know what their country is, much less what it will be.

Some things are clear, though. In Benghazi, an influential businessman named Sami Bubtaina expressed a common sentiment: “We want democracy. We want good schools, we want a free media, an end to corruption, a private sector that can help build this nation, and a parliament to get rid of whoever, whenever, we want.” These are honorable aims. But to expect that they will be achieved easily is to deny the cost of decades of insanity, terror, and the deliberate eradication of civil society

As many experts have made abundantly clear, in constructing his "visionary" Libyan non-state state after 1969, Muammar Qaddafi made sure to concentrate all real power in his own hands by eliminating the possibility that any civil institutions might emerge to threaten him, and by setting up state-security organizations that he could count on to enforce his dictates.  They did not, by the way, include the national army, which Qaddafi intentionally left under-equipped, as opposed to arming groups more loyal to him personally, upon which he was able to lavish revenues from Libya's lucrative oil industry.

If this sounds like Saddam's techniques to you - state-security organizations outside the main army, and use of oil revenues as patronage to ensure support of groups close to him -- I think so too.  But in Iraq, after the US "intervened" in 2003, there were already long-established and organized local, regional, and/or sectarian organizations on the ground (among them, the Kurdish Regional Government and its two main political parties, and the Shii religious parties like al-Da'wa and the Sadrists), ready to try to fill the vacuum left by the Anglo-American decapitation of the Baath and subsequent and ineptitude in trying to reorganize Iraq.  From all accounts, there is essentially nothing of that sort waiting in the wings in Libya.  To build a new Libya, the rebels will be starting from scratch. In fact, they'll have to do so while likely being dragged down by several factors: the continuing strength of the old tribes, the earlier long history of "Libya" actually comprising two distinct regions (Tripolitania in the west, Cyrenaica in the east) as well as the vast desert to the south), and the fact that (as Dirk Vandewalle has made so plain in his books) "Libyans" historically have been rendered apathetic about the entire concept of "Libya" and the "centralized state."

So, assuming that Qaddafi can be brought down fairly soon, without too much more devastation (and I'm not counting on that), and that Libya's new leaders will inherit all of what's now Libya and not just the eastern region, there's going to be a long, probably turbulent period during which the Euro-American/NATO powers will likely need to provide
  • military "advisers" and perhaps peace-keeping troops (something Max Boot has already plugged, but Mr. Obama would be very wise to avoid, given the US's over-commitment and unpopularity already in the region, not to mention that American boots on the ground in Libya would attract jihadists - especially all-too-plentiful Libyans - like bees to the hive)
  • political "advisers" to "guide" the newly installed rebel government in shaping a new Libyan constitution and political society. (And the US has helped the Iraqis and Afghans wonderfully in that regard, haven't they?  Well, haven't they?)
  • economic assistance, both for rebuilding and to help reorganize Libya's petroleum industry, the revenues from which have been - and will be - the foundation of the economy, the government's budget, and empowering Libya's people.
For the US, some might see an alternative in walking away as soon as possible and then let the chips fall where they may, in the name of American ideals of "self-determination"  (one of those words of Western liberal interventionism that, as Cambridge University's Tarak Barkawi makes clear in al-Jazeera, we have traditionally employed to cloak war-waging in pursuit of our own interests). But that leaves a potential mess in the laps of Messrs. Sarkozy and Cameron, as well as Ms. Merkel and all the other NATO/Euro allies to whose relatively nearby havens will be fleeing even more thousands of Libyans, Tunisians, and Moroccans looking to escape the turmoil and poverty back home.

If the US and the West hope to live up to their supposedly high moral and political standards of helping to foster democracy, human rights, and decent lives, the prescriptions surely lie in the advice proffered by Columbia University's Jeffrey Sachs in today's NY Times, where he reports on his own meetings in Cairo and Tunis with young Arab pro-democracy activists, the Arab world's new and eager "agents of change," who peppered him with tough - and telling - questions:
Where was the world community as corrupt dictators pillaged their countries? Where was the world during the days when thousands of their brethren were beaten or killed? What will the community of nations do now to ensure the success of democracy throughout the region?

Sachs response, and his prescriptions, offer promise not only to the young people of Egypt and Tunisia, but to those in Morocco (where young people are speaking up for democratic empowerment and economic opportunity in the face of repression by yet another of our State Department's "Arab moderate" friendly monarchies) and in Libya as well. 
One could of course explain that the world is cynical; that acts of state too often trump acts of principle; that some of the U.N.’s 192 member governments utterly fail to abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet such answers would miss the mark. The proper way to answer such concerns is to prove that universal values can still move the world community, by mobilizing global support for the democratic revolution that these young people have initiated.

Here are some of the things that the world can and should do. The first is to return the ill-gotten gains that the despots have stolen and placed in foreign accounts. The sums secreted away from Egypt and Tunisia amount to many billions of dollars. The money must be traced, frozen and repatriated.

The second is to stand with the people of these countries by returning quickly to the wondrous tourist sites that not only captivate the imagination but also bring employment and income.

The third is to respond to the economic hardship that has fueled discontent. Youth unemployment is disastrously high, perhaps 40 percent of those under 25 years of age. The systems of vocational education, on-the-job training and skill apprenticeships are in disarray. Both Egypt and Tunisia are natural hubs for youth employment — in information and communications technology, business processing operations, light manufacturing, construction trades, public health, education and many other fields. But the ramp from school to jobs must be made, along the lines perhaps of the successful models of Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Here is a natural area for public-private partnership. Leading businesses in the region, both domestic and foreign, can commit to train hundreds of thousands of young people in the next few years, setting standards and training models that can be followed for millions of other young people. Regional institutions such as the Islamic Development Bank, the European Union and the Mediterranean initiatives pioneered by France, Greece and Turkey can step forward to help set the goals and share the costs. Most importantly, the young people themselves should play a leadership role. They’ve already proved their mastery of holding those in authority to account, and this can apply to economic programs as well as to politics.

I felt a bit curmudgeonly in telling the young people in front of me that their achievement, undoubtedly historic, was only a step. Democracy alone can’t solve their country’s problems. What can solve them, we all agreed, is their energy, idealism and commitment to working across religious and political borders.

The world should rush to offer support to these young people, not only to help Egypt and Tunisia, but also to rescue ourselves from the cynicism and drift that trap too many of our own societies.

I trust that you read carefully.  See any mention of "feel free to call on us for a little old-fashioned "shock and awe" massage"?  Or, "let us build up your militaries with more of our whiz-bang weaponry?"

Neither did I.

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Obama Has Some Explaining to Do

In Monday's NY Times, Ross Douthat poses some questions that Mr. Obama had better address in his televised speech this evening:
What are our military objectives? The strict letter of the United Nations resolution we’re enforcing only authorizes the use of air power to protect civilian populations “under threat of attack” from Qaddafi’s forces. But we’re interpreting that mandate as liberally as possible: our strikes have cleared the way for a rebel counteroffensive, whose success is contingent on our continued air support.

If the rebels stall out short of Tripoli, though, how will we respond? With a permanent no-fly zone, effectively establishing a NATO protectorate in eastern Libya? With arms for the anti-Qaddafi forces, so they can finish the job? Either way, the logic of this conflict suggests a more open-ended commitment than the White House has been willing to admit.

Who exactly are the rebels? According to our ambassador to Libya, they have issued policy statements that include “all the right elements” — support for democracy, economic development, women’s rights, etc. According to The Los Angeles Times, they have filled what used to be Qaddafi’s prisons with “enemies of the revolution” — mostly black Africans, rounded up under suspicion of being mercenaries and awaiting revolutionary justice. According to The Daily Telegraph in London, their front-line forces include what one rebel commander calls the “patriots and good Muslims” who fought American forces in Iraq.

Perhaps Obama can clarify this picture. The rebels don’t need to be saints to represent an improvement on Qaddafi. But given that we’re dropping bombs on their behalf, it would be nice if they didn’t turn out to be Jacobins or Islamists.

Can we really hand off this mission? Officially, this is a far more multilateral venture than was, say, the invasion of Iraq. But as Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin points out, when it comes to f direct military support, “Obama’s ‘coalition of the willing’ is smaller than any major multilateral operation since the end of the Cold War.” Officially, too, the United States is already stepping back into a supporting role. But as Wired’s Spencer Ackerman argues, the difference between a “high” United States involvement and a “low” military commitment may prove more semantic than meaningful.

Obama has stated that America’s involvement will be measured in “days, not weeks.” With one week down already, is this really plausible? And anyway, how responsible is it to commit American forces to a mission and then suggest, as a senior administration official did last week, that “how it turns out is not on our shoulders”?

Is Libya distracting us from more pressing American interests? While we’ve been making war on Qaddafi’s tin-pot regime, our enemies in Syria have been shooting protesters, our allies in Saudi Arabia have been crushing dissidents, Yemen’s government is teetering, there’s been an upsurge of violence in Israel, and the Muslim Brotherhood seems to moving smoothly into an alliance with the Egyptian military. Oh, and we’re still occupying Iraq and fighting a counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and trying to contain Iran.

Last week, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg rank-ordered Mideast trouble spots that “demand more American attention than Libya.” He came up with six: Afghanistan-Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Yemen’s Qaeda havens, post-Mubarak Egypt and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One can quibble with Goldberg’s ordering but not his broader point. While we intervene in Libya, what is our Egypt policy? Our Yemen policy? Our Syria policy? With the entire Middle East in turmoil, does it make sense that Washington is focused so intently on who controls the highway between Ajdabiya and Surt?

Cases pro and con on Libya Intervention

My blogging will be a bit constrained in the days ahead (blew out an Achilles tendon yesterday; surgery impending), but let me at least point out a couple of (mostly) well reasoned essays pro-  and con- the US/NATO intervention in Libya.

Today, Juan Cole at Informed Comment takes on those on the Left who oppose the intervention, at the end, urging the Left "to learn to chew gum and walk at the same time" (a comment for which some of the ensuing comments appropriately take him to task).  Cole basically makes the case that (1) it was morally imperative that the world stop Qaddafi from sending in tanks to crush the rebels in Benghazi, and (2) the history of the modern political Left does make room for such intervention (in support of which he cites - not especially appositely, in my opinion) the American-volunteer Lincoln Brigade that took part in Spain's civil war of the 1930s.  Prof. Cole also argues that it's '"bizarre" to argue that this intervention is motivated by the West's desire to dominate Libya's oil.
 There is no advantage to the oil sector of removing Qaddafi. Indeed, a new government may be more difficult to deal with and may not honor Qaddafi’s commitments. There is no prospect of Western companies being allowed to own Libyan petroleum fields, which were nationalized long ago. Finally, it is not always in the interests of Big Oil to have more petroleum on the market, since that reduces the price and, potentially, company profits.

Well, perhaps.  But it can't have escaped Obama's notice that events in Libya and elsewhere in the region have pushed up gasoline prices in the US, to the point that they're a featured story on lots of local TV news.  Americans are worried about where that's going.  Worried Americans aren't likely to vote for the president's party come next year.  This may well be part of the gamble Obama knew he was taking when he opted for intervention: that it would all be over, and oil/gas prices stabilized at a price lower than now, before election season.  I wish him luck with that. I'm afraid he may be in for a rude awakening, because unless Qaddafi decides to step aside and drift into the sunset (which would definitely be the surprise of the century), the Libya game is far from over - and Qaddafi may have more cards to play than anyone has predicted.

One of Cole's commentators advises him - and I'm passing it along, with a thumbs-up - to read Glenn Greenwald's take at Salon .   GG takes on, among others, John Judis' pro-war piece on "How the Left Got Libya Wrong" - at The New Republic.  Much of his criticism of Judis can be found here:
my real question for Judis (and those who voice the same accusations against Libya intervention opponents) is this: do you support military intervention to protect protesters in Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies from suppression, or to stop the still-horrendous suffering in the Sudan, or to prevent the worsening humanitarian crisis in the Ivory Coast? Did you advocate military intervention to protect protesters in Iran and Egypt, or to stop the Israeli slaughter of hundreds of trapped innocent civilians in Gaza and Lebanon or its brutal and growing occupation of the West Bank?

If not, doesn't that necessarily mean -- using this same reasoning -- that you're indifferent to the suffering of all of those people, willing to stand idly by while innocents are slaughtered, to leave in place brutal tyrants who terrorize their own population or those in neighboring countries? Or, in those instances where you oppose military intervention despite widespread suffering, do you grant yourself the prerogative of weighing other factors: such as the finitude of resources, doubt about whether U.S. military action will hurt rather than help the situation, cynicism about the true motives of the U.S. government in intervening, how intervention will affect other priorities, the civilian deaths that will inevitably occur at our hands, the precedents that such intervention will set for future crises, and the moral justification of invading foreign countries? For those places where you know there is widespread violence and suffering yet do not advocate for U.S. military action to stop it, is it fair to assume that you are simply indifferent to the suffering you refuse to act to prevent, or do you recognize there might be other reasons why you oppose the intervention?

Geenwald also seems to take a shot at Stephen Walt, whose recent piece at Foreign Policy aptly notes the very close parallels between Obama's liberal interventionist advisors and Boy George's neocons (something to which Cole, who seems to want to both have his cake and eat it, too, can't bring himself to 'fess up).  More importantly though, Walt plays out some of the possible repercussions, especially the what-ifs:
Barack Obama now owns not one but two wars. He inherited a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, and he chose to escalate instead of withdrawing.  Instead of being George Bush's mismanaged blunder, Afghanistan became "Obama's War." And now he's taken on a second, potentially open-ended military commitment, after no public debate, scant consultation with Congress, without a clear articulation of national interest, and in the face of great public skepticism. Talk about going with a gut instinct.

When the Security Council passed Resolution 1973 last week and it was clear we were going to war, I credited the administration with letting Europe and the Arab League take the lead in the operation. My fear back then, however, was that the Europeans and Arab states would not be up to the job and that Uncle Sucker would end up holding the bag. But even there I gave them too much credit, insofar as U.S. forces have been extensively involved from the very start, and the Arab League has already gone wobbly on us. Can anyone really doubt that this affair will be perceived by people around the world as a United States-led operation, no matter what we say about it?

More importantly, despite Obama's declaration that he would not send ground troops into Libya -- a statement made to assuage an overcommitted military, reassure a skeptical public, or both -- what is he going to do if the air assault doesn't work? What if Qaddafi hangs tough, which would hardly be surprising given the dearth of attractive alternatives that he's facing? What if his supporters see this as another case of illegitimate Western interferences, and continue to back him? What if he moves forces back into the cities he controls, blends them in with the local population, and dares us to bomb civilians? Will the United States and its allies continue to pummel Libya until he says uncle? Or will Obama and Sarkozy and Cameron then decide that now it's time for special forces, or even ground troops?

And even if we are successful, what then? As in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, over forty years of Qaddafi's erratic and despotic rule have left Libya in very poor shape despite its oil wealth. Apart from some potentially fractious tribes, the country is almost completely lacking in effective national institutions. If Qaddafi goes we will own the place, and we will probably have to do something substantial to rebuild it lest it turn into an exporter of refugees, a breeding ground for criminals, or the sort of terrorist "safe haven" we're supposedly trying to prevent in Afghanistan.

But the real lesson is what it tells us about America's inability to resist the temptation to meddle with military power. Because the United States seems so much stronger than a country like Libya, well-intentioned liberal hawks can easily convince themselves that they can use the mailed fist at low cost and without onerous unintended consequences. When you have a big hammer the whole world looks like a nail; when you have thousand of cruise missiles and smart bombs and lots of B-2s and F-18s, the whole world looks like a target set. The United States doesn't get involved everywhere that despots crack down on rebels (as our limp reaction to the crackdowns in Yemen and Bahrain demonstrate), but lately we always seems to doing this sort of thing somewhere. Even a smart guy like Barack Obama couldn't keep himself from going abroad in search of a monster to destroy.

And even if this little adventure goes better than I expect, it's likely to come back to haunt us later. One reason that the Bush administration could stampede the country to war in Iraq was the apparent ease with which the United States had toppled the Taliban back in 2001. After a string of seeming successes dating back to the 1991 Gulf War, U.S. leaders and the American public had become convinced that the Pentagon had a magic formula for remaking whole countries without breaking a sweat. It took the debacle in Iraq and the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan to remind us of the limits of military power, and it seems to have taken Obama less than two years on the job to forget that lesson. We may get reminded again in Libya, but if we don't, the neocon/liberal alliance will be emboldened and we'll be more likely to stumble into a quagmire somewhere else.

And who's the big winner here? Back in Beijing, China's leaders must be smiling as they watch Washington walk open-eyed into another potential quagmire.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Arab Revolutions and the West Bank

In Haaretz today, Ari Shavit expounds passionately on a point that ought to be obvious: With the new "Arab Awakening," it's only a matter of time before West Bank Palestinians rise up against Israeli occupation.

The great Arab revolt has yet to reach the occupied territories for three reasons: the trauma of Hamas' rise in the Gaza Strip, the economic prosperity fostered by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and the expectation that a Palestinian state will be established in September.

But the tide can't be held off forever. Sooner or later, the Arab revolt will reach the territories. When the expectation of a Palestinian state blows up in September, economic prosperity will not stave off a political tsunami.

It's impossible to know whether the scenario will be that of Tunisia, Egypt or the first intifada. But in any event, the quiet we have enjoyed is now being shattered. A torrent of rebellion will strike Israel.

Say farewell to everything you thought until January 2011. The Middle East has been transformed, root and branch. This is a new, fluid, revolutionary reality. There is no longer any foundation for a solid peace like that with Egypt. There are no longer any strong forces for peace like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf emirates. There are no longer any potential peace partners like Assad and Mahmoud Abbas.

On the other hand, there is also no longer any option of deploying force against the rebellious masses. The occupation is even more dangerous than it was. The settlements are even more delusional than they were. The status quo has become a firetrap, and all the familiar ways of escaping it have been blocked.

U.S. President Barack Obama bears a share of the responsibility for this new situation. When he decided to play an active role in ousting Egypt's president, he didn't realize that as a result of this move, he would be forced within a month to fire Tomahawk missiles at Libya. He didn't understand that he was undermining the old Middle Eastern order without creating a new one. He didn't understand that he was dooming Israeli-Syrian peace and Israeli-Palestinian peace and endangering Israeli-Egyptian peace.

It could be that Obama acted correctly. Perhaps he will be remembered in the end as the great liberator of the Arab peoples. Nonetheless, the U.S. president must acknowledge the consequences of his actions. He must realize that this new historical situation requires a new diplomatic paradigm. What was right in 2010 is no longer correct in 2011.

This means that Obama must reject the false dichotomy of total impasse or total peace. He must reject the dichotomy of historic reconciliation or corrupting occupation. Instead, he must propose a new type of diplomatic path based on a partial Israeli withdrawal and the strengthening of Fayyad. In order to stop the Cairo revolution from setting Jerusalem on fire, Obama must urgently forge a third way.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Beware of Max Boot Bearing Gifts

From one of the most vocal cheerleaders for the neocon cause of using the US military to re-make the world . . . Max Boot writes in today's NY Times about all that might still go wrong in Libya, and how Mr. Obama needs to be very, very careful.  His prescription for success?

Have you already guessed?

Boots on the ground!

Not explicitly American boots, mind you. But, says he, surely "Western special forces" need to be brought in, if only to begin
 "arming and training the rebel fighters. They must be able to not only help toss out Colonel Qaddafi but also maintain law and order in the new Libya."

Like such other post-conflict states as Kosovo and East Timor, post-Qaddafi Libya will most likely need an international peacekeeping force. This should be organized under the auspices of the United Nations, NATO and the Arab League — a step that will require amending the Security Council resolution, which forbids a “foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.”

Fool me once, . . . .

Folly Marching on

For Mr. Obama, this may be the gift that keeps on giving for a very long time - and well past the apparent expiration date of one of its givers.  I speak, of course, of Sec of State Hillary Clinton, who (along with Samantha Power and UN rep. Susan Rice - a threesome whom Jacob Heilbrunn has aptly named the Valkyries of US foreign policy) led the charge to have the US go after Qaddafi.  Hillary, of course, will likely not be around to see the end-game, having decided not to re-up as Secretary of State in any second Obama administration. Heilbrunn goes on:
 if the venture goes south, Obama knows squarely where to stick the blame. Clinton, Power, and Rice have taken their biggest gamble. The liberal hawks and neocons may well have prepared a new foreign policy disaster should Libya devolve into tribal warfare. And so this is a crucible for the idea of humanitarian intervention. If it fails, the liberal hawks will return to ignominy. At least until the next crisis erupts.

Paul Pillar elaborates on the "flash mob" that got its way with Obama:

 Within the U.S. administration the strongest impetus came from those (identified by Jacob Heilbrunn [4]) who were haunted by the memory of non-interventions of the past and especially by Rwanda in 1994. To sally forth on behalf of Libyans today was for them a way of saying “never again”. Across the Atlantic the biggest push to intervene came from Nicolas Sarkozy. In part this reflected the French president's hyperkinesia and desire to assert French leadership. It also was a reaction to the perception that France had been slow off the mark in reacting to upheaval elsewhere in the Maghreb—especially Tunisia, where the consorting by Sarkozy's foreign minister with the old regime became something of a scandal. In Britain, David Cameron's seizing of the issue, besides being a welcome distraction from the harsh austerity measures his government has been imposing, was a taking up of a role that all British prime ministers, especially Tories, seem to be expected to play at some time in their tenure. That is the role, shaped in the past by Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, of slaying some foreign dragon. Already Cameron is receiving applause [5] from most of the British political spectrum for having a “good war”.

Pillar also goes on to comment that, event though the decision to intervene may appear much less flawed that the one spearheaded by Obama's predecessor, our boy emperor,
The latest episode shows . . . that although a sound process is important it does not guarantee a cogent decision—especially when the participants are coming at it from so many different directions. The failure even to agree on a clear scope and objective (is Qaddafi's departure part of what is sought, or not?) is now being reflected in multilateral disagreement–the sort of thing that has long disgusted unilateralists—over questions as basic as who should be in charge of the military effort  Neither is there any guarantee that the outcome of that effort will be one that any of us will like.

These problems in the decision-making process also feature in David Brooks' piece in the NY Times, where (as is his wont) good old American exceptionalism looms large:
multilateral efforts are built around a fiction. The people who organize coalitions pretend that all the parties are sharing the burdens. In reality, only the U.S. can do many of the tasks. If the other nations falter, the U.S. will have to leap in and assume the entire burden. America’s partners go in knowing they do not bear ultimate responsibility for success or failure. Americans do.
All of this is not to say the world should do nothing while Qaddafi unleashes his demonic fury. Nor is this a defense of unilateralism. But we should not pretend we have found a superior way to fight a war. Multilateralism works best as a garment clothing American leadership. Besides, the legitimacy of a war is not established by how it is organized but by what it achieves. 

In the end, though, the new BRIC bloc (Brazil, Russia, India, China) may have the last word. As the NYT reports, they have weighed in to condemn the FAUS bloc (France, Anglo, US) for its massive interference in Libya. As one Chinese tabloid notes:
“Just let them agonize there in Libya. . . . No matter what happens to Qaddafi, a chaotic Libya will become an unshakable burden for the West forever.”


Libya may be on Track to Become a Big Tar Baby for Obama et al.

More cogent analysis from Tony Karon about the very messy prospects in Libya:
Even if no American ground forces are committed to Libya, it's increasingly unlikely that the conflict will end without some foreign boots on the ground.  The Libyan state has essentially collapsed into two rival administrations, each having armed many thousands of their supporters. Even in the best-case outcome, foreign troops will likely be needed on the ground to enforce and maintain the peace until a new Libyan state can created. That's not a job the U.S. or any other Western country would want, and most Arab countries may have more pressing concerns on their minds. (Keep an eye on Turkey to become the key player in the coming days and weeks.)

The Libyan war, for that is plainly what it is, was launched with neither a clear end game nor a clear strategy. It began as an emergency action to prevent the fall of Benghazi. But now that Western military power has been brought to bear (let's not kid ourselves that Arab participation is anything much beyond symbolic), Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron could find themselves owning a broken and very dangerous situation on the ground in Libya. Many of the arguments for intervention derived from the Western experience in the Balkans during the 1990s, beginning with the breakup of Yugoslavia and culminating with the Kosovo conflict in 1999. It's worth remembering, then, that NATO troops were involved in Bosnia for 12 years, and there are still 8,700 NATO troops in Kosovo, which remains a ward of the West.

Monday, March 21, 2011

War's Toll: an Example from Iraq

Extremely moving report from Chris Hedges, at Truthdig, about the experiences of a female Marine who was assigned to body-bag duty in Iraq.  It ought to be required reading for all Fox News viewers.  The details are graphic, sickening, but it's important that the American public fully confront the consequences of the violence it screamed for Bush to launch in 2003.  And again - this report deals only with American dead.

“Every single Marine I know goes to Iraq to help,” she said. “While I was there that is what I thought. That is why I volunteered. I thought I was going to help the Iraqis. I know better now. We did the dirty work. We were used by the government. The military knows that young, single men are dangerous. We breed it in Marines. We push the testosterone. We don’t want them to be educated. They are deprived of a lot and rewarded with very little. It keeps us at ground level. We cannot question anyone. We do what we are told.

“I am still in contact with most of the people I knew,” she said. “They are not coping. One lives in VA [Veterans Affairs], constantly seeing psychologists and psychiatrists. One was kicked out of the Marines for three DUIs. Another was kicked out of the Marines because he took cocaine. Those who have gotten out are living below the poverty level. And what people do to cope is re-enlist. When they re-enlist they do better. They function. I am the only one who went to school of the 18 Marines in Mortuary Affairs. But I am in counseling at the VA. I have been diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety, depression and substance abuse. What separates me from them is that I have a great support system and I found my salvation in my education.

“War is disgusting and horrific,” she said. “It never leaves the people who were involved in it. The damage is far greater than the lists of casualties or cost in dollars. It permeates lifestyles. It infects cultures and people and worldviews. The war is never over for us. The fighting stops. The troops get called back. But the war goes on for those damaged by war.” 

The Libya "Intervention" May Last "a While" - Even as Yemen Heats Up

Thus reports the AP (via SF Chronicle).  . . . . and the longer it lasts, the more potential for unforeseen developments that will complicate things and extend the whole mess even longer . . . and get more people killed.  Tony Karon has much to say on this at The National, where he also makes it quite clear that the "coalition" - though legally empowered under the UNSC resolution to protect civilians - has actually entered what's now a full-blown civil war, on the side of the rebels:
Mr Obama's "days" could very easily stretch to "weeks", or even longer. Indeed, if the regime survives the "shock and awe" of the initial foreign intervention, the western powers that are running the campaign will find themselves locked in to a longer and more complex war than they intended. Given the fate that awaits him if he quits, Col Qaddafi has plenty of incentive to raise the stakes and hope that limited political resolve forces his adversaries to fold. And having armed his most committed supporters, as the rebels have done, Col Qaddafi has helped ensure that even in the best-case outcome, foreign troops may be needed on the ground to keep any fragile peace that emerges, while a new Libyan state is created on the ruins of Qaddafi's personality cult regime.

But no one wanted to talk about end games - either a strategy for removing Col Qaddafi, or what would follow his ouster - last week as the tyrant's forces bore down on Benghazi. This war was forced by an urgent need to do something to stop Col Qaddafi crushing the rebellion and butchering tens of thousands of civilians. The "realist" camp in the Obama Administration, led by the defence secretary Robert Gates and the national security adviser Tom Donilon, were focused on strategy, consequence, and end-game, and on that basis warning Mr Obama against getting involved in a conflict whose outcome was not vital to US national interests. But Col Qaddafi's blitzkrieg tipped the scale in favour of humanitarian military intervention, as advocated by the US secretary of State Hillary Clinton, her top adviser Samantha Power, and Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN.

Despite Mr Obama's statements on limits of the engagement, the realists know that wishful thinking will count for little. The urgency of responding to Col Qaddafi's march on Benghazi with murderous intent had prompted Western leaders to set aside questions of an endgame in launching military action.

Interventions that are not guided by a strategy, but by good intentions, don't always lead to happy outcomes. The enemy usually has some ideas of his own about how the war will be fought.
And meanwhile, in Yemen, we may be on the cusp of a civil war.  A top general (who's also belongs to the same tribe as Mr. al-Saleh) has declared in favor of the protesters ("the youth"); but the defense minister says that the military supports the president.  Tanks have now been positioned around Sana'a, including at the presidential palace.  And there's absolutely no assurance that, if a military coup overthrows the president, the result will be a more democratic Yemen.  As a Chatham House expert (Ginny Hill) notes for the BBC,
With Gen Ali Mohsin's defection, long-standing competition between different factions within the regime has finally been exposed.

Now, Yemenis are waiting to see what happens next, and Twitter is buzzing with speculation. Many Yemenis are expressing jubilation, or stunned disbelief, at the prospect that Mr Saleh might be removed from office after more than 30 years in power. Others are warning of a massacre - or civil war.

Pro-democracy protesters are nervous that their popular revolution will be hijacked by established military and commercial interests, who will simply nominate a new face to govern the country without making any substantial changes to the status quo.
What then? Whom does the US support, especially given its past support for al-Saleh, who's seen as a stalwart against the rising influence of al-Qaeda in Yemen, but whose forces have killed dozens of protesters?  If al-Saleh - who has vowed to hold out - decides to use loyalist forces (assuming that some forces are indeed loyalists) to hammer civilian protesters, how will the proponents of the new R2P doctrine ("Respond to Protect") - experts such as Samantha Power, whose work I've admired, but whose heart may be bigger than what the US can really tackle - respond?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Toward a New Middle East

Paul Pillar weighs in with some very sage advice for the US as the Arab revolutions of 2011 unfold:
strategically it should consistently respect democratic outcomes. It should not peremptorily determine who is to be its friend or its enemy, and it should not choose friends just on the basis of their ideologies.

In the new Middle East, it will be even more important than before to expend the necessary effort and political capital to resolve the Palestinian issue. Movement toward popular sovereignty in Arab countries, far from being a distraction from this issue, has made even more glaring the lack of Palestinian popular sovereignty. Indefinite perpetuation of the status quo in the occupied territories would mean being on the wrong side of history.

The shape of the new Middle East, and the extent to which it really will be new and different, will depend on events yet to play out. There will be a tendency to overreact to many of those events. Some will be interpreted as either an end to a wave of democratization or as evidence of the wave's unlimited power. Neither such interpretation is likely to be valid. There will be plenty of material in the months ahead for further analysis and strategizing, but enough has happened already to have a sense of history's direction.

More on the Libyan Crapshoot

The hope-inducing news is that the Libyan government has declared a cease-fire.  What that means, how long it lasts, what happens now - all remain to be seen.  But as to the extent of the gamble that Obama and the UN are taking, Marc Lynch's piece at Foreign Policy (which was also highlighted by Andrew Sullivan)  is very good at laying it out.

The intervention is a high-stakes gamble. If it succeeds quickly, and Qaddafi's regime crumbles as key figures jump ship in the face of its certain demise, then it could reverse the flagging fortunes of the Arab uprisings.  Like the first Security Council resolution on Libya, it could send a powerful message that the use of brutal repression makes regime survival less rather than more likely. It would put real meat on the bones of the "Responsibility to Protect" and help create a new international norm.  And it could align the U.S. and the international community with al-Jazeera and the aspirations of the Arab protest movement.  I have heard from many protest leaders from other Arab countries that success in Libya would galvanize their efforts, and failure might crush their hopes.  

But if it does not succeed quickly, and the intervention degenerates into a long quagmire of air strikes, grinding street battles, and growing pressure for the introduction of outside ground forces, then the impact could be quite different.  Despite the bracing scenes of Benghazi erupting into cheers at the news of the Resolution, Arab support for the intervention is not nearly as deep as it seems and will not likely survive an extended war.  If Libyan civilians are killed in airstrikes, and especially if foreign troops enter Libyan territory, and images of Arabs killed by U.S. forces replace images of brave protestors battered by Qaddafi's forces on al-Jazeera, the narrative could change quickly into an Iraq-like rage against Western imperialism.   What began as an indigenous peaceful Arab uprising against authoritarian rule could collapse into a spectacle of war and intervention. 

The Libya intervention is also complicated by the trends in the rest of the region. There is currently a bloody crackdown going on in U.S.-backed Bahrain, with the support of Saudi Arabia and the GCC.   The Yemeni regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh is currently carrying out some of its bloodiest repression yet.  Will the Responsibility to Protect extend to Bahrain and Yemen?  This is not a tangential point.  One of the strongest reasons to intervene in Libya is the argument that the course of events there will influence the decisions of other despots about the use of force.  If they realize that the international community will not allow the brutalization of their own people, and a robust new norm created, then intervention in Libya will pay off far beyond its borders.  But will ignoring Bahrain and Yemen strangle that new norm in its crib? 

 And Andrew Exum at Abu Muqawama poses many of the same questions I did yesterday - including the "Petraeus question." 

What happens if Gadhafi pulls back? Do we continue to try and press the advantage of the rebels until his government falls? Do we have the authorization to do that? Do we expect a civil war in Libya to drag out, and if so, how will we take sides? If Gadhafi falls, what comes next? What will the new Libyan government look like? Will they be friendly to U.S. interests? Someone please tell me how this ends.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Libya Crapshoot Begins

Paul Woodward at War in Context  furnishes the numbers:
10 in favour, zero against, five abstentions.

Voting for the resolution:
Permanent members: United States, Britain, France
Non-permanent members:: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Gabon, Lebanon, Nigeria, Portugal, South Africa

Permanent members: Russia, China
Non-permanent members: Germany, Brazil, India

The Resolution authorizes member states “to take all necessary measures… to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamhariya, including Benghazi, while excluding an occupation force.”

As Simon Tisdall writes for The Guardian (h/t to Paul again),
With a boldness that the world had begun to believe he lacked, Barack Obama has gone for broke. The US wants Muammar Gaddafi's head. It will not rest until he is deposed and there is regime change in Libya. And it will fight to get it.
The debate had been mostly about whether to impose a no-fly zone in order to deter Qaddafi and perhaps rescue the rebels whom his forces were pressing in Benghazi.  But as it was apparent that it was likely too late for a no-fly zone to have the desired effect, the decision is to up the ante. A no-fly zone is in itself an act of war. How much more so, the airstrikes that, some are saying, may come within hours.

Obama will not be going it alone.  As Leon Hadar argued for so forcefully in the CSM, the Europeans (who share with Mr. Qaddafi the same Mediterranean neighborhood) have at least as much at stake in the outcome of Libya's civil war.  Tisdall's piece makes it plain that the British and French have already engaged in contingency planning for their own military involvement; and in a statement that must be especially galling not just to Qaddafi, but to many Libyans (including perhaps the rebels), Italy, who under Mussolini brutally colonized Libya, has offered the use of its airbases.  How soon the European air forces will be ready (indeed, if they are truly ready at all) remains to be seen.  Will Qaddafi's forces stick with him?  Will his air defenses take some toll on British and French bombers?  Will they need to call for help from an already overburdened US?

And if Qaddafi decides to stand and fight, what if he is able even partially to follow through on what he now threatens his foreign enemies with?  As the NYT reports, Libya has asserted:
 “Any foreign military act against Libya will expose all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea to danger and civilian and military facilities will become targets of Libya’s counterattack. . . .  The Mediterranean basin will face danger not just in the short term, but also in the long term.
Tisdall lays out many more of the what-ifs.  Some of them are truly daunting.
The longer term impact of the intervention is immeasurable – but disaster is certainly one possible outcome. Like the first Gulf war, the involvement and support of Arab countries means the Libyan war will not be defined, except by hardline jihadis and al-Qaida, as another western assault on Muslim lands. But if the fighting is prolonged, if Gaddafi does not quit and run, if his more able sons take up his cause, if the intervention makes things worse not better for ordinary people (as in Iraq), if there is no clear-cut win but ongoing low level conflict and resistance (as in Afghanistan), then Arab opinion will turn against the westerners once more. The post-9/11 nightmare of the Pentagon's long war without end will reproduce on the shores of the Mediterranean.
 And let's not forget that any war brings a multitude of unpredictable contingencies - including collateral damage from the "precision weapons" and "surgical strikes" that the US has used so profligately in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, at the cost of hundreds of innocent lives taken and hearts and minds lost.  And what if the struggle does devolve into an ongoing civil conflict?  What if Qaddafi (who likely is intent on, more than anything, surviving at this point) reaches out to enlist jihadists and "al-Qaeda" in the struggle against the Western neo-Crusaders and Zionists?  Libyan jihadists flocked to Afghanistan in the 1980s to take on the godless Communists - with our help.  And it's not as if Qaddafi won't have rhetorical ammunition with which to lure them.  America's perpetual campaign to ensure its influence in the Middle East is obvious to one and all throughout the region; and American boots are still on the ground in Iraq.  British boots were on the ground in Libya only 70 years ago during World War II. As for France: Mr. Sarkozy has hardly proven himself a friend of France's Muslims, much less those outre mer.

One can only hope that Qaddafi will (improbably) give up or flee, or can be "disappeared"; that his eldest son, Seif al-Islam, would then stand down (again, improbable); and that the leaders who might emerge from among the rebels can then produce a new government that can re-unify the country.  As was argued by Ali Abdullatif Ahmida in the NYT recently,
About 80 percent of Libyans now live in urban areas, towns and cities. Libya today has a modern economy and a high literacy rate. The leaders of the uprising include lawyers, judges, journalists, writers, scholars, women’s rights activists, former army officers and diplomats — a sizable urban elite that is battered and restive.
Promising raw material.  But let's also not forget that the country of Libya is hardly a "nation" - but comprises three separate, vast regions (most prominently Tripolitania in the west and Cyrenaica in the east) that were forced into unification under a very reluctant king in 1951, have labored under tribal divisiveness for centuries, and have no tradition of strong, enduring civil institutions, courtesy largely of Mr. Qaddafi's "visionary" politics.

So . . . even if this Euro-American gamble pays off and Qaddafi is eliminated quickly and with a minimum of further bloodshed and damage to infrastructure, what then?  Do Obama, Sarkozy, and Cameron simply dust off their hands, intone "our work is done here," and back away?

I've too often fallen back on the Petraeus query, but I'll nonetheless pose it again, and will hope that Mr. Obama has posed it to himself, and his advisors: Tell me how this ends.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Iraq to Allow Iranian Security Contractors?

You can hear them screaming in the Pentagon - and at DoS.  As reported in The National:

If true, the move would be highly contentious. The presence of US private security firms, such as Blackwater, which has been barred from working in Iraq and since rebranded itself as Xe to operate in Afghanistan, has long been controversial. A series of fatal shootings involving private contractors since the US-led invasion of 2003 led to their being widely viewed in Iraq as trigger-happy mercenaries.

With sectarian tensions still simmering, the arrival of Iranian security firms would not be welcomed by Iraqi nationalists who remember the eight-year war the two countries fought during the 1980s. In particular, hard-line Sunni factions have accused Mr al Maliki's Shiite-dominated government of being too closely allied with Tehran, and have resented the rise in Iranian influence over Iraq since Saddam Hussein was overthrown.

Israel Has the Right to Attack Iran's Nuclear Reactors Now

More fear-monge­ring by Dershowitz­. Please note:(1) He wants to tar Iran with the Itamar murders, even when there's absolutely no evidence of a connection­; (2) He claims that Iran wants to "wipe Israel off the map." As Prof. Juan Cole and others have noted repeatedly­, this supposed quote is a mistransla­tion; (3) Not even Israel's intelligen­ce people believe that Iran is currently capable of producing a nuclear weapon; (4) There is absolutely no hard proof that Iran is developing one - as opposed, by the way, to the "ideologic­al zealots" (to borrow D's characteri­zation of Iran's leaders) among Israel's leadership (I defy anyone to deny that Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman qualifies as such), who have one of the largest nuclear arsenals on the planet, as well as the hardware to deliver it. And finally, at a time when most of us are aghast at the prospect of a radiation catastroph­e in Japan because of the damage to several nuclear reactors, it is appalling that a supposedly ethically enlightene­d figure such Dershowitz would be so blithe as to wish such a catastroph­e on the people of Iran.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Saudi Intervention in Bahrain Highlights US Irrelevance

It's difficult to remember a time when so many crises beset the globe - or when a US president had so much on his plate.  The terrifying possibility of nuclear catastrophe that now faces Japan has everyone's attention (except at ESPN, where the NFL labor controversy is being pitched as the real doomsday), so much so that it might be easy to forget that the resistance fighters in Libya are facing defeat, and the fate of the revolution in Egypt may be hanging on the outcome of Saturday's referendum on proposed changes to the constitution (with many of the pro-reform groups urging a "no" vote).

But the Saudi/GCC intervention on the island of Bahrain may wind up becoming the most serious of all these crises. The NYT provides an excellent report full of insight into the potential implications; and, IMO, a must-read is the essay at Foreign Policy by Jean-Francois Seznec.  He concludes: 

 the future appears bleak. The Saudi intervention will no doubt provoke a reaction from Iran, which will argue that their Shiite brothers are being systematically oppressed. Any troubles caused by Bahraini Shiites will only provoke further Saudi intervention. Ultimately, the island risks falling under de facto, if not de jure, Saudi control.

The Saudi intervention, however small, is therefore a major step backward for the region. It represents a major slap in the face to the United States, a defeat for the liberal Shiite and Sunni elements in Bahrain, and ultimately a catastrophe for the entire Khalifa family, both the liberal and conservative wings, who may have just surrendered their power to the giant next door.

Again, this intervention by the Saudis (which, Seznec argues, came likely at the invitation of Bahrain's prime minister) comes only a few days after US SecDef Robert Gates' visit to Bahrain, where he urged the government to undertake significant reforms, and soon. Thus, the implied slap in the face of a United States that, thanks to the crippling military failures launched by Mr. Bush (and, unfortunately, continued in Afghanistan by Mr. Obama), can no longer afford to even entertain notions of military intervention that might destabilize things even further, as well as deplete America's already much-diminished coffers. (The WaPo also reports a new survey indicating that fully2/3 of the American public believes that the Afghanistan war is no longer worth fighting.)

Despite the assumptions of neocons like Fouad Ajami and Paul Wolfowitz, the US does not have the power - nor did it ever have the power - to change destinies and determine outcomes in the Middle East. And because of the costs of its ill-considered interventions, it is rapidly losing the ability even to influence them: in Libya, in the Persian Gulf, or even between Israelis and Palestinians.

Mr. Obama might be well advised to consider stepping away from Afghanistan, rolling back the American empire of miltary bases across the planet, and applying America's still considerable economic machine to rebuilding American infrastructure, education, and confidence.  In the process he might just be saving democracy, which is now imperilled in some states (for example, in Michigan, where the new Republican governor is about to sign legislation authorizing him to appoint "emergency managers" empowered to step in and take over the fiscal management of selected cities and towns. So much for self-government.)

And America's wealth might be employed just as fruitfully to assist the recovery and rebuilding so necessary for our allies and friends, the people of Japan. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bahrain: Is It Decision Time for Iran?

George Friedman at Stratfor with an interesting laying-out of scenarios now that the Saudis (evidently, as apart of a coalition) have sent forces across the causeway to Bahrain, to bolster the Sunni monarchy against the current uprising, which stems in part from discontent among the Shii-majority population.

As the report makes clear, the potential implications for Iraq are significant.  Add to that this disturbing comment:

If Iran simply does nothing, then the wave that has been moving in its favor might be stopped and reversed. They could lose a historic opportunity. At the same time, the door remains open in Iraq, and that is the main prize here. They might simply accept the reversal and pursue their main line. But even there things are murky. There are rumors in Washington that U.S. President Barack Obama has decided to slow down, halt or even reverse the withdrawal from Iraq. Rumors are merely rumors, but these make sense. Completing the withdrawal now would tilt the balance in Iraq to Iran, a strategic disaster.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Neocons Rise to the Bait - a New Country to Save

I've been away from internet access for more than a week (visiting family and then conventioneering - American Oriental Society in Chicago), which has kinda knocked me off stride as regards keeping up with this blog. My handy iPhone at least kept me tuned in enough to be shocked by the damage the recent earthquake and tsunami did to Japan - and fretful about the potential for nuclear disaster if the problems with the reactors at several of Japan's nuclear power plants are contained.

And it's also evident that Japan's troubles have sucked much of the air out of the reporting on the civil war in Libya, where Mr. Qaddafi has regained his footing and his armed forces are inexorably driving back the rebel forces.  That is now confronting Mr. Obama with a major dilemma as to the appropriate US response: isolate Qaddafi (which provides no real help to the now reeling rebel forces), or intervene militarily via a US-led no-fly zone over Libya (which, as SecDef Robert Gates made very plain, would have to begin by attacking Libya's air-defense systems - i.e., with an overt act of war).

But as if Mr. Obama already didn't have enough to deal with, now a cast of infamous characters have re-emerged to heap opprobrium upon his graying head for not jumping into the Libyan fray with both feet. I speak, of course, of those pesky neocons - those heroic, lusty cheerleaders and armchair generals of the US's recent military adventure in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Fox News, of course, has no shame in calling upon such worthies.  But I find it especially galling that others of the MSM are calling upon people like Fouad Ajami and Paul Wolfowitz to plumb their "expertise."  CNN recently pitted Ajami against Gen. Wesley Clark in re the merits of a no-fly zone.  Clark sensibly spoke of costs vs. benefits; Ajami, on the other hand, spoke of America's tradition of "rescuing" countries in trouble, and the shame that, in his view, Obama deserves for holding off.

Prof. Ajami, of course, has become the media's favorite pet Arab, a supposedly authentic Middle Eastern voice whose accent, eloquence, and academic pedigree are supposed to reassure us that he somehow speaks for the intelligent people of the Middle East.  This is, however, the same Fouad Ajami who cheered so loudly for the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, which he described - and still touts - as (in his book of the same name) "The Foreigner's Gift."  As millions of Iraqis have learned, it's a gift that keeps on giving, even if many of them at this point would likely opt to return it for a refund if that were possible.

And as for Wolfowitz? Maureen Dowd's essay in today's NYT says it all. She reminds us up front of Mr. Gates' comment on the advice that Wolfowitz's former boss gave to W.:

as Defense Secretary Robert Gates told West Point cadets last month, “In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.”

Turning then to Wolfowitz himself, Dowd notes: 

 Wolfowitz, Rummy’s No. 2 in W.’s War Department, pushed to divert attention from Afghanistan and move on to Iraq; he pressed the canards that Saddam and Osama were linked and that we were in danger from Saddam’s phantom W.M.D.s; he promised that the Iraq invasion would end quickly and gleefully; he slapped back Gen. Eric Shinseki when he said securing Iraq would require several hundred thousand troops; and he claimed that rebuilding Iraq would be paid for with Iraqi oil revenues.

How wrong, deceptive and deadly can you be and still get to lecture President Obama on his moral obligations?


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

End of Pan-Arabism?

Leon Hadar (Cato Institute) has a nice essay at the National Interest site, about the "burying" of pan-Arabism and the emergence instead of local nationalisms largely rooted in the 20th-century state system in the Middle East, though with overtones of ethnic, sub-regional nationalism in (for example) Iran and Turkey, as well as among the Kurds.

The Arab Middle East and its peripheries will not evolve into a unified Islamist empire that will try to obliterate Israel. Instead, the Arab and non-Arab Middle East will take the shape of a colorful mosaic of nations, religious and ethnic groups, and a new regional balance of power under which one should expect growing tensions among Egypt, Iran, and Turkey. Israel and other regional players—including neighboring Europe that shares historical, geographical, economic, and demographic ties with the region— will probably look to exploit this tension.

And the appropriate role for the US? Stop supporting the autocrats, and allow the peoples of the region to shape their own futures.  All good, although . . .

The issue of the Arabs of Gaza/West Bank/Palestine still hangs out there. And as long as Israel refuses to make what they will surely see as "painful concession" - but which much of the rest of the world sees as conforming to the tenets of established international law - extremist/jihadist Islamists are going to have a tool with which to attack and isolate Israel and its economy.



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