Saturday, April 02, 2011

Libya: zero to quagmire in under 30 days.

I just finished reading an excellent article on the politics of the Libya intervention (erm, kinetic action), by Victor Davis Hanson ("President Obama’s Ten Libyan Paradoxes"
here.) Hanson - a historian and classicist does a great job of illustrating the pickle that we (the US & NATO) are now in.

There aren't many favorable possible outcomes, and the likelihood of them occurring are very small. Consider the top-level possible outcomes:

1. MQ (Moammar Quadaffi) is deposed. A democratic secular government results.
2. MQ is deposed. An Islamic theocracy results.
3. MQ stays in power across all of Libya.
4. Libya splits - MQ continues to rule western Libya.
5. Total chaos.

The fact that only one outcome is truly favorable isn't what bothers me - these scenarios are not easy to control, nor is it easy to define a win. What bothers me is that Obama's strategy has left us exposed to all possible outcomes while pulling off the rare feat of both dirtying our hands with the military action and tying our hands beyond it.

I just can't see many (any) scenarios where we don't escalate anti-MQ activities in the event that MQ hangs on.

I'm also bothered by the context and precedent of the US intervention. Is Obama saying that we should have intervened during the Prague Spring in 1968 (a popular uprising against a dictator who used a modern military on protesters)? If Obama were the King or PM of the UK in 1861, would he have declared a "no sail zone" around the Union states at the beginning of the Civil War? (i.e. aid rebels by neutering the technological & military advantage of the status quo government.)

As for the context, the Obama rationale is to act in Libya to avoid a Rwanda-level genocide. This is of course plausible, but reacting in response to the worst case scenario rather than the most likely or most desired outcome is very poor governance.

Libya itself is small potatoes in the geopolitical world, so what happens on the ground there isn't something to stress about until US actions reach the level of Iraq (boots on the ground.) However, we SHOULD be worried about how other global powers might play this situation. What if China, in a bid to undermine US credibility, negotiated a peace agreement in Libya whereby the rebels get the east of Libya, while MQ gets Tripoli and the west?

This would of course stop (or postpone) the bloodshed, but would leave an enormous amount of egg on Obama's face as the outcome would deliver the necessary peace but directly in contrast to Obama's assertion that MQ "has to go" in order for peace. What happens the next time Obama (or any future US president) asserts that a regime or nation must change behavior?

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With my new friends on the Great Wall of China

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China
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