I thought it might be interesting to look at some views of the Libyan War and then offer some remarks of my own. Of course, readers are encouraged to read each source in full rather than just my excerpt: First up….
CNAS (Andrew Exum & Zachary Hosford) – Forging a Libya Strategy: Policy Recommendations for the Obama Administration
….The most dangerous outcome for the United States is also the most likely, which is a stalemate that prolongs U.S. and allied military intervention in Libya. The relative lack of sophistication and organization among rebel fighting forces means they may be unable to regain the momentum in Libya and defeat Gadhafi’s forces in open combat absent significant direct and indirect support from U.S.and allied militaries – which is not explicitly authorized by UNSCR 1973 and might not be supported by the U.S. Congress.
A stalemate in Libya would effectively result in a de facto partition of the country with a severely underundergoverned and disorganized safe haven in eastern Libya for the rebels that could provide refuge for various militant and criminal groups capable of exporting violence and instability to other countries in North Africa and the Middle East. Such a scenario would prolong U.S. and allied military intervention as only a major Western investment in developing the independent governance, economic and security force capacity of eastern Libya would be likely to forestall this outcome. However, such an investment is highly unlikely due to the overarching fiscal constraints facing the United States and NATO countries and competing priorities.
Nice work on a very important policy brief by Exum and Hosford. This one was “tight”, written to the point, properly focused on strategic variables rather than getting bogged down in debatable specialist minutia and delivering clear policy option scenarios. Written in exactly the right mode for a White House/NSC staffer or deputy to SEC to digest and disseminate to their boss or peers. Kudos, gents.
I think Ex and Hosford have correctly diagnosed Libya as a potential albatross for the US from which we stand to gain very little benefit even in the best case scenario. I disagree with their assertion that it would be a tolerable outcome to leave Gaddafi in power. No, that ship has already sailed and we have had enough Lockerbies. To imagine that there will not be ongoing blowback from a rump Gaddafi regime in a fragile neighborhood with which the US will repeatedly have to deal is just not at all realistic.
The Allies badly wanted Gaddafi out. They will have to be pressured now to follow through and the US needs to make it clear that we will neither babysit an enraged, cornered, Gaddafi for the next seven years, tying down an aircraft carrier group and costing the US taxpayer billions, nor we will accept the Brits and French hanging Gaddafi’s triumphant survival on our doorstep as an “American defeat” while skating away diplomatically (which is their Plan B if we refuse to do a Panama type operation for them). They will have to finish the job on the ground themselves and ensure Gaddafi’s death or departure with our support, but not the reverse. Or Paris and London can help build a real rebel army, salted liberally with PMC units and SOF “advisers” to stiffen spines.
CRS Report ( Christopher M. Blanchard) – Libya Unrest and US Policy
….The complexity of these factors and the stress that ongoing fighting places on their interrelationships creates challenges both for Qadhafi supporters and opposition groups. As both parties seek to navigate the political waters of the upheaval and look ahead to potential postconflictscenarios, they face difficult questions about current tactical choices and future means for promoting national reconciliation and governing effectively.
For the opposition, the question of foreign military intervention is complicated by opposition leaders’ desire for external assistance and their appreciation for the strong nationalist, anticolonial sentiment shared by most Libyans. Internally, political differences and competing demands among the opposition’s constituent groups may complicate the maintenance of a united front against Qadhafi counterattacks and complicate efforts to speak with one voice in dealings with the international community. Other regional examples suggest that such internal differences may prove even more challenging for any transitional authority in the aftermath of the conflict…
In a sea of government waste and middling competence, the Congressional Research Service stands out as a gem, giving the taxpayers a tremendous informational “bang for the buck” in reports prepared by experts on a vast array of subjects. While not an advocacy piece, the report is a valuable “backgrounder” on the Libyan War of a kind that you cannot get from the MSM.
Marc Lynch – Why Obama had to act in Libya
….And my conversations with Arab activists and intellectuals, and my monitoring of Arab media and internet traffic, have convinced me that the intervention was both important and desirable. The administration understood, better than their critics, that Libya had become a litmus test for American credibility and intentions, with an Arab public riveted to al-Jazeera. From what I can see, many people broadly sympathetic to Arab interests and concerns are out of step with Arab opinion this time. In the Arab public sphere, this is not another Iraq — though, as I’ve warned repeatedly, it could become one if American troops get involved on the ground and there is an extended, bloody quagmire. This administration is all too aware of the dangers of mission creep, escalation, and the ticking clock on Arab and international support which so many of us have warned against. They don’t want another Iraq, as Obama made clear…. even if it is not obvious that they can avoid one.
Lynch is an Arabist, and while the internet traffic aspect is skewing the demographic, al-Jazeera coverage is a dominant information effect in Arab public with limited literacy. It is sort of the Walter Cronkite effect from the 60’s in play again, if the primary trusted source is broadcasting an interpretation, it takes on the air of truth for a majority of viewers. That said, it matters very little whether al-Jazeera is giving kudos to the US if the average rebel can’t fire an RPG, quickly unjam and reload his AK-47 under fire, get water or food in the field or dig simple trench and sandbag defenses. Guys milling about nervously out in the open road, brandishing weapons and arguing amongst themselves will get their clocks cleaned by any opponent with even marginal military training and leadership. Gaddafi’s military forces are fourth rate – this is not Saddam’s army of 2003, much less of 1991 – but they can handle untrained and leaderless groups easily enough.
Which brings us to…..
Thomas P.M. Barnett –Arming the Libyan rebels
…There’s also al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), but that group has frankly struggled to be taken seriously as a force, as it’s mostly a relabeling of an existing group that was going nowhere (bigger the territory in the title, more likely, in my mind, that it’s not exactly succeeding anywhere). Up to now, no one has portrayed that group as Libyan-centric. Yes, they will show up, but that’s standard. The reality, as noted in the piece, is that you have to train on what you provide, so we’ll have people on the ground (besides the CIA already there). If things go really sour, then we burn that bridge when we come to it. But this is not a logical showstopper. A Libyan long divided in two and suffering civil conflict will do the same – or far better – for AQIM than a concerted arms push to dethrone the guy. So, again, factor them in as the cost of doing any sort of business here, but do not elevate them into the decision-tilting bogeyman, because they’re not, and speculating in the press doesn’t make them so.
Going the Reagan Doctrine route was my original preference on Libya and I am still in favor of sponsoring an insurgency war against Gaddafi, with a couple of caveats.
First, SECDEF Robert Gates’ strong aversion to doing this gives me some pause, given his background as a former head of the IC and his access as SECDEF to our best current intelligence (which, admittedly, may not be that much). His judgment should be given considerable weight. Secondly, where are the Arabs? A hundred or so experienced NCO’s and junior officers from Egypt and KSA would be of immense help in establishing unit discipline and basic training for the rebels. The Saudis very well might be contributing substantial amounts of cash but that’s no longer good enough. The Arab League needs to show it’s alleged support for helping the rebels and removing Gaddafi with boots and not just empty words.
Reflexively, American policy makers face a great temptation to “own” the crisis and micromanage the Libyan War against some impossibly unrealistic standard of success. Let’s resist it. We should help drive nails in Gaddafi’s coffin but we don’t need to be the main hammer. Sometimes less is more and the Libyan rebels getting rid of their tyrant badly is better than us doing it for them well.