Metz on Libya

We may have to go “All Libya, All the time” here this week. We won’t, but it is tempting.

Dr. Steve Metz of SSI has a featured op-ed in The New Republic:

Libya’s Coming Insurgency 

….History offers a number of sign posts that an insurgency will occur. Unfortunately Libya has almost all of them. At this point the political objectives of the government and anti-government forces are irreconcilable. Each side wants total victory-either Qaddafi will retain total power or he will be gone. Both sides are intensely devoted to their cause; passions are high. Both have thousands of men with military training, all imbued with a traditional warrior ethos which Qaddafi himself has stoked. The country is awash with arms. Libya has extensive hinterlands with little or no government control that could serve as insurgent bases. Neighboring states are likely to provide insurgent sanctuary whether deliberately-as an act of policy-or inadvertently because a government is unable to control its territory. North Africa has a long history of insurgency, from the anti-colonial wars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to more recent conflicts in Chad, Algeria, and Western Sahara. Where insurgency occurred in the past, it is more likely to occur in the future. All this means that there is no place on earth more likely to experience an insurgency in the next few years than Libya.

What is not clear is whether the coming insurgency will involve Qaddafi loyalists fighting against a new regime or anti-Qaddafi forces fighting to remove the old dictator and his patrons. In either case, a Libyan insurgency would be destructive. Because they take place within the population, insurgencies always fuel refugee problems and humanitarian crises. They provide an opportunity for extremists to hijack one or both sides. And insurgency in Libya would destabilize a region undergoing challenging political transitions

Read the rest here.

7 comments on this post.
  1. Joseph Fouche:

    Our risk of failure is quite low. How can a country allied with Italy lose a war?

  2. zen:

    Fortunately, Gaddafi also believed himself to be allied with Italy so we are once again on the "good side" of Italian diplomatic unreliability in a war

  3. The Lounsbury:

    As Zen notes, Italy started off this conflict being positively chummy with The Guide (who has rather a lot of ties in the financial sector in Italy to v high levels), and has only partially flipped – if one can say grudgingly allowing use of airbases is flipping.

    As to the quoted post, as fond as you are of these grand sweeping narratives and meta analyses, I find the statements regarding history of insurgency to be pretty much bollocks.  Chad and Algerian conflicts have pretty much fuck all to do with each other (other than occurring in the same continent), and Chad wasn’t really an insurgency (if the reference is properly to the Libyan meddling. If to subsequent civil war, it’s still bollocks as the drivers are not North Africa, but Sub Saharan (specifically Sahel). Lumping as well W. Sahara with Algerian Islamist insurgency is non-sensical, they share no commonalities, other than … well actually other than use of Ak-47s.

    While the chances of some form of insugency are high, I would agree, I don’t see the risks to be as presented:
    (i) the wild lands of the Sahara are indeed little controlled. They’re also grossly inhospitable.
    (ii) the already present Al Qaeda fil Maghreb (Sahel ironically gives more home to them) is only able to seriously be a threat in Algeria due to the watered mountain retreats, its Saharan muddling about is deadly to European gits motoring about but quite trivial to Algerian security. Making sweeping statements like that ignores the realities of the climate. The Sahel is already lawless, but hasn’t really spilled into the Maghreb for the simple fact that the Sahara is so bloody inhospitable, making the idea of large scale numbers of insurgents sheer fantasy.  The Libyan hinterlands are Sahara, in stark contrast with the well watered, forested mountain redoubts that made Algeria so problematic, even to the French.

    I won’t bother with the stunningly bad and reductionist history. Typical Polisci tripe.

    However, knocking down the silly points, I agree with the solid ones:
    (a) Awash in arms
    (b) fragmented polity
    (c) All or nothing goals.

    Those items, and the strong potential for spill over to Tunisia and Egypt, as well as the non-trivial risk in the case of a Guide semi-retake of control of him deliberately fucking with Tunisia and Egypt, are items I was concerned about re non-intervention (once it became clear the Rebels had lost the initiative, that he had managed to stabilize in the West, even as it is clear it is seething).

  4. Dee Frydman:

    While Gaddafi is totally crazy and violent, the western world is not in Libya because of any moral ground. The blood of Libyan people is cheap. However, once Libyans started to revolt against this dwindling regime, it became a reason to cease. Do not forget, Libyan people did not become in one day humans enough to deserve protection. All his deadly weapons are made in the UK, France and the US beside other western nations.

  5. joey:

    G/K/Qaddafi has dealt with previous attempted insurgencies fairly quickly, If he was given a free hand in this one it would imagine that the whole thing would be wound up fairly quickly.Dictators 101 in dealing with rebels is fairly effective, arrest a suspect, make him disappear, arrest his family, make them disappear, arrest his known friends, make them disappear.  Pretty soon the insurgents quit due to sheer terror.Half hearted intervention by various states on the other hand could usher in a long period of increasing violence and brutality.  Better off killing Qaddafi in that case and destroying his regime completely, end the uncertainty.

  6. zen:

    Dr. Metz is indeed a "polisci" type being from strategic studies and both fields use history selectively to make theoretical points. My impression here is that Steve is "red-flagging" the potential dangers of the US blundering into a hostile insurgency/COIN situation in Libya and that he cares more about getting that big picture across to politico types than making sure the granular details of Libya are neat. A general op-ed approach. Most TNR readers do not know a berber from a bedouin anyway.

     The alarming part is that since Metz has internal channels to send this message, being a dept. chair at the US Army’s own think tank, that he feels compelled to use a high profile MSM platform is not the best sign of how American policy is being shaped at the commanding heights

  7. The Lounsbury:

    Or he wants to wank in public. Politics.