Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Libya, Obama, Islamists and War for Oil

It is difficult not to agree with Barnett's analysis on US intervention in Libya. To wit, that interfering in Libya may make the "Arabs" angry over continued conspiracy of American Imperialism, but, to do nothing will have the same results and worse, like in the days of Rwanda, we might find it difficult to face ourselves in the morning.

We let this go down and we'll be hated anyway, and we hate ourselves for letting it happen. So what is the big difference? There will be no working with the guy after this anyway, so what is the downside? The Saudis hate him, because of the hit he tried on Abdullah.

There is the problem of do we actually know who is who and who we would be helping?

Libya's Mujahedin discussing the chaos and undisciplined rebel forces:

Wanis Kilani, an engineer turned volunteer fighter, shakes his head at the chaos. "So much 'Blah blah blah,' " he says. "You know, we can't prevent them from coming here because they all want to help - even the crazy, the young, even sick people want to help." He explains, mostly to himself, that it's a people's army coming together. "We are not rebels," he says. "We are mujahedin."

The word is a loaded one for Westerners, a reminder of the holy warriors of Afghanistan who turned from fighting the Soviet Union to aiding Osama bin Laden. But it bears weight in liberated east Libya as well. Islamic scholars here have said that pious Muslim men in particular were persecuted under Gaddafi, and they may yet be a vocal and determined force in the fight to bring down the dictator.

The author goes on to quote several who insist that they may be religious, but they are not Islamists nor terrorists. They do not like al Qaeda or bin Laden. However, as he also points out, there is a town in Libya that is notorious for supplying terrorists to Zarqawi in Iraq and continue to appear in Afghanistan as part of the "foreign forces" that local Afghanis have complained about and generally reject because they are more likely to be strict, unbending adherents who want to force their views at gun point instead of convince (in the good, old fashion way of Da' wa or proselytizing).

Islamist extremism does, however, have roots in Libya. The town of Darnah, up the road going east from Benghazi, was the site of a failed Islamist uprising against Gaddafi in the 1990s. Later, it became known for the young men who left it to join the insurgency in Iraq. "If you asked any of the mujahedin from Libya in Iraq where they're from, they said Darnah," says Mohamed el-Tahawy, a banker who drove from the eastern city of Tobruk to join the battle in Ras Lanuf. He adds that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the fearsome leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq who was killed in 2006, once said, "I will go to Darnah to see what is this city that is sending so many."

Frankly, if we do not have special forces on the ground or other assets heading in that general direction, we would be seriously falling down on our counter terrorism responsibilities.

One thing that should be informing our opinion are those on the ground (though one or two individuals does not a consensus make, it may be telling). There seems to be a general insistence that this is their war, their responsibility and they are not interested in foreign forces. At least, not big foreign forces on the ground taking any lead role in deposing Gaddaffi. Despite Barnam's insistence that we are damned if we do and damned if we don't, this was a common theme throughout Egypt and Tunisia. Many of whom had very mixed feelings on the installation of democracy at gun point in Iraq, but largely came down on the side of Arab nationalism and non-intervention of their political situation (though they complained mightily of support for the regimes in any form whether political, economic or military; even economic ties are considered "regime support").

These Libyan rebels go on to say they would love Egyptian doctors to come help, but do not want to see the Egyptian army. That would be occupation.

In the mean time, three other factors must be considered. First, as Barnam noted, if the rebels fail or even if Gadaffi remains in partial control of a split nation, there will be no dealing with him in the future since the administration has clearly come down on the side of the rebels.

Secondly, there is an arms embargo on Libya that (allegedly) prevents any arms from being imported there, whether to Gadaffi or any other forces on the ground. If we open that up by breaking thee embargo (even if "legitimately" by UN security council agreement), that opens the way for many an unfriendly or less than disinterested and imperfect "friendly" nation (ie, Russia, China, Venezuela, etc) to ship arms to Gadaffi to curry favor.

Third, as this Foreign Affairs article points out, there is oil there and regardless of continuing assurances that the 2% of world oil Libya produces should not affect the over all oil supply and prices or that Saudi Arabia could make up the difference, the loss of Libyan oil is a major factor in the unstable rise of oil speculation. Here is why:

The ongoing violence in Libya has had a more consequential impact on oil prices. To date, some 750,000 barrels a day of Libyan crude oil have been lost; Saudi Arabia claims to have replaced all of that supply. But Libyan and Saudi oil are not interchangeable. Libya's crude oil is known for its high quality: most of the 1.5 million barrels a day that the country produces is light and sweet, which means it is low in sulfur (hence its "sweet" smell) and is easily refined into high-demand petroleum products such as gasoline and diesel fuel. Only 25 percent of global crude is of similar quality; the loss of Libyan crude represents about nine percent of that pool. Saudi oil, however, is heavy and sour, making it -- at best -- an imperfect substitute for Libyan supply. Moreover, the Libyan export market is concentrated in the Mediterranean, with oil going mainly to Italy, France, Spain, Switzerland, and Germany. Thus, compared to oil from most Middle Eastern countries, the loss of Libyan oil has an especially pronounced effect.

The question for long time viewers of the situation in the Middle East and their political ramifications at home, are the "no war for oil" doves going to come out and denounce their candidate if he puts forces on the ground or other wise uses military assets to settle this situation? Or, does the appearance of an ongoing rebellion by allegedly democratic forces provide him enough operational cover? Keeping in mind that Iraq "only" provided 3% of the world's oil supplies (at its height in the early 90's) and a war on terrorism (Islamist Extremists) post 9/11 murder of 3,000 US citizens did not.

Will this continuing political stratagem on the home front keep Obama from actually making a leadership decision? To wit, a leader responsible for the economic and physical security of his nation should have re-election issues far down the list of items informing his decision.

Barnam and many others have noted that our options are not limited to ground forces, no fly zones, arms shipments or humanitarian aid. Ground forces would be subject to attack from all different sources, even bring on Iraq II (don't worry about "Vietnam Quagmires" anymore) with foreign mujahedin filing in to take their pot shots. Not to mention, there is a very large contingent of Americans and Libyans who would object to turning this thing into a "US" or "Western War" with EU partners making up some tiny contingent.

No fly zones are expensive and, even if there are air attacks on civilians still reported, it's not the major method Gadaffi is using to kill his citizens (a brief reminder here about Iraq no fly zones and Saddam systematically murdering tens of thousands of Kurds and Shia via ground forces and poison gas shells while we stood by and did nothing else leading to the second Iraq War). Further, any loss of US air assets to a Libyan pilot would equate to an act of war with greater impact.

Arms shipments are out of the question at this time. Humanitarian aid needs some serious protection to make it across the borders and into the right hands. It will need a calmer more stable situation to insure delivery and safety.

Our other options should include using naval and air assets (as Barnam notes "drones) to take out Gadaffi's military assets. A precisely calibrated round of sea to land missile of choice in a short, coordinated strike, could flatten the playing field. This means we would be essentially committing an act of war, but without a declaration and under the short term auspices of the War Powers Act. (Wouldn't this send Obama's "there was no authorization for Iraq", peace crowd into a tail spin).

It is difficult to imagine what the Obama administration will do. It and the EU are mostly talking and threatening, working on a UN security draft for no-fly zones (uggh!). While they wait and hope that the rebels will be able to take the initiative, it gives them some time to develop a plan (or, at least stop wetting themselves over likely already existing plans that have been in place for years and used by at least one president, but that they might find politically difficult to swallow). On the other hand, the progress of a war can turn on a dime and everyone will be left holding the bloody, awful bag.

In the mean time, Gadaffi sits in his palace (or tent) and scoffs at all the talk, likely certain that is all that this administration, the EU and world in general is likely to do. A certainty that seems to proliferate among the ego-maniacal, sun glasses and uniforming wearing, paint my picture and hang it on every building, dictator crowd (a crowd that is thinning at a very quick pace the last decade).

Gadaffi's scoffing is, of course, about as far down the list of concerns as Obama's re-election possibilities, but it does offer Obama a unique opportunity to put the US back in front of the world leadership podium. His administration has been very good at the "speak softly" aspect of foreign policy. In the midst of apparent economic and political weakness at home and abroad, a flexing of the "big stick" would remind a few others in the region and further east that, while we do have a large military commitment in Afghanistan and a smaller, though no less important, remainder in Iraq, the US is not powerless.

If we choose to do more talking right now, it is a personal choice, not a matter of inability to act. The US is still able to defend itself, its allies and its national interests abroad. Not to mention freedom loving people (however we question the full designation) trying to throw off the yoke of oppression.

As Barnam suggests:

I realize it's no easy call for Obama, but at some point you need to move away from what you can't live with and toward something you can stand.

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