Tag: TNC



Ryan Mauro
FrontPage, August 22, 2011

The reign of Muammar Qaddafi has come to an end. That he was a cruel despot deserving of an unforgiving end is a given, but now a new chapter in Libya, rife with uncharted, ominous struggles has begun. Foremost among theses struggles will be preventing the ensuing anarchy and civil strife brought on by Qaddafi’s defeat from being utilized by Islamists to gain power and to establish a Sharia state. With the likes of Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood openly supporting the Libyan rebels, the danger is that the downfall of the proverbial devil we knew, Qaddafi, may yet unleash something far worse.

The International Criminal Court confirms that Saif al-Islam, Muammar Qaddafi’s likely heir, has been captured by the rebels. It is also confirmed that Mohammed Qaddafi, another one of the dictator’s sons, has been taken into custody [Improper report in both cases—ed.]. There is ongoing fighting around Qaddafi’s compound, and foreign journalists are being held at the Rixos hotel. There are reports that South Africa is negotiating Qaddafi’s passage to another African country, such as Angola or Zimbabwe, but it is difficult to see why the rebels would settle when they are on the precipice of complete triumph.…

The overthrow of Qaddafi came even quicker than the rebels expected. They originally pledged to defeat him by the end of August, and then a defector predicted victory within 10 days. Qaddafi’s loyalists failed to put up much of a fight in the western parts of Tripoli. Apparently, they recognized that defeat was inevitable, as the city faced offensives on three sides, and the strategic oil city of Zawiyah fell. The unit in charge of protecting Qaddafi surrendered, and the dictator offered to directly negotiate with the rebel leadership. The Green Square was soon swarmed by rebel supporters, bringing Qaddafi’s rule effectively to an end.

One of the reasons for Tripoli’s rapid fall was the effective uprising strategy employed by the rebels within the city. Arms were smuggled to operatives in the eastern part of the city, and when these cells rose up at a predetermined time, the security forces were surprised and overwhelmed, as they expected an assault from the west. Widespread protests immediately erupted, collapsing the regime’s defenses. Of course, over the long term, Western intervention was the most decisive factor in the rebels’ victory, saving them from a massacre in Benghazi in March. NATO flew over 20,000 sorties, including 7,500 strikes, and spent billions of dollars to weaken the Qaddafi regime.

Several challenges now lie ahead. First is in the necessary marginalization of internal Islamist or jihadist elements in the anti-Qaddafi coalition. Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood supported the rebels for a reason, and Hamas in fact congratulated the rebels on their victory. The crucial question is on the actual composition of the rebel forces, which has never been completely clear. U.S. intelligence has claimed that there is no organized Al-Qaeda or Islamist element among the opposition, although media evidence has suggested that there is some Islamist influence. Encouragingly, the rebel leaders have pledged to create a secular democracy, with the vice chairman of the National Transitional Council bluntly stating, “There is no place for an Islamic state.” However, the 14-page “constitutional declaration” written by the opposition does open the door to the Islamists in very significant ways.

The constitutional declaration states that “Libya is a democratic and independent state…the people are the source of authority, Tripoli is the capital, Islam is the religion and Islamic sharia is the principal source of legislation.” Furthermore, one of the rebel commanders who received widespread attention for his support for Al-Qaeda, Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi, said that “no Islamist revolution has ever succeeded. Only when the whole population was included, did we succeed and that means a more inclusive ideology.” In other words: a popularly-supported Islamist state.

The second major challenge is ensuring security. It will be difficult to unify the different rebel militias, tribes, and former Qaddafi loyalists under a single authority. The murder of the top rebel commander, Abdel Fateh Younes, by either Islamist militants or Qaddafi supporters, shows how deadly these divisions can be. One rebel commander said, “The first thing my brigade will do is set up checkpoints to disarm everyone, including other rebel groups, because otherwise it will be a bloodbath.… All the rebel groups will want to control Tripoli. Order will be needed.”

The rebels must now work on the huge task of creating a new national army and new security forces, which requires disarming the different militias and preventing arms from falling into unsavory hands. It also requires contending with the rivalries between the eastern and western tribes, and ensuring the loyalty of the approximately 140 different tribes and clans. Ideological differences, such as those between the Islamists and non-Islamists, will also threaten the stability of the new Libyan government. The patience of the population will also be a problem, as they may demand improvements faster than can be delivered. For example, it will take up to 36 months to bring oil production back to 1.6 million barrels per day. A lack of economic or political progress will unravel support for whoever the next leaders of Libya are.

Qaddafi has been overthrown by the rebels with the aid of NATO and other international allies, and the scenes of celebration are reverberating through Tripoli. But we must not get caught up in naive euphoria, assuming that Libya has been irrevocably changed for the better. The fact remains that Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists took part in the fight against Qaddafi with the aim of establishing an Islamist state—so the real battle for Libya’s future has just begun.


Fouad Ajami

Wall Street Journal, August 23, 2011

Who, today, does not thrill to the spectacle of freedom in Tripoli? A brave people, civilians in the main, exiles who returned to their devastated country, students with no military skills—all headed to the front in their pickup trucks to reclaim their homeland from a tyrant who had turned it into a laboratory for his mix of megalomania and derangement. These are the people who have made this rebellion.

It was not perfect, that campaign that upended the kleptocracy in Tripoli. NATO did not always perform brilliantly. The Obama administration didn’t have its heart in that fight. We second-guessed the rebels in Benghazi and their intentions at every turn. We would not release to them sequestered Libyan funds that could have leveled the killing field and brought the fighting to a close a good deal sooner. A new doctrine was spun to justify American passivity: “Leading from behind,” it was called.

But all this can be taken up at another time. Suffice it to see the brigades of freedom make their entry into Tripoli. How can those of us in lands of freedom resist a giddy sense of satisfaction that the tyrant’s favorite son, Seif al-Islam, is now in captivity? It makes for poor governance in our world to label your own people “rats” and “traitors.” After years of fear and submission, the people had gone out in an assertion of their dignity.

When it truly mattered, the foreign mercenaries, guns and killers for hire could not sustain the despot’s power. To no great surprise they were not willing to die for the man in his fortified bunker. Nor would the Libyans come to his rescue. He had once described himself as a leader without a country. He had declared an open war on Libya’s very own identity and past. He ruled six million people with a hallucinatory work, his “Green Book,” a document, he said, which contained all the answers to the problems of human governance.

Libya was a wealthy country, blessed with abundant oil, but the despot turned it into one of Africa’s poorest populations. He robbed them of freedom and of economic initiative. The country was turned into a cruel tyranny, and what wealth existed was the prerogative of the man at the helm and his children. Retail trade was decimated. Meaningful work was denied the Libyans.

Four decades of a nation’s life were squandered by this regime, the narcissism of the ruler all the more galling against the background of a sullen and humiliated population. Fear governed and paralyzed the land, the “revolutionary committees” of the despot had the run of the place. Always with Gadhafi, the buffoonery and the personal depravity—the outrageous costumes, the tent he carried with him to distant capitals, the rantings in international forums, the phalanx of female bodyguards in a conservative Muslim society, and the four “voluptuous” Ukrainian nurses who travelled with him everywhere—went hand in hand with official terror against dissidents who dared question his despotism.

Europe was nearby, and the madman knew how to exploit its fears: He was standing sentry, he said, on behalf of Europe, and were he to falter or to be offended, he would turn Europe black, he said, overwhelm it with illegal African immigrants.

There was cunning in Gadhafi. How else can one account for the “reparations” he had exacted from Italy for the interwar Italian occupation of Libya? The greed of others saw him through: He could kill en masse passengers aboard American and French airliners and still find room to play on the international stage. He never ran out of foreign interlocutors keen to bring him into the fold of “normal” nations. A regime of this barbarism and incoherence needed foreign indulgence, and the man in Libya had it aplenty.

“The best day after a bad emperor is the first,” the great Roman historian Tacitus observed. Doubtless, Libya after this hurricane will have to contend with enormous challenges. There are no viable institutions to sustain it, so determined was Gadhafi to leave the country barren of any meaningful public life.

There will remain the schism between the provinces of Tripolitania in the west and Cyrenaica in the east. Libyans will insist that these differences have been healed by a common history of torment at the hands of the despot. This could be a sincere sentiment, and may pull the Libyans through. But from the time this country was put together by the Western powers some six decades ago, that schism had a force all its own.

The rebels in Benghazi will be called upon to show clemency and restraint in the aftermath of their victory. A hunt for demons and collaborators will betray the new Libya, for four decades of totalitarian dictatorship are sure to sully practically all with any experience in public life.

Because we “led from behind” and never fully embraced this rebellion, American diplomacy ought to approach the emerging new order with a measure of reticence and modesty. In our attempt to divine the ways of this rebellion, there were fears that radical Islamists, even elements of al Qaeda, could be found in the ranks of the rebels. This was, in part, an alibi for the hesitancy that marked the American approach in this crisis. It had been Gadhafi himself, it shall be recalled, who dragged a reluctant Barack Obama into this conflict when he threatened Benghazi with the prospect of draconian punishment.

But there was sincerity as well in the worry about the rebels, and it came in the form of evidence gathered by U.S. intelligence in Iraq in 2006-07. Libyan jihadists had made their way to Iraq—they were second in numbers to the Saudis, and they predominantly hailed from the eastern part of the country.

There is no way that a blanket assertion can be made that this massive Libyan upheaval is free of Islamists. What we have is the more compelling evidence of the rebellion itself—its composition, the earnestness of the professionals and civil libertarians active in it, their promise that the terrible autocrat will not be replaced by a zealous, unforgiving theocracy.

Revolutions can be stolen and hijacked, this we know, the moderates overwhelmed by determined extremists. But if a bet is to be made on the spectacle now before us, it should be easy to see a better Libya than Gadhafi’s monstrous regime rising out of this contest.

(Mr. Ajami is a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.)


Margaret Wente
Globe & Mail, August 23, 2011

Nobody will miss Moammar Gadhafi, the loon of Libya. From the Lockerbie bombing to the siege of Benghazi, he has been a plague upon humanity for 40 years. Now he’s all but toast. Perhaps they’ll hang him in the public square.

Of course, if Western humanitarians have their way, Col. Gadhafi will be packed off to the International Criminal Court, where he might be found guilty in a decade or so. If they have their way, the National Transitional Council, now recognized by half the world as the legitimate government of Libya, will declare a general amnesty. With the help of the United States and Europe, it will pave the way, in the words of U.S. senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, for “a transparent and inclusive political process, a free and independent media, an impartial system of justice and the rule of law, a free economy, and unified, professionalized security forces that answer to civilian authority.” And, of course, a functioning democracy where ancient tribal loyalties give way to one man, one vote.

Then again, maybe not. Another possibility is that the rebel fighters, who have been described…as a ragtag bunch of undisciplined, untrained young men, will take their blood revenge on the streets of Tripoli. You’d have to be deluded to believe their leaders are ready for prime time.… Just last month, NTC members murdered one of their own military leaders, although who did it, or why, nobody knows. What happens if the rebel factions turn on each other? Will NATO switch sides to protect the people it has armed the rebels to attack? Will the UN send in peacekeepers? Will Canada be asked to replace its aircraft pilots with boots on the ground?

If you get the feeling the Western allies haven’t thought this through, you’re right. They appear to be making it up as they go along. As for Canada’s involvement, the only rationale is that NATO called, so we answered.…

Have we learned nothing? Evidently not. Just as with Afghanistan, the starry-eyed idealists who are all gung-ho over rescuing Libya have developed a serious case of mission creep. What started as a limited objective (defend the civilians of Benghazi) grew quickly to embrace regime change, and could yet metastasize into nation-building. You’d think we’d know by now that it’s awfully easy to get in—and much harder to get out.


Arthur Herman
NY Post, August 22, 2011

The fall of monstrous dictator Moammar Khadafy—a leading facilitator of Middle East terrorism—should be a cause for celebration. These days, however, the feeling is more one of apprehension. As with Iran four decades ago and Egypt today, it looks as if something even worse is coming for Libya and the rest of us—especially after the way the conflict has been handled.

President Obama’s European friends opened a Pandora’s box of trouble in Libya—and the chaos and bloodshed of the last five months may be just the opening act.

Even though the Libya campaign supposedly was a NATO operation—Obama allowed American planes to take a major part in 7,000 air sorties—the war obviously was an Anglo-French affair from start to finish. Britain and France organized the air strikes, armed and trained rebel forces and facilitated rebel operations with intelligence and logistics—all to make sure Libyan oil kept flowing to Europe. Now, the French even want any post-Khadafy government to start work in Paris, where they can keep an eye on their new clients.

In short, our president largely sat on the sidelines as Britain and France used our jets to get what they wanted—and now, European opinion, starting with the Financial Times, is urging Obama to put American boots on the ground as part of any NATO peace-keeping force.

How ironic: An American president who prides himself on his anti-colonialism—even returning a bust of Winston Churchill to Britain because of how Churchill treated Kenya 60 years ago—has facilitated the biggest neo-colonialist power grab in decades.…

What are the council’s goals? No one has a clue. The fact that many of its key figures are former Khadafy cronies suggests that it may herald less in the way of democratic reform and more of the same old corruption and money-greased accommodation with Britain and France. Personality conflicts and rivalries among its members also are likely to make any concerted action by the new government difficult, if not impossible. The real future on the ground, however, depends on what the 140 tribal leaders who are the real rulers of Libya decide to do.…

Now, they’ll have their opportunity for revenge—and, thanks to Britain and France, the weapons to do it.… In short, we will have an untried divided central government, set up to do the bidding of foreigners, trying to rule a backward country seething with tribal hatreds—with Libya’s multibillion-dollar oil industry as the prize for anyone ruthless enough, as Khadafy was, to emerge on top. It’s a formula for disaster.

If the United States had taken the lead by recognizing the Transitional Council earlier to help to guide its agenda, or had focused on taking out Khadafy sooner and made it clear from the start that NATO wasn’t going to be subverted into an instrument of European oil interests, some, if not all, of this might have been prevented.

Obama can try to ignore, but he cannot escape, a simple truth: US assertiveness—and not the opposite—is still the key to stability, prosperity and freedom around the world. All through his administration, Obama has showed us how to get that formula wrong—not only in Egypt, Iran and Syria, but now in Libya.


Victor Davis Hanson

Real Clear Politics, July 14, 2011


Almost daily over the last four months we were told that Muammar Gadhafi was about ready to throw in the towel and give up.

Libya, after all, is not a distant Afghanistan or Iraq with a population of some 30 million. Yet this tiny police state of less than 7 million people, conveniently located on the Mediterranean Sea opposite nearby Europe, continues to thwart the three great powers of the NATO alliance and thousands of rebels.

In March, President Obama ordered the use of American bombers and cruise missiles to join in with the French and British to finish off the tottering Gadhafi regime. Obama was apparently stung by liberal criticism that the U.S. had done little to help rebels in their weeks-long effort to remove Gadhafi—after only belatedly supporting the successful revolutionaries in Tunisia and Egypt.

Months ago, intervention to the Obama administration seemed a short, painless way of ridding the world of a decades-long international menace while gaining praise for helping “democratic” reformers. Oil, of course, is always a subtext in any Middle Eastern war.

But almost immediately contradictions arose. Sometimes we ordered Gadhafi to leave; at other times we insisted we were only helping the rebels. Bombs seemed to be aimed at the Gadhafi family, even as we denied such targeted killing—and were reminded that U.S. law forbids the assassination of foreign leaders.

The rebels were variously described as would-be democratic reformers, inept amateurs, hard-core Islamists, or mixtures of all three. No one seems to have answers months later, though many insurgents share a deep-seeded racial and religious hatred of Gadhafi’s African mercenaries. Who knows whether post-Gadhafi Libya will become an Islamic republic, a Somalia-like mess, another Arab dictatorship or a Turkish-style democracy?

The more NATO forces destroyed Gadhafi’s tanks, artillery, planes and boats, the more the unhinged dictator seemed to cling to power. Western leaders had forgotten that Gadhafi lost a war with Egypt in 1977, lost a war with Chad in 1987, and came out on the losing end of Ronald Reagan’s bombing campaign in 1986—and yet clung to power and remains the planet’s longest-ruling dictator. Terror, oil, cash reserves and a loyal mercenary army are a potent combination.

The Obama administration asked for legal authorization from the Arab League—the majority of whose member states are not democratic—and the U.N., but to this day strangely has not requested authorization from Congress. As Obama sought legitimacy within international authorizations, he failed to note that no U.N. or Arab League resolution actually had allowed him to conduct a full-scale air war against Gadhafi’s ruling clique. The Chinese and Russians are both happy to keep pointing that out.

Both conservatives and liberals were flabbergasted by the sudden preemptive war. Conservatives who supported the messy efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq were reluctant to champion a third one in Libya without congressional authority and with no clearly stated mission or methodology. When we entered an on-again/off-again cycle of operations, Republicans charged that a weakened, fiscally insolvent America was sort of “leading from behind.”

Liberals were appalled that the president, who, as a senator, had always praised the War Powers Act, was now ordering his legal team to find ingenious ways of bypassing it. If this was to be a multilateral, un-Bush war, why then did it split NATO apart? Roughly half the members declined to participate. Both Germany and Italy soon openly opposed the effort. And now the instigator, France, seems to want to bail.

The left had also decried Western attacks on oil-exporting Muslim countries, but now liberal-in-chief Barack Obama was doing just that. Indeed, the antiwar president who promised to end the Bush Mideast wars had suddenly expanded them into a third theater. The more the war dragged on, the more the Arab world was torn between hating Gadhafi and hating Obama’s bombs.

The odious Gadhafi has been an international pariah for most of his tenure, funding terrorists, killing Americans and murdering dissidents. But even as the bombs were dropped, he was a monster in the midst of rehab. By late 2010 his jet-setting family was being courted by Western intellectuals, reestablishing diplomatic relations with the United States, offering oil concessions to the West, and being praised as a partner in the war against radical Islamic terrorism.

Then, with a snap of the fingers, in early 2011 Gadhafi was suddenly reinvented as a Saddam Hussein-like ogre and dodging Western cruise missiles and bombs targeted at his person.

What is next?

The general consensus, from both left and right, is that we should finish the misadventure as quickly as possible. Apparently, the only thing worse than starting a stupid, unnecessary war against a madman is losing it.


Ranj Alaaldin

Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2011


[Last] Thursday events in Libya took a turn for the worse with the killing of opposition army chief Abdel Fatah Younis. Not only have the Libyan rebels lost one of their most experienced military leaders, but the murky circumstances surrounding his death now threaten to provoke a war within rebel-controlled territories—to start another Libyan war before the current one has ended.

For months the presence of competing figures at the helm of the Libyan opposition has risked creating an environment of violence and instability. The rebels’ democratic and accountability deficits have only compounded the situation.

[Transitional] National Council (TNC), which answers to no one, is comprised of an array of secularists, Islamic fundamentalists, technocrats, independents and former regime figures. Younis himself used to be a powerful interior minister under Moammar Gadhafi, until he defected in the aftermath of the February uprising. Similarly, TNC leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil was a justice minister under Gadhafi. The nascent council’s diverse makeup means that divisions between its various elements were inevitable—and Younis’s death may be a byproduct of them.

In the months since the Libyan revolution began, these divisions have prompted the rebels’ lackluster army to splinter, creating the potential for rival personal militias. This factionalization has only intensified as the rebels have become more efficient, organized and better-equipped with Western help. As the conflict drags on, still more underestimated or unknown elements are emerging from the woodwork.

It is in this context that we must appraise the death of General Younis. Mr. Jalil’s press conference on Saturday did little to allay concerns about the future of the Libyan opposition. Mr. Jalil revealed only that the TNC had called Younis back from the eastern town of Brega to question him over “military affairs,” and that he was killed by armed gangs after he was released. Mr. Jalil failed to provide specifics on where the attack took place, how Younis’s killers were able to gain access to him and, most importantly, why exactly Younis had been summoned by the TNC in the first place.

One clue may lie in Younis’s fractious relationship with Khalifa Hifter, another opposition military figure and former Gadhafi official. Mr. Hifter went into exile in the U.S. after an ill-fated military adventure in Chad in the late 1980s, and returned to Libya in March.

Younis had been locked in a power struggle with Mr. Hifter since then. Shortly after returning to Libya, the TNC put Mr. Hifter in charge of its ground forces. From the start Younis and Mr. Hifter worked in an uncoordinated manner, hampering the rebels’ progress and their slow march toward Tripoli. The relationship between the two became so troublesome that the TNC appointed a special watchdog to keep their rivalry at bay.

Mr. Hifter presented a formidable challenge to Younis largely because he had strong backing among the opposition’s military personnel. But Younis also had significant support within the army, meaning the opposition’s forces are now dangerously split.

All this is made worse by the fact that the TNC army is not the only organized military force in Libya’s rebel-held territories. Mr. Jalil himself seemed to highlight this when he warned armed groups to join the TNC or be “crushed.” He may have simply been acknowledging the existence of these groups to bolster his claim that Younis’s death was the work of non-TNC gunmen. It is, however, unlikely that an ill-equipped rag-tag gang could have penetrated the sophisticated protection force that surrounded Younis, who traveled in an armored car as part of a multi-vehicle convoy with 30 armed guards.

The controversy now building around Younis’s death could lead to a restructuring of the TNC. Ahmed Shebani, head of the Democratic Party that hopes to contest elections in a post-Gadhafi Libya, tells me that “the delicate cards have to be reshuffled, primarily because Younis’s death will cause a credibility problem. The whole issue of the TNC as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people is now in doubt.”

The concern for both the Libyan rebels and their western backers—who continue to grant the TNC increased legitimacy and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of funds—is that forces loyal to Younis will seek revenge for his death. That risk comes not only from within military circles, but also from the rebels’ political leadership and the powerful Obeidi tribe to which Younis belonged.

There is also the possibility that opposition figures themselves will encourage further factionalism and violence as they seek to protect themselves and secure their futures. Younis’ death may be only the beginning of a new period of Libyan instability. Expect worse things to come.


David Rieff

New Republic, July 21, 2011


Four months after American submarines began launching missiles and U.S. pilots began flying sorties, does anyone, perhaps even including President Obama, really know what we are trying to do in Libya? It is true that, compared to Afghanistan, a major war whose outcome is generally agreed to hang in the balance, and to Iraq, from which we have not yet completely withdrawn, and even to Somalia and Yemen, where the tempo of our counterinsurgency operations have been steadily increasing, both directly and by proxy, Libya may seem minor. But, if our military operations in that country are hardly the greatest burden our armed forces confront, they are also hardly trivial. Less than a month before he left office, outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates estimated the U.S. would spend $750 million on the Libyan operation, while a Department of Defense document published in May revealed the American contribution to Operation Unified Protector involved 75 aircraft (including drones), flying 70 percent of the reconnaissance missions, 75 of refueling missions, and more than one-quarter of all air sorties. And yet, from March 28, when President Obama announced Operation United Protector’s predecessor, Operation Odyssey Dawn, until now, the fog of incoherent justification for the war has been at least as thick as the proverbial fog of war itself.

Have we gone to war? Well, no, not exactly. We were, Obama said in that first speech, “[committing] resources to stop the killings” of innocent Libyan civilians by Colonel Qaddafi’s forces. If the United States has initiated combat operations, this really amounted not to war-fighting, but to taking “all necessary measures to protect the Libyan people” and to “save lives.” And did our actions mean that the goal of the mission was regime change, Iraq- or Afghanistan-style? Not at all, the president insisted. Taking a predictable swipe at the Bush administration, he said dismissively that we had already gone “down that road in Iraq.” It was an apt metaphor, if, perhaps, unconsciously so, since regime change would have required just that: sending troops down the road, on the ground in Libya. And that, the president argued, would be far more dangerous than what he was ordering the military to do.

This may have sounded like the prudent thing, but what it was—what it is, for nothing has changed at all in this regard over the course of the past four months, even though we have officially recognized the Libyan rebels—is the incoherent, internally self-contradictory thing. We believe Qaddafi must go, and we will not let him make significant advances on the ground, but we refuse to take responsibility for his overthrow. So, to use a military term of art, we have an end state—Qaddafi’s ouster—but we are not willing to do what is needed to attain that goal expeditiously, which, of course, is why there is at least, for the moment, still a stalemate on the ground in Libya.

The stark fact is that the outcome Obama wants and the means he is willing to use to secure it are hopelessly mismatched. And this is leaving aside the fact that this “a donkey is a horse designed by a committee” intervention flies in the face of the sense of the War Powers Act and represents one more ornament in the crown of the imperial executive. Oh, for the days of a good old-fashioned congressional declaration of war!

I am not joking. The U.S. involvement in Libya is the logical outcome of policies, pursued under both Republican and Democratic administrations (Somalia under President George H. W. Bush, Bosnia and Kosovo under President Bill Clinton), in which war was never fully acknowledged to be war, with all the gravity that such an acknowledgment would have implied. Instead, we were told that what was taking place was a so-called humanitarian intervention, a kind of armed emergency relief operation (as in Somalia in 1991), or armed human rights intervention (in the Balkans and, now, in Libya). The latest version of this delusion is the so-called Responsibility to Protect doctrine, or R2P, as it is almost universally known, that was adopted by the United Nations World Summit in 2005 and ratified by the General Assembly in 2008 with the support of George W. Bush’s administration. R2P states that sovereignty is not absolute and, when a nation is committing crimes against its own population, where feasible and in those cases where all other (non-military) means are believed to have failed, outside powers not only may, but actually have a duty, to intervene. R2P is cited explicitly in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973—the same resolution Obama cited in his speech announcing that he had ordered U.S. military action in Libya.

Those who took a decent English 101 class in college may remember being instructed that a failure of language usually reflects a failure of thought. The truth is that doctrines like humanitarian intervention and R2P are ways of waging war without taking responsibility (or accepting accountability, both moral and democratic) for doing so. That is why they are so pernicious, and why, even in cases where an intervention may be warranted, far from being an improvement on the traditional way that nations and coalitions of states have come to the decision to go to war and how they have waged war, they are actually a very large step in the wrong direction. They allow us to pretend we are not going to war, but, instead, are just trying to protect the civilian population from harm.…

There is an alternative. It is called just war, and it has existed since the days of St. Thomas Aquinas. If he had thought it right to go to war in Libya, Obama could easily have said something like this:

The insurrection in Libya is a just and decent cause in which the Libyan people have risen up to overthrow the Qaddafi dictatorship. We can’t overthrow every dictatorship, either because they are too powerful, as is the case with China, or because American interests run too deep, as is the case with Saudi Arabia. But, when it is feasible to assist a popular uprising against a tyrant, America should do so. And that is what I have now ordered our armed forces to do in Libya.

Americans might have disagreed with such an assessment. Principled interventionists and principled anti-interventionists would have known where they stood. But neither side, nor, indeed, the great American middle, could have faulted the president for trying to have it both ways, as he has tried to do with the current policy of Regime Change Lite.…

For anyone but a pacifist, fighting is always an option of last resort. So is standing down. What should not be an option is the unholy compromise between the two that is embodied in R2P and is now having its test run in Libya.


Douglas J. Feith & Seth Cropsey

Commentary, July 2011


The words “vacillating” and “aimless” are commonly used by both left and right to describe President Barack Obama’s approach to the Libya war. His political friends and foes alike lament that he has no clear goal in Libya—and that, by failing to articulate one, he is revealing his unease at having been dragged into the fight to oust the regime of Muammar Qaddafi.…

The criticism has some validity, but it misses an important point: the administration’s approach has logic and coherence in the service of strategic considerations that extend far beyond Libya.…

Obama determined early on, as the Libyan revolt developed, that no outcome would be more important to him than keeping the United States within the bounds set by the United Nations Security Council. He refused to act on Libya until the Arab League and the UNSC gave approval. He immediately renounced U.S. leadership of the military intervention—and when, due to default by U.S. allies, his own commanders had to take charge at the outset, he insisted they promptly pass the mission to NATO, which they did.

Having accused his predecessor of being too ready to resort to regime change by force, President Obama made sure that the Security Council resolution on Libya authorized military action only to protect civilians, not to oust dictator Muammar Qaddafi. American and allied commanders admitted publicly that their mission might end with Qaddafi still in power.… Meanwhile, even the narrowly scoped NATO mission is in trouble. The alliance lacks aircraft, munitions, and other resources that the United States has but is withholding.…

Under the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that critics complain about incoherence. But the administration’s Libya policy makes sense in light of Obama’s intention to alter America’s place and function in the world. His ambition is novel and grand, though often couched in language that implies support for longstanding policies. It can be seen as a new doctrine—the Obama Doctrine.…

The Obama doctrine emerges from the conviction that in the new post-Cold War, post-9/11, post–George W. Bush world, the United States cannot and should not exercise the kind of boldness and independence characteristic of its foreign policy in the decades after World War II. That view runs roughly as follows: traditional ideas of American leadership serving American interests abroad are not a proper guide for future conduct. They have spawned crimes and blunders—in Iran in the early 1950s, then in Vietnam, and recently in Iraq, for example. To prevent further calamities, the United States should drop its obsession with its own national interests and concentrate on working for the world’s general good on an equal footing with other countries, recognizing that it is multinational bodies that grant legitimacy on the world stage.…

President Obama promoted this perspective of American history in his June 2009 speech in Cairo, which remains his presidency’s most important foreign-policy pronouncement. In that carefully crafted discourse, Obama explained the poor relations between America and Muslims generally by citing “colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims.” He contrasted his own all-encompassing view of humanity with the parochialism of his countrymen in general, lamenting: “Some in my country view Islam as inevitably hostile…to human rights.” Americans’ response to the attacks of September 11, 2001, Obama noted apologetically, “led us to act contrary to our ideals.” Suggesting that long-standing American efforts to establish standards of acceptable international behavior amount to no more than a self-interested and doomed attempt to impose our will on others, he proclaimed that “any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail.” He was here condemning what he perceives as overweening and unrestricted American power and declaring independence from America’s record of bad behavior.…

The main ideas in the Cairo speech were foreshadowed in an article Obama wrote for Foreign Affairs in 2007. He associated the words “freedom” and “democracy” with Bush administration rhetoric: “People around the world have heard a great deal of late about freedom on the march. Tragically, many have come to associate this with war, torture, and forcibly imposed regime change.” Fighting terrorism, Obama said, requires “more than lectures on democracy.”

Obama expostulated that America “can neither retreat from the world nor try to bully it into submission.” And so he called for a strategy against terrorists that “draws on the full range of American power, not just our military might.” Reform of multinational institutions, he declared, “will not come by bullying other countries to ratify changes we hatch in isolation.” What is more, “when we do use force in situations other than self-defense, we should make every effort to garner the clear support and participation of others.”

Promising to couple U.S. foreign assistance with an insistence on reforms to combat corruption, he added: “I will do so not in the spirit of a patron but in the spirit of a partner—a partner mindful of his own imperfections.” The essence of these comments is so noncontroversial as to be banal. What is remarkable is the way they are formulated to portray the United States as a militaristic, patronizing bully.… This helps explain the remorseful tone of the Cairo speech. It also sheds light on Obama’s determination to set precedents and create…constraints on the ability of the United States to take international action assertively, independently, and in its own particular interests.…

Because of his early inaction [on Libya] and his statement that America would not take charge, Obama was criticized for opposing U.S. leadership. As the Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen put it: “Amazingly, the White House wants to wait on nearly everyone to do almost anything—the United Nations, NATO, ‘multilateral organizations and bilateral relationships,’ in the words of [White House official Benjamin] Rhodes. This is a highfalutin way of saying that first we’re gonna have a meeting and then break into committees and then report back here sometime soon…the good Lord willin’.”

Effectively acknowledging the criticism, President Obama then declared, “American leadership is essential.” He explained that “real leadership” means creating the conditions for others to step up.…

This corkscrew approach allows Obama to make the politically popular point that he champions American leadership in the world while remaining true to his goal of a more constrained America. In the case of Libya, it allows him to boast of his own leadership for having created a vacuum that others have attempted, albeit wholly inadequately, to fill.…

Ideas matter, and especially to intellectuals like President Obama. He is not a rigid ideologue and is capable of flexible maneuvering. But his interpretation of history, his attitude toward sovereignty, and his confidence in multilateral institutions have shaped his views of American power and of American leadership in ways that distinguish him from previous presidents. On Libya, his deference to the UN Security Council and refusal to serve as coalition leader show that he cares more about restraining America than about accomplishing any particular result in Libya. He views Libya and the whole Arab Spring as relatively small distractions from his broader strategy for breaking with the history of U.S. foreign policy as it developed in the last century.

The critics who accuse Obama of being adrift in foreign policy are mistaken. He has clear ideas of where he wants to go. The problem for him is that, if his strategy is set forth plainly, most Americans will not want to follow him.


Brian Murphy & Barbara Surk

Huffington Post, July 14, 2011


Among the protest banners in Cairo’s Tahrir Square was a hand-drawn map of the Arab Spring with black target symbols covering each country hit by anti-government uprisings since the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt were ousted earlier this year.

But the bull’s-eyes could easily be replaced with question marks as the groundswell for change has splintered into scattered and indecisive conflicts that have left thousands dead and Western policymakers juggling roles from NATO airstrikes in Libya to worried bystanders in Syria and Yemen.

The stalemates could shift into a deeper holding pattern in August during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when the pace of daily life traditionally slows as the Islamic world observes a dawn-to-dusk fast and other customs such as temporary truces.

It’s a huge and traumatic undertaking to shove aside regimes with decades in power—and sway over nearly every decision down to who gets hired as street sweeper. Iran did it with the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and the American-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein cleaned the slate for Iraq and ushered in years of near civil war.

But no such wholesale change appears in the pipeline with the present revolts. That has raised concern that even if the leaders fall, the pillars of the regimes could survive, as happened when military rulers took temporary control after Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak stepped down.

“Half revolution doesn’t work,” a headline last week in Egypt’s Al-Ahram Al-Massai newspaper said after demonstrators returned to Tahrir Square to press for swifter political reforms and bolder legal action against officials from Mubarak’s regime who were accused of corruption and killing protesters.

But even a halfway mark appears farther along than most of the rebellions against the Mideast’s old guard.

Cores of loyal security forces in Yemen and Syria keep the regimes hanging on despite relentless protests. In Libya, Moammar Gadhafi could face a moment of truth as rebels press closer to the capital Tripoli and NATO warplanes hammer military sites, yet the anti-Gadhafi militias have no clear leader to prevent possible power grabs to control the country’s oil riches if he is ousted.

The country where the Arab Spring began, Tunisia, has been shaken by unrest—including a rise in ultraconservative Islamists—ahead of planned elections in October to elect an assembly that will write a new constitution. Some political groups are urging further delays in the election to give new parties a chance to organize.

Egypt, meanwhile, is questioning when—or if—the ruling military council will surrender power. The caretaker rulers [have] effectively announced a delay of the elections.…

In tiny Bahrain authorities apparently tipped the scales clearly in their favor. Security forces—aided by Saudi-led reinforcements—smothered an uprising by the kingdom’s majority Shiites seeking greater rights from the Sunni rulers. A so-called “national dialogue” began this month, but it’s unlikely that the 200-year-old ruling dynasty will give up any significant hold on power and may need a heavy hand to keep Shiite-led protests from reigniting.

“It’s not over, but we are in an ugly situation now,” said Christopher Davidson, a lecturer on Middle East and Gulf affairs at Britain’s Durham University. That’s why the definition of the Arab Spring is increasingly being stretched.…


Raphael Israeli

Jerusalem Magazine, July 13, 2011


A plethora of self-righteous rhetoric has been wasted on the Arab Spring with the attending dominance of ballots over bullets, although until now there have scarcely been signs of a spring per se.

Initially, there were high hopes for democracy to triumph in places where non-authoritarian forms of government have hitherto never existed. Instead however, in one case after another, hopes have been shattered with the primacy of bullets overwhelming any attempts for new democracies to emerge. And due to his nonsensical policies, [U.S.] President Barack Obama—apparent leader of the free world—is inadvertently supporting the supremacy of bullets.

Democracy is not only about elections and voting rights. In some countries, including Iraq and Lebanon, elections have been known to give rise to massacres. But even in cases where votes are not rigged and elections are conducted peacefully, various political struggles still arise. Take Turkey for example, where elections invariably hail a string of arrests—particularly of journalists—and a denial of civil rights coupled with McCarthy-esque stifling of the opposition or imposed Islamization. Ironically, such acts often appeal to the most uneducated strata of these societies, which subsequently constitute the base of political parties in the main—as is the case of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP party.

In 2008 in Lebanon, Hezbollah, the proxy of Iran and Syria, took over Beirut and its communication centers by force and then imposed its minority vote on the cabinet by threatening the use of more force. This was an attempt to scuttle any moves to arrest the Hezbollah-protected murderers of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, the leader that came closest to forming a democratically-elected majority government.

Paradoxically, more than any other country, the US—which ostensibly claims to democratize those countries by ballots—has contributed to spreading the use of bullets instead. Take Syria and Libya as examples. Prior to President Obama’s non-policy of engagement in the Middle East, the tough and demanding policy of the Bush administration was paying off: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had been under siege; forced out of Lebanon, he was isolated both politically and economically, and under pressure to retreat from his axis with Iran.

But then Obama began courting Muslims with sycophantic gestures of friendship, including reinstating his ambassador in Damascus, prostrating before the Saudi king—the most reactionary monarch in the Middle East—and finally allowing the Turks to sacrifice Israel—their democratic ally in the region—for the prize of acquiring new authoritarian allies in Iran and Syria.

As a result, Arab and Muslim dictators got the impression that since America was now their friend they could do as they jolly well pleased.…

As for Assad, well he began to massacre his own people at will, and when this began to become a sticky issue he sent Palestinians to challenge Israel’s borders as a deflection. Reinforced by US consent—implicit in its silence—King Abdullah and other leaders in Gulf States are dispatching their troops to quell protestors in Bahrain. In Lebanon, the Hezbollah effectively have carte blanche to reverse anything achieved by the Bush administration.…

The Obama administration—which no longer dares to call a spade a spade and dissimulates the mounting Islamic violence as “a minority of extremists,” is getting further and further away from the previous administration’s mission; the current administration has unwittingly shrunk the lexicon of viable terminology for terrorists—thereby changing the face of Bush’s “war on terror.”

This has allowed the Muslim world to once again slide into the familiar game of bullet-policy.


Jackson Diehl

Washington Post, July 31, 2011


Until last Thursday, Libya was beginning to look like the relative good news in the troubled summer that has followed the Arab Spring. The United States and more than 30 other governments had recognized the Transitional National Council (TNC), based in the rebel capital of Benghazi, as Libya’s legitimate government. Its military forces appeared to be slowly gaining ground against those of Moammar Gaddafi, who was isolated in Tripoli.

Two senior members of the TNC touring Washington last week talked cheerily about their plans to stabilize the country after Gaddafi’s departure and quickly install a liberal democracy. “Libya is actually the easy case,” one veteran Washington democracy expert enthused to me after hearing them speak.

Then came the sudden killing on Thursday of Abdul Fatah Younis, the TNC’s senior military commander, under still-unexplained—and very troubling—circumstances. The murder plunged the new government and its capital into turmoil, and raised urgent questions in NATO capitals about whether the TNC or its ragtag army were in danger of crumbling.

It also illustrated one of the enduring themes of the uprisings across the Middle East: the constant tension between the yearning for modernism—for democracy and personal freedom—that is driving a huge rising generation into the streets, and the atavistic forces of tribalism, sectarianism, corruption and autocracy that keep threatening to drag the revolutions under.

Younis, the Libyan rebel commander, appears to be a victim of what might be called the Old Middle East undertow. It’s not yet known exactly who killed him or why, but we do know that he had been called to Benghazi by elements of the rebel leadership to answer unspecified questions about his behavior and was murdered by fighters escorting him. Angry demonstrations by members of Younis’s Obeidi tribe hinted at the internecine conflict that some experts believe may be the most serious threat to a post-Gaddafi Libya.…

The Old Middle East has pulled [the TNC’s] military commander under. In Libya, as in so much of the region this summer, it’s an open question whether a new Arab order can survive that undertow.


Caroline B. Glick

Jerusalem Post, July 15, 2011

It was seven months ago that Mohammed Bouazizi, a vegetable peddler in Tunisia, set himself and the Arab world on fire. The 26- year-old staged his suicidal protest on the steps of the local city hall after a municipal inspector took away his unlicensed vegetable cart, thus denying him the ability to feed his family of eight.

Most depictions of the Arab revolutions that followed his act have cast them as struggles for freedom and good government. These depictions miss the main cause of these political upheavals. No doubt millions of Arabs are upset about the freedom deficit in Arab lands. But the fact is that economics has played a decisive role in all of them.

In Bouazizi’s case, his self-immolation was provoked by financial desperation. And if current trends continue, the revolutionary ferment we have seen so far is only the tip of the iceberg.

Moreover, the political whirlwind will not be contained in the Middle East.

Most of the news coming out about Egypt today emanates from Cairo’s Tahrir Square. There the protesters continue to demand ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s head on a platter alongside the skulls of his sons, business associates, advisors and everyone else who prospered under his rule. While the supposedly liberal democratic protesters’ swift descent into bloodlust is no doubt worth noting, the main reason these protesters continue to gain so much international attention is because they are easy to find. A reporter looking for a story’s failsafe option is to mosey on over to the square and put a microphone into the crowd.

But while easily accessible, the action at Tahrir Square is not Egypt’s most important story. The most important, strategically consequential story is that Egypt is rapidly going broke. By the end of the year, the military dictatorship will likely not only default on Egypt’s loans; Field Marshal Tantawi and his deputies will almost certainly be unable to feed the Egyptian people.

Some raw statistics are in order here.

Among Egypt’s population of 80 million, some 32 million are illiterate. They engage in subsistence farming that is too inefficient to support them. Egypt needs to import half of its food.

As David Goldman, (aka Spengler), reported in Asia Times Online, in May the International Monetary Fund warned of the impending economic collapse of non-oil exporting Arab countries saying, “In the current baseline scenario the external financing needs of the region’s oil importers is projected to exceed $160 billion during 2011-13.” Goldman noted, “That’s almost three years’ worth of Egypt’s total annual imports as of 2010.”

Since Mubarak was overthrown in February, Egypt’s foreign currency reserves have plummeted from $36b. to $25b.-28b.… As Goldman explained, the problem is capital flight. Due in no small part to the protesters in Tahrir Square calling for the arrest of all those who did business with the former regime, Egypt’s wealthy and foreign investors are taking their money out of the country.

At the Arab Banking Summit in Rome last month, Jordan’s Finance Minister Mohammed Abu Hammour warned, “There is capital flight and $500 million a week is leaving the Arab world.” According to Goldman, “Although Hammour did not mention countries in his talk…most of the capital flight is coming from Egypt, and at an annual rate roughly equal to Egypt’s remaining reserves.”

What this means is that in a few short months, Egypt will be unable to pay for its imports. And consequently, it will be unable to feed its people.

Egypt is far from alone. Take Syria. There, too, capital is fleeing the country as the government rushes to quell the mass anti-regime protests.

Just as Egyptian and Tunisian protesters hoped that a new regime would bring them more freedom, so the mass protests sweeping Syria are in part due to politics. But like in Egypt and Tunisia, Syria’s economic woes are dictating much of what is happening on the ground and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Last month, Syrian President Bashar Assad gave a speech warning of “weakness or collapse of the Syrian economy.” As a report last month by Reuters explained, the immediate impact of Assad’s speech was capital flight and the devaluation of the Syrian pound by 8 percent.

For the past decade, Assad has been trying to liberalize the Syrian economy. He enacted some free market reforms, opened a stock exchange and attempted to draw foreign investment to the country. While largely unsuccessful in alleviating Syria’s massive poverty, these reforms did enable the country a modest growth rate of around 2.5% per year.

In response to the mass protests threatening his regime, Assad has effectively ended his experiment with the free market. He fired his government minister in charge of the economic reforms and put all the projects on hold. Instead, according to a report this week in Syria Today, the government has steeply increased public sector wages and offered 100,000 temporary workers full-time contracts. The Syrian government also announced a 25% cut in the price of diesel fuel, at a cost to the government of $527m. per year.… As Reuters reported, the government has been forced to spend $70m.-$80m. a week to buck up the local currency. So between protecting the Syrian pound and paying for political loyalty, the Assad regime is quickly drying up Syria’s treasury.

In the event the regime is overthrown, a successor regime will face the sure prospect of economic collapse, much as the Egyptian regime does. And in the event that Assad remains in power, he will continue to reap the economic whirlwind of what he has sown in the form of political instability and violence.

What this means is that we can expect continued political turmoil in both countries as they are consumed by debt and tens of millions of people face the prospect of starvation. This political turmoil can be expected to give rise to dangerous if unknowable military developments.

Poor Arab nations such as Egypt and Syria are far from the only ones facing economic disaster. The $3b. loan the IMF offered Egypt may be among the last loans of that magnitude the IMF is able to offer because quite simply, European lenders are themselves staring into the economic abyss.

Greece’s debt crisis is not a local problem. It now appears increasingly likely that the EU is going to have to accept Greece defaulting on at least part of its debt.… Worse still, the banking crisis will only intensify in the wake of a Greek default. Debt pressure on Italy, Ireland, Spain and Portugal, which are all also on the brink of defaulting on their debts, will grow. Italy is Europe’s fourth largest economy. Its debt is about the size of Germany’s.

If Italy goes into default, the implications for the European and US banking systems—and for their economies generally—will be devastating.

The current debt-ceiling negotiations between US President Barack Obama and the Republican congressional leadership have made it apparent that Obama is ideologically committed to increasing government spending and taxes in the face of a weak economy. If Obama is reelected next year, the dire implications of four more years of his economic policies for the US and global economies cannot be overstated.

Due to the economic policies implemented by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu since his first tenure as prime minister in 1996-99, in the face of this economic disaster, Israel is likely to find itself in the unlikely position of standing along China and India as among the only stable, growing economies in the world. Israel’s banking sector is largely unexposed to European debt. Israel’s gross external debt is 44% of GDP. This compares well not only to European debt levels of well over 100% of GDP but to the US debt level, which stands at 98% of GDP.…

Israel’s economy is likely to remain one of the country’s most valuable strategic assets. Just as economic prosperity allowed Israel to absorb the cost of the Second Lebanon War with barely a hiccup, so continued economic growth will play a key role in protecting it from the economically induced political upheavals likely to ensue throughout much of the Arab world and Europe.

Aside from remaining economically responsible, as Israel approaches the coming storms it is important for it to act with utmost caution politically. It must adopt policies that provide it with the most maneuver room and the greatest deterrent force.

First and foremost, this means that it is imperative that Israel not commit itself to any agreements with any Arab regime. In 1977, the Camp David Agreement with then-Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, in which Israel surrendered the strategically invaluable Sinai for a peace treaty, seemed like a reasonable gamble. In 2011, a similar agreement with Assad or with the Palestinian Authority, (whose budget is largely financed from international aid), would be the height of strategic insanity.

Beyond that, with the rising double specter of Egyptian economic collapse and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power, Israel must prepare for the prospect of war with Egypt. Recently it was reported that IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz has opted to spread over several years Israel’s military preparations for a return to hostilities with Egypt. Gantz’s decision reportedly is due to his desire to avoid provoking Egypt with a rapid expansion of the IDF’s order of battle.

Gantz’s caution is understandable. But it is unacceptable. Given the escalating threats emanating from Egypt—not the least of which is the expanding security vacuum in Sinai—Israel must prepare for war now.

So, too, with the US’s weak economy, Obama’s Muslim Brotherhood-friendly foreign policy, and Europe’s history of responding to economic hardship with xenophobia, Israel’s need to develop the means of militarily defending itself from a cascade of emerging threats becomes all the more apparent.

The economic storms may pass by Israel. But the political tempests they unleash will reach us.

To emerge safely from what is coming, Israel needs to hunker down and prepare for the worst.