Friday, July 29, 2011

Libya - Why This Sucks

(To preface, I support the Obama administration's decision to enforce UN 1973 and Operation Odyssey Dawn.  The following is a summary of the situation and my views on several aspects of the situation)

Earlier this year, the Arab Spring started in the Middle East.  Across the region, protesters began taking to the streets to demand political changes.  Governments fell in Tunisia and Egypt as other leaders successfully suppressed the revolts in places like Bahrain.
Libya is different – and that’s why the situation sucks.

Imagine it like this:

Not fun.
Libya is run by a dictator, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi.  For decades he ran the country of only a few million people in a fairly large nation with a lot of inhospitable terrain.  Kinda the Alaska of the Middle East.  Well, more like a desert version of Canada.
I digress.
So countless Libyans took to the streets to demand that the colonel relinquish power.  For weeks they braved lethal repression from the regimes military until they realized that Qaddafi would not relinquish power.  Citizens grabbed any weapons they could find and started to overtake small towns across the nation.  The second largest city, Benghazi, became the rebel stronghold, and quickly became their new capitol.  The rebels seemed to be gaining strength and the US demanded that Qaddafi relinquish power.  The all-knowing talking heads predicted Qaddafi’s downfall was imminent.

Did that happen?  Nope. You see, dictators don’t like to give up power.  It’s kinda the hallmark of dictators.
His military began a counter-offensive and seemed poised to destroy the rag-tag group of rebels (and slaughter everyone suspected of being disloyal to the regime).  Panicked that Qaddafi was going to remain in control of the nation (and also the Libyan oil), the US pressured the UN to issue a resolution that allowed for foreign force to be used to protect civilians.
Immediately, NATO (aka mainly the US) began bombing Qaddafi military targets across the country and the rebels began retaking small cities across the nation.  The current situation looks like this:

File:Libyan Uprising.svg
(The rebels control the red villages and Qaddafi still holds strong with the green areas.)Does this map look like a nice and pretty?  Do you see well defined battle fronts and lines?

To make you feel better, neither do I.
Or the US

So this brings us to our Hard Place.  The rebels aren’t moving fast enough or with great enough tactics to win even remotely soon.  Like I said, they’re citizens with captured guns (or sometimes broken or decades old weapons) facing a well equipped, proficiently trained, professionally paid army.  The rebels can’t legally be given weapons or advisers to help them fight.  But we can give them non-lethal aid, like canteens and food. 

Don’t get me wrong, you need those things to continue to survive and fight a military campaign.  But you can’t destroy a tank or artillery crew with a bottle of water or hot meal. 

Oh and did I mention that factions (a minority but still a worrisome group) among the rebels have been linked to Al Qaeda?
So our situation looks like this.  We need Libyan oil to help our struggling economy get back on its feet.  So when the protests broke out, we supported the side that was looked close to victory and promised a more democratic future.  A win-win! But our new-found buddies overplayed their hand and overstretched their lines and almost got annihilated. 

So we got involved in another combat theatre in the Middle East; and we can’t seem to swing the tide of the battle so we may be stuck there without an exit strategy.

To be clear, I think the US had good intentions going into this.  We did protect millions from a humanitarian disaster because Qaddafi vowed to go house to house to wipe out any resistance and seek vengeance on his populist.

My only disappointment is that it seems that we haven’t learned our lesson.  For all the controversy regarding the Iraq War, we supposedly learned that we should not become cocky with our military.  We have the strongest military in the world, but a well thought out and defined plan is still necessary before we wage war.    I think that at a time of great economic hardships in the US, and our military  fighting openly in Iraq and Afghanistan (and not so openly) in Pakistan and Yemen, without a well thought out plan and well financed mission, maybe we’ve bitten off more than we can chew and its going to leave a nasty aftertaste to boot.
Jeff on politics/world events

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