The Libyan Revolution Facing Defeat/ More on Mideast Democracy
Mar 18, 2011
March 18, 2011
Number 03/11 #06
With news this morning that the UN Security Council has passed a resolution calling for a no-fly zone over Libya, as well as allowing “all necessary measures… excluding a foreign occupation force” to protect Libyan civilians, this Update features a look at the military situation in Libya and the case for additional measures along the lines of those just approved.
First up is Washington Institute military specialist Jeffrey White who looks at the overall development of the war and the increasingly dire situation of Libyan rebels if international assistance is not forthcoming. He reviews the details of and reasons for recent rebel defeats in both western and eastern Libya, the state of morale, and the vulnerabilities of Gaddafi’s forces. He lists a number of forms of intervention that could change the balance, but, interestingly, argues that a no-fly zone alone may not be enough to prevent a rebel defeat. For White’s complete analysis of the military situation, CLICK HERE.
Next up is Max Boot, strategic expert at the American Council on Foreign Relations. Boot makes the case that a failure to act to prevent the defeat of the rebels would have been disastrous, not only in humanitarian terms but in likely prompting the Gaddafi regime to resume past misbehaviour in terms of terrorism and WMD. Moreover, he notes, the likely response from other regimes in the region would have been to adopt the Gaddafi model of responding to unrest – with overwhelming and indiscriminate force. For his full argument, CLICK HERE. Michael Rubin argues that Bahrain is already moving to enact the brutal “Gaddafi model” for dealing with its unrest.
Finally, we offer you some new and optimistic thoughts on the Middle East wave of unrest from someone always worth reading, former Soviet dissident turned Israeli intellectual Natan Sharansky. Sharansky argues that the shattering of Western illusions that stability can be achieved by cooperating with autocrats is a major breakthrough, but adds that attempts to re-assert stability by working with established bodies like the army or Muslim Brotherhood are “delusion squared”. He argues that the West should be partnering with the region’s liberal dissidents, whom he argues based on his own experience, can prevail with Western moral and indirect support, despite small numbers and seemingly overwhelming odds. For his full plea, CLICK HERE. Other interesting Israeli views on the Middle East unrest come from noted political scientist Shlomo Avineri and noted journalist and author Ehud Yaari.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Reports from Libya that Egypt is now quietly arming the rebels, while in Washington, it is reported that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been deeply dissatisfied with Obama’s handling of the Mideast crisis and pushing for a more active US role, including in Libya.
- More on Libya’s potential to again become an arsenal of terrorism.
- More on Gaddafi’s recruitment of mercenaries from Mali and other African countries.
- A political psychologist looks in detail at the question – Is Gaddafi, often described as “mad”, actually suffering from mental illness?
- Libyan rebel leaders saying the right things about what they want for Libya.
- A former Libyan Jewish refugee recalls what happened to that ancient community.
- How Libya has successfully bought influence in Washington and other Western capitals according to Daniel Kaufmann of the Brookings Institute.
- Barry Rubin looks at some troubling and complex political developments in Egypt. Meanwhile, an Egyptian demonstrator describes an increasingly “Balkanized and highly dangerous” situation in the Cairo.
- Elliot Abrams calls the situation in Bahrain a “disaster” and explains why.
- Israel releases video and a list of the weapons apparently bound for Hamas seized from the ship Victoria on Tuesday. More comment on the significance of that seizure from the Jerusalem Post and noted security affairs journalist Ron Ben Yishai.
- Some analysis of the way this event highlights growing Iranian assertiveness is discussed in a news article here, while Israeli analyst Dr. Jonathan Spyer also explores Iran’s wider attempt to exploit regional unrest.
- A claim from the intelligence-linked but sometimes speculative website Debka that the missiles on the Victoria were brought to Syria on the two Iranian naval ships which controversially crossed the Suez Canal a couple of weeks ago.
- Carl Gershman, who heads the National Endowment for Democracy in the US, tries to put the Middle East unrest in the context of past waves of democratisation. However, some more pessimistic views of the likely outcomes of the unrest come from American academic Louis Rene Beres and British commentator Robin Shepherd.
- A look at the Middle East unrest in terms of demographic statistics.
- Hamas violently breaks up protests for Palestinian unity in Gaza even though it insists this is a goal it supports. More details here. Hamas security forces also reportedly raided Gaza’s al-Azhar University, attacking pro-unity students.
- An Irish writer argues that those who view events like the Itamar massacre as a “natural response” to Israeli settlers not only demonise settlers but dehumanise Palestinians and uses examples from Ireland’s independence struggle to illustrate the point.
- Some apparently positive signs from Afghanistan discussed here, here and here.
By Jeffrey White
March 17, 2011
For several days now, Muammar Qadhafi’s forces have notched military successes against Libya’s armed opposition, making an outright victory increasingly likely. The revolution is not yet finished, but its prospects are declining rapidly in the face of superior regime capabilities and its own lack of military resources. The regime seems well positioned to grind down the once-promising uprising with heavy firepower, better organization, and ruthless purpose. Such an outcome would leave those Libyans who supported the revolution — along with most of the international community — facing a vengeful and triumphant regime. Although sanctions and isolation could force change in Libya, the near term situation is bad, and external military intervention is needed.
Progress of the War
Over the past nine days, the war has gone steadily against the rebels in both the western and eastern theaters. In the west, the regime has consolidated control over Tripoli, effectively ending overt resistance there. It has also reduced and isolated other rebel-held towns, retaking Zawiyah and its oil facilities after a bitter week-long struggle. Misratah remains under rebel control but is closely invested by regime forces and faces increasing pressure from air and ground attack. Although the fight for Misratah will likely be protracted, the city seems doomed to fall to regime forces in the end. This would effectively end the revolution in the west, though the regime might need more time to eliminate resistance in remote towns such as Zintan in the Nafusa Mountains.
In the east, the regime has scored important but not yet decisive successes. It has rolled rebel forces back from their high-water mark at Ras Lanuf, employing a combination of firepower and air attacks to break exposed rebel forces. Despite their handicaps, the rebels had previously been able to dispute control of Ras Lanuf and other key towns such as Marsa al-Burayqah. Nevertheless, the regime pressed on and eventually drove opposition forces out of these areas. Currently, loyalist forces are at the doorstep of Ajdabiya, approximately ninety road miles from Benghazi.
In addition to effectively employing firepower and isolation, the regime is using information operations to convince Libyans and the world that its tide of victory is unstoppable. Government spokesmen make announcements of victories well before they occur and have used the media — including international outlets — to present their story through carefully managed tours of retaken areas and loyalist celebrations.
Rebel Advantages Fade
The military determinants that have shaped the conflict from the beginning remain in effect but have shifted more in Qadhafi’s favor. Tanks, armored infantry fighting vehicles, artillery systems, aircraft, and other heavy weaponry remain a key factor for the regime, offsetting any rebel advantage in numbers. The regime has also been able to exercise more effective operational and tactical control of its forces than the rebels; the opposition is still relying more on enthusiasm than organization. In addition, Qadhafi has been able to win the logistical battle, showing an impressive ability to keep regime forces in the east supplied over long distances.
Perhaps most important, the rebel advantage in terms of morale and willingness to fight seems to be in decline. Individual fighters seem less willing to stand up to the regime’s firepower and more prone to sudden flight, especially in the east, while those who once talked about taking Tripoli and removing Qadhafi now speak of dying as martyrs. Rebel forces in general have not lost the will to fight, but their will to win seems to be fading. This is natural for any force suffering a series of setbacks, regardless of its level of discipline and professionalism. Meanwhile, regime forces continue to attack despite losses and have modified their tactics to reduce their casualties.
The distance factor remains important. The regime enjoys advantages in the west because it is operating close to key bases, but in the east it has to extend forces further and further away form its main base at Sirte, now some 250 miles from the front. It must keep vehicles and equipment running while supplying its forces with ammunition, fuel, food, and water. It must also protect a potentially vulnerable supply line.
Although the rebel military position is deteriorating significantly, it is not yet hopeless. The opposition retains Misratah in the west, which continues to tie up regime forces and prevent a concentration of effort against rebel forces in the east. Holding the city for as long as possible is important if the opposition is to remain in the fight.
In the east, the rebels must fight for the urban areas remaining under their control, especially Ajdabiya and Benghazi. In addition to attriting regime forces and increasing the strain on regime logistics, serious resistance at Ajdabiya would buy time for the rebels to improve their forces and prepare Benghazi for resistance. It would also give external actors more time to consider intervention. At the same time, the rebels can wage an irregular conflict against regime lines of communication in the east. The regime will have difficulty providing security along the extended and exposed supply line from Sirte to the front, and disrupting this line would complicate Qadhafi’s efforts to sustain offensive operations in the east.
The Need for Intervention
The rebels face outright military defeat, whether it comes quickly or after protracted fighting. Assuming there is no external intervention, and factoring in the time needed for the regime to finish operations in the west, consolidate its gains, and reposition its forces, the rebels will likely be ground down in the coming weeks, if not days. In the west, Misratah will fall, perhaps after a relatively long struggle similar to that seen in Zawiyah. In the east, the battle for Ajdabiya will be followed by the battle for Benghazi, or at least isolation and gradual siege of that crucial stronghold.
External military intervention would likely be decisive in preventing this outcome if it came soon enough and was sufficiently robust. “Soon” means days, not weeks — even a serious threat of intervention could be important in terms of the short-term psychological balance.
In terms of military effectiveness, the best option would be one combining limited air strikes against regime air and ground forces, the creation of no-fly and no-drive zones, and the insertion of ground forces to bolster rebel defenses in the east. This would best be carried out by a coalition of forces from the United States, NATO, and one or more Arab states (perhaps Egypt). Such an approach could be initiated rapidly and escalated in stages if necessary. Intervention on this level would likely cause the rapid collapse of government forces in the east, with forces in the west succumbing more gradually. In political terms, however, this option would be difficult to green-light.
The next best option would involve U.S./NATO forces, along with one or more Arab states, establishing no-fly zones and providing military assistance to the rebels. This would have a significant military and psychological impact on both sides and could probably be implemented more rapidly than the previous option. It would also be easier to manage politically, although not necessarily easy.
A third option would be to simply establish no-fly zones. Although less effective, this approach would still have some military and psychological impact. It would also be even easier from a political standpoint.
Other proposed options may be less risky or more politically palatable, but they are increasingly unlikely to affect the situation on the ground. Military intervention on some substantial scale seems necessary to prevent a gloomy outcome in Libya. This reality may not be attractive, but neither is a potential Qadhafi comeback.
Jeffrey White is a defense fellow at The Washington Institute, specializing in military and security affairs.
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Defense Secretary Robert Gates has acted as if imposing a no-fly zone would be a military operation on the order of D-Day. In reality, it wouldn’t be hard to ground Gadhafi’s decrepit air force.
By MAX BOOT
Wall Street Journal, MARCH 16, 2011
I have not been one of those castigating President Obama for decreasing American power—either deliberately or inadvertently. His muscular policy in Afghanistan, for example, belies this charge. But there is no question that his weak, vacillating response to the slaughter now unfolding in Libya will reduce American power and prestige in ways that will do us incalculable long-term harm.
On March 3, President Obama said that “Colonel Gadhafi needs to step down from power and leave. That is good for his country. It is good for his people. It’s the right thing to do.”
When the president of the United States publicly proclaims that the head of another state needs to “step down,” his words carry considerable weight—or at least they should. Yet what has Mr. Obama done to back up his rhetoric? Not much beyond saying that “no option” is “off the table” and that he is actively “consulting” with American allies about how to act. At the rate those consultations are going, Gadhafi will have snuffed out the rebellion by the time that Mr. Obama decides on a course of action.
A month has now elapsed since the revolt began on Feb. 15. At first, Gadhafi appeared to be on the way out as rebels seized much of eastern Libya and many officials of Gadhafi’s own government defected to their cause. But since then, employing his own troops and foreign mercenaries, Gadhafi has mounted an effective counteroffensive. Not only has he secured the capital, Tripoli, but he has begun to drive the rebels back, recapturing several towns along the Mediterranean coast. At this rate, he could be in Benghazi—Libya’s second city, which the rebels captured early—within days.
Some policy makers in Washington may be fine with this outcome, because in 2003 Gadhafi gave up his weapons of mass destruction and his support for terrorism. But make no mistake: A resurgent Gadhafi would be a catastrophe on many levels.
Most obvious is the human cost of this dictator continuing his 41-year reign: His throne rests on an ever-growing pile of corpses. But there is also the strategic cost. Given the way the U.S. and our allies have turned against Gadhafi, at least rhetorically, he could easily decide to seek revenge by returning to his old tricks. Considering that Gadhafi was responsible for the midair bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988, among many other acts of terror, that is no idle threat.
Moreover, if he is able to keep power by force, it will encourage other Middle Eastern despots to emulate his example. Already the Saudis have sent an armored column to quell protests in Bahrain. Expect more of the same if Gadhafi clings to power. The Arab Spring could easily turn into a very dark winter that will arrest and reverse the momentum of recent pro-democracy demonstrations. That means consigning the entire region to a dysfunctional status quo ante in which the long-term winners will be al Qaeda and their ilk.
It’s not too late to prevent this dire outcome. All that would be required is for Mr. Obama to show as much political courage as France and the Arab League. Neither is known for its principled support of freedom, but both have called for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya. The Pentagon, from Defense Secretary Robert Gates on down, has reacted as if this would be a military operation on the order of D-Day. In reality, it would not be hard to ground Gadhafi’s decrepit air force.
The job could probably be performed with just one American ship—the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, now in the Red Sea, which has 34 F/A-18F Super Hornets and 10 F/A-18C Hornets along with a full complement of electronic-warfare aircraft. The Enterprise strike group could also unleash a devastating array of Tomahawk cruise missiles.
And the Enterprise would not have to fight alone. It could easily be joined by numerous American, British and French aircraft flying out of Aviano and other NATO bases in Italy. A forward operations base could be established at the Gamal Abdul el-Nasser airfield, one of Libya’s major air force bases (built by the British), which is located south of Tobruk and has already been captured by the rebels.
As the enforcement of no-fly zones over Bosnia and Iraq should have proved, the risks of such an operation are minimal—especially if we first neutralize Gadhafi’s air defenses.
By itself, a no-fly zone might not be enough to topple Gadhafi. At the very least, however, it would dishearten Gadhafi’s supporters and buy time for the rebels. We could further tilt the balance in their favor by bombing Gadhafi’s installations and troops.
It may also be necessary to send arms and Special Forces trainers to support the rebels. Without committing any combat troops of our own, we could deliver the same kind of potent combined-arms punch that drove the Serbs out of Kosovo when NATO aircraft supported ground operations by the Kosovo Liberation Army.
The Libyan opposition movement, led by Gadhafi’s former justice minister, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, has been desperately asking for international aid in the form of a no-fly zone. If we finally delivered, you can bet that he and other Libyans would be grateful. Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, today has a major thoroughfare named Bill Clinton Boulevard crowned with a 10-foot statue of their savior.
It is not far-fetched to imagine a Barack Obama Boulevard in Tripoli if the president finally finds the courage to act. If he does not, you can bet that his name and that of the country he leads will be reviled by democrats across the region—not only in Libya.
Mr. Boot is a senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
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By Natan Sharansky
Washington Post, Sunday, March 13, 2011
I am often asked why so many Israelis are worried by the popular rebellions rocking the Middle East and why I’m so hopeful. My response is that just as their worry is tempered by hope, my hope is tempered by worry.
The worried among us fear the possibility of long-term chaos and/or the emergence of regimes even more repressive than those that are crumbling. Their arguments are serious and deserve an answer.
For decades, the free world’s policy toward the Middle East was based on the desire for stability, purchased by deals struck with leaders. That the leaders were corrupt autocrats mattered little. To the contrary, tyranny was seen as guaranteeing stability, corruption as guaranteeing that tyranny’s friendship could be bought.
This was rationalized by considerations of realpolitik and the comforting assertion that we had no right to judge the moral standards of societies different from our own.
That pact, however, has been definitively exposed as a sham, yielding not stability but its opposite. And it has been broken – not by us or the autocrats but by the peoples of the region. Their great awakening has shattered the truism that, unlike “us,” they have no real desire for freedom. With tremendous courage, they have risked their lives to declare otherwise.
In that stirring spectacle lies the first, elemental reason for my hope that a historical page has at last begun to turn. But the window is only so wide, and many forces aim to shut it. So what comes next?
Surveying the fall of the dictators, some in the West have reflexively turned to other, already organized structures within the societies shaped by dictatorship: notably, the army or Islamist groups. The unspoken idea is to replicate the old pact but with a different set of players. Once again the goal is stability, rationalized now by the alleged absence of other centers of potential leadership within Arab society and by the “discovery” of moderate elements within some of the region’s worst actors.
This is delusion squared: an abdication of the free world’s ability to influence developments in the Muslim world. Take the interest expressed by Washington in “engaging” the Muslim Brotherhood. As the Egyptian democratic dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim has put it, this is akin to announcing that the free world has no choice but to accept these people as the legitimate inheritors of power. It effectively turns a blind eye to the unprecedented opportunities of the present and repeats, obsessively, all the mistakes of the past.
There is another option: to see the region’s democratic dissidents as our real partners. How many times did I and my fellow dissidents in the Soviet Union hear the refrain: Yes, you are wonderful people – but you have no power, you command no legions. And how deep was the subsequent shock when the impossible happened and the mighty empire, with its legions and its gulag, collapsed. Who could have predicted it?
Actually, many did: those dissidents who dared to express themselves, knowing that theirs were the thoughts and feelings of tens of millions of others straining against the bonds shackling their society. With those silent armies behind them, they confidently predicted the fall of Soviet tyranny.
A lesson should have been learned but wasn’t. Many times, in later years, I heard the same arguments voiced against efforts to support democratic dissidents in Arab countries. Yet they, too, knew that their regimes were destined to fall, and said so – including directly to President George W. Bush at an international conference in Prague in 2007. They also warned that the longer the West propped up dictators, the greater the chance that, when the dictators fell, they would be succeeded by worse.
Can that fate be averted? Can the democratic reformers of the Middle East be empowered to shape a better future? It will not be easy. But – and here is my second reason for hope – circumstances are more auspicious now than they were for us in the 1980s.
Back then, we dissidents had no Internet, no CNN. The free world, for its part, had little leverage over Kremlin dictators. Today, communications are easy and instantaneous. Moreover, the Muslim Brotherhood is not yet strong enough to seize control and foreclose on genuine reform. And precisely because of their historical ties with Middle Eastern governments, the United States and the European Union are uniquely well placed to guide that process of reform.
The point of linkage is the massive foreign aid the free world has committed to these lands. By remaining generous, by mobilizing additional donors from oil-rich Arab nations, and by insisting on clear and enforceable conditions, we can help forge the building blocks of a free society: a free press, freedom of religion, the rule of law and civil-society reform. Entrepreneurs can be recruited to address the dire housing conditions in Egypt and elsewhere. International human rights organizations can prove their bona fides by working with local reformers, including trade unions and student and women’s groups. Associations like those nurtured by the Internet project Cyberdissidents can be openly strengthened.
Will we see our responsibility and our opportunity, and act? I worry that we won’t. I hope that we will. By doing so, we will purchase true stability for the peoples of the region and for ourselves.
Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, spent nine years as a political prisoner in the Soviet gulag. He is the author of “The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror.”