Thursday, September 08, 2011

Libya wrap-up: Nato should stay away from Sirte, Alexander Cockburn should stay away from analysis

1. The hard part in Libya is over, and an easy path to clean, Norway-style petro-democracy lies ahead. (Pssst - no, I don't actually believe that, but so many people are warning us not to believe it that I thought I could drive traffic here by being the only person on the Internet saying it, who could then get linked and debunked by all the wise people out there.)

2. I was pretty unconcerned about Obama's War Powers Act violation, but maybe I can balance it here: Nato/US air support for the final attack on Sirte and maybe Sabha is illegal and unethical, although it might make good politics. I'm not aware of any evidence that Gaddhafi forces are attacking civilians in Sirte, where his tribal affiliations seem to keep him popular. Nato's right of action is to protect civilians, so that legal justification goes away. Ethically, the loss of air support might make the TNC a little more willing to negotiate things to avoid bloodshed. While the TNC has the natural right to revolution and this battle appears to be the final stage of exercising that right, it's their right and not Nato's when civilian protection isn't involved.

3. I am also concerned about a President Rick Perry using the Libya precedent to justify a repeat of the Venezuelan military coup, but this time with US air support in an internal war. Or maybe somewhere else like Bolivia. However, this type of Flubber argument isn't enough to overcome the value of our justified involvement in saving civilians and helping the Arab Revolution continue.

4. It remains mysterious to me why the rebels successfully fought off military force for over two weeks early in the revolution, then collapsed and had to be rescued. This led to my rotten prediction of quick victory in late February, although ultimately it seems correct. The rebels hadtwo weeks of military success in a time period I figured that they would be the most disorganized, so I thought there was no turning back. I've yet to see analysis explain why Gaddhafi was unsuccessful for the first two weeks and then turned things around. I'll guess that he couldn't and didn't trust his own forces and had to fight an auto-coup first, but that's just a guess.

5. News reports generally described the war as a stalemate from late March to end of July, even early August. By mid-May, they were wrong (see the previous link). I think you could start a one-month rule looking forward from that point: virtually no territory rebels held a month earlier would be taken from them a month later, and rebels always held more territory than they did a month earlier. Maybe it was a stalemate in the east, but rebels were slowly winning in Misurata and the west.

6. In the field of Libya predictions that start wrong and stay wrong, let's try Alexander Cockburn, one of the very few lefties who also disbelieves in climate change:

It requites no great prescience to see that this will all end up badly. Qaddafi’s failure to collapse on schedule is prompting increasing pressure to start a ground war, since the NATO operation is, in terms of prestige, like the banks Obama has bailed out, Too Big to Fail. Libya will probably be balkanized.

(Via Juan Cole.) He got his lack of prescience right, at least. I think Cockburn has his own version of hippie punching. He hates liberals from a leftist perspective, so anything moderate liberals believe is therefore wrong. I'm not aware of any evidence that he's backed from his climate denialism, btw, but I'm happy to bet him if he wants to put his money where his mouth is.

7. Domestic politics means the US is locked into a biased position on the Arab-Israeli conflict that will remain a major obstacle in relations with Arabs. However, the same domestic politics creates problems for China and Russia regarding the Arab Revolution. It might take some time, but the US and Western Europe might slowly generate some goodwill, because the Arab Revolution isn't going away.