Photo by B.R.Q. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Muammar Qaddafi isn't big on that forgiveness thing.
Almost exactly 25 years ago, President Ronald Reagan decided to send Qaddafi a little love letter, in the shape of some cruise missiles with his name on them. That was for some nasty shit Qaddafi had pulled in West Berlin some time previously. Qaddafi narrowly escaped that time. Lockerbie was his thank-you note to the USA. Hell, it's 1986 all over again, even a nuclear disaster going on at the same time.
If he survives, you might not want to fly Air France for a while.
I blew my strategic overview big-time a few blog posts ago. Sorry. At least I'm in fairly good company; not a great many people have been guessing this one right. I really wish the War Nerd weighed in, he's uncanny. But then perhaps his secret is to only call the obvious ones and leave the rest to us amateurs and wannabies.
Over the past week or so, Qaddafi has gotten his military shit together, and he decided to go for the jugular. He repelled the attack on Sirt easily enough, and decided to let Misrata sit for the moment and go straight for the rebel capital, Benghazi. He's been pushing towards it really fast, on the order of 30 km/day or more. That means that he's not been meeting much effective resistance on the way. No surprise there; now that he's got his air force and armor working together again, you really don't want to face them in the open, and everything between Tripoli and Cyrenaica is open. Next on the menu would have been some really brutal urban fighting: the rebels know it's a fight to the death, and will fight house to house. I wouldn't even guess how that would go, except that I thought Saif's "all will be over in 48 hours" was a tad optimistic. The Libyan army hasn't been fighting all that well; the rebels have captured armor and other heavy gear intact, which is pretty good for irregulars.
But in a symmetrical face-off between improvised infantry with light weaponry and a combined-forces assault by a regular army, the guerrillas will lose, unless they're the Hizbollah or the Tamil Tigers, and even the Tamil Tigers ended up losing. And that's the action we've been seeing lately.
So what happened? If I had to guess, I'd say that the officer corps that was wavering between sticking with the devil they know or going with the revolution, decided to coalesce around Qaddafi. That got the machinery rolling. After that, it was a bit like the Russian Civil War scenario, with Qaddafi playing the role of the Bolsheviks—they lost most of the country but kept Moscow, then they got their military act together, and then recaptured everything they lost, and eventually more.
And then the United Nations passed that surprise resolution in practically no time flat. I didn't see that coming either. So what's the deal with that?
If you want my wild guess, here it is: France and Lebanon. Nicolas Sarkozy is in very hot water domestically, and there's nothing like a short, victorious war against a universally hated villain to sort that kind of unpleasantness out. Libya was a godsend. And in Lebanon, the Hizbollah is currently the top dog, and they have some very personal beef with Qaddafi: he disappeared Imam Musa Sadr, the founder of the Movement of the Disinherited, which got the ball rolling on the whole Lebanese Shi'ite thing. Musa Sadr is like Jesus to the Lebanese Shi'ites–his face is all over the place in Shi'ite parts of town there. Deserved it too. If he had lived, things might've gone very differently and altogether better.
Hizbollah isn't very big on forgiving and forgetting either. Almost as bad as those guys going on about the Japanese tsunami being karmic retribution for Pearl Harbour. I guess it really is that hard to let go of old grudges.
Anyway, France and Lebanon have very close ties. Lebanon has very close ties with the rest of the Arab countries. The Hizbollah wants Qaddafi's head on a plate. Sarkozy wants a distraction. Voilà, leadership: the Lebs take care of the Arabs, the French take care of the West, and together they find some way to pay off Russia and China to stop them from vetoing the thing. Nice and clean, and everybody's happy, except Qaddafi.
There's just the small matter of winning the damn thing, and I don't see that as a given at all.
Militarily, things suddenly do look pretty grim for Qaddafi. He's been pushing fast for Benghazi, which means his armor is nicely strung out in the open desert. Suddenly he's lost his air supremacy. Hell, he can't even take off after the US-British cruise missile strike taking out his airfields. Those tanks are sitting ducks for French and British fighters. He must now be hoping that the French and the Brits take that "no-fly zone" thing to the letter and ignore the "all necessary measures" bit, and just settle for parading around keeping the air clear of jets, letting that armor make its way to Benghazi, win quickly and decisively there, and that would be that. I'd like to say that they couldn't possibly be that squeamish or stupid, but unfortunately I can't rule that out either. The French and the Brits didn't use to be squeamish at all, but their warfighting glory days are long gone.
But let's assume they're not, and do intend to wipe out that armor. Then what? Back to technicals and RPG's, that's what. And I really have no idea how that'll play out. Or, rather, I have way too many ideas, and all of them seem totally possible. Maybe Qaddafi's army will cave and whack him and the show will be over by Wednesday next. Or maybe they won't, and will beat the rebels even without armor and air support. Maybe the country will split into two warring halves. If Qaddafi survives, he'll face a post-Gulf War I style blockade, and we'll see mysterious explosions on Air France jumbo jets. Maybe he will invite in Al Qaeda and let them set up training camps right in the open just to spite the French and the Americans, like he threatened.
But the stakes just went up big-time. If he survives, he'll make life very uncomfortable for really lots of people. His list of friends is awfully short. There's Chavez and maybe Cuba, and Syria and Turkey are sort of lukewarm-ish about it, but that's about it really.
I'm feeling very conflicted about this intervention. On the one hand, there's a really big urge to do something—anything—but on the other, this is damn risky and could end up making things worse, and even in the best remaining scenario, it'll rob the Libyans of their revolution. Better that than being shot in the back of the head or tortured to death, I suppose, but a hell of a lot worse than the Arab Spring that looked like it was flowering just a few weeks ago.
Fucking Middle East. Never hope, that's a recipe for heartbreak.