Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Humanitarian Stalemate

Yesterday apparently the rebel forces in Libya managed to win a major victory by taking the city of Misrata.  However, like most things in our current Libyan adventure, the actual meaning of this victory is unclear.  Was Gaddafi's loyalist army simply defeated, or did they retreat back just to bombard the rebels?  And why do pro-Gaddafi forces even have the hardware necessary to bomb a major city anymore?  Does anybody really know what is going on in that country?  More importantly, does anybody know what our goals are in Libya?  My number one concern at the start of this intervention was our lack of clearly defined goals - without an objective, the war can turn into a long quagmire with nobody entire sure what to do to get us out.  If you don't have a plan, how do you win?

Now here's what I think our goals are, or at least what our goals should be.  I think we're bombing Libya for the purposes of removing Gaddafi from power and installing the rebels as the new government.  Unfortunately, nobody has ever states that this is our goal, even though we're clearly fighting for the rebels' side.  The UN mandate is curious to me, assuming that civilians can be protected without outside ground forces.  If our goal in Libya is to save lives, we're doing a very bad job of it, already ten thousand have died and the death toll rises every day that the war continues.  But President Obama so far has been making our goals in Libya purposefully opaque, one day saying we're not working towards regime change while on the other day saying that Gaddafi must go.  If the war is about oil, then the best course of action would be to occupy the country to keep the precious lifeblood flowing*.  The only strategy the President is using right now is a vague hopeful "Gaddafi can't last much longer, can he?" kind of plan that could only result in a very expensive, very bloody, and ultimately very stupid war.  Oh wait, its not a war, is it?  Its a "kinetic military action"** - a euphemism so hilarious that I must wonder who Obama hired from the Bush administration to think it up.

The simple fact is that our Libyan strategy right now is at best unrealistic at worst completely incoherent.  We can't even decide if the rebels are trustworthy enough for us to supply with arms.  I'm not saying that the Libyan War was a mistake from the beginning.  But again, this is not working.  Ultimately I rather doubt the Gaddafi regime can fight it out indefinitely while cut off from the world, but at that point the level of destruction would make the concept of a "humanitarian war" a literal oxymoron.

At this point we must admit that Gaddafi has surprised us all by how well he's managed to fight it out against what are clearly hopeless odds.  We were all disappointed when the regime did not simply topple back in February.  And furthermore, the Obama policy in Libya seemed constructed entirely on the assumption that the war would be over in mere days - at no point has their policy, even now more than a month in, ever shown any long-term plan.  Now he seems to be at a loss, because despite every assumption coming in, Gaddafi has not only managed to still remain in power in eastern Libya, he's even managed to launch offensives.  The people of Tripoli have not risen up and taken him down as we hoped.  Indeed, somehow, his army has stayed with him and he remains in command of a major power base.  Perhaps we need to recheck our assumption every person in Libya wanted him gone.  There is somebody out there fighting and dying to keep this man in office, and they're willing to keep on fighting even while American bombers fly overhead.

The biggest question I have to ask President Obama is this:  what kind of Libya are you trying to create out of this?  Are we going to allow a ceasefire and divide the state up?  Will the rebels become the new leaders of a Republic of Cyrenaica?  Or are we absolutely determined to see Gaddafi live up power and see a democratic revolution?  The latter option seems the best to me.  The rebels are our ally now.  If President Obama wants to be seen as a champion of the democratic revolution in the Muslim world, I really don't see how we can do it while half-assing the effort in Libya.  And then, if our endgame is with the rebels in control of Libya as it seems to be, why aren't we willing to arm them?  Can we give a group control of an entire nation if we can't trust them with weapons?

Then there's other nations.  Why do we intervene in Libya but not, say, Syria?  Or Saudi Arabia?  I know Libya was the only place to yet have a full-scale civil war, but its only a matter of time for those countries.  Right not the American viewpoint on supporting Arab revolutions seems entirely based on how convenient it is for us.  Hey, we never liked Gaddafi anyway, this bombing campaign seems to be settling an old score from the 80s.  Why aren't we sending in the troops to every country in the Muslim world that is suppressing democratic protests?  Is anybody taking us seriously when we're trying to position ourselves as champions of democracy here?  This is the big chance we've been waiting for to spread democracy, and so far we've just been muddled in Libya and indecisive everywhere else.

At the very least Obama seems to have the political strength at home to keep up the war for as long as he'll need.  The Democrats are the party who would be against this conflict, but they probably don't want to go against their leader.  And the Republics, who love hating on the President are the ones who are sexually excited by the prospect of military intervention in foreign countries, so they're going to stay quiet.  Nobody knows what to do or say yet, so for now, Obama has the time to do anything he wants.  Well, that is until they look at the poll numbers.

When President Obama ran for office, he promised a far more open presidency than the bunker-like Bush Administration.  Bush could only offer propaganda and half-truth, this is why nobody could ever trust anything he said.  Now Obama has not at all followed-up with his promise of an open presidency, and I don't blame him.  I understand wanting to be more transparent on the campaign trail and finding in office that a close-presidency works better.  But could we at least see the underlying logic of this war?  How do you expect anybody to support you if we have no idea what you're trying to do?

* I saw gas prices over four dollars a gallon yesterday in Philadelphia.  Luckily my home state has much cheaper prices - but only roughly three dimes less.  The oil supplies that have been disrupted by the war are only 2% of the world output.  That's not to say that's not a massive amount of oil with a huge impact, but that also doesn't mean that gas prices should be spiking like this.  Already other nations have pitched in to cover that 2%.  My question is:  who the screwing us over and when do we get to impale them??  The only conclusion I can draw is that the gas companies are using this war to gouge prices and fuck us all over.  Why aren't we bombing these assholes?

** "Kinetic action" seems meaninglessly redundant to me.  What the administration officials said was just "military action".  And if "military action" doesn't mean "fighting a war", I don't know what does.  By the way, throughout history there have been plenty of wars:  30 Years' War, World War II, Punic Wars, but as far as I know, we have never before had a "kinetic military action".


  1. Blue don't you see yet? This "kinetic military action" was just a way to show how "cool" and "awesome" the US could be. Instead it has turned into a "Who can last the longest" game which is pointless and stupid. Now even if we do win this so called "war" who will be put in charge? Will America just smoothly take over Libya as a distance power like Britan did to us or will we leave them to their own devices like Iraq? Come on Obama lets think of a plan before we go into action we don't want to look like Bush is back in office.

    My theory for the gas raising is, because the companies are scared that this war will effect connections with the Middle East so they've brought a surplus of gas and is hoarding it while gagging prices, because the driving season is coming up.

  2. <"My question is: who the screwing us over and when do we get to impale them?? The only conclusion I can draw is that the gas companies are using this war to gouge prices and fuck us all over. Why aren't we bombing these assholes?">

    Finally, someone came out and said it! Thank you.

  3. "Kinetic Military Action"? If they are performing any sort of action, then yes, of course they have kinetic energy. What's the point of calling it something else if everyone knows it means war? If I were in charge of coming up with euphemisms for war, I'd try to get them to use "Solving Problems With Violence."

  4. This military action is a necessity to prove the US can engage in justified/ lawful/ legitimate military intervention.