Saturday, March 19, 2011

Gadhafi's End Game

He is not like you and me.  He is that certain, most dangerous kind of crazy that includes both the careful, practical calculations of a corporate accountant and the willingness to push in all his chips on instinct of a riverboat gambler.  He's fully aware of the stakes in this game he's playing - he has very few friends left in the world and to end his days in comfortable exile is not something I believe he'd consider an acceptable outcome.  It's win or go home for the wacky Libyan Colonel, but in this case the only home he has left is a martyr's grave.

You're simply not being realistic if you think he's somehow unaware of this.  When the world was cautiously discussing a limited no-fly zone over Libya, Gadhafi poured gasoline on the fire when he said they would go house to house, that there would be no mercy.  There were so many other ways he could have played it, acting concilliatory, playing for time, all while he brutally rolled up the rebels, destroyed their fledgling organizations and murdred and imprisoned their families.  That might have been Saddam, that might have been Mubarak, but if we've learned one thing since the Gulf of Sidra, it's that simply isn't Moammar Gadhafi.

In general, the US has a counterproductive tendency to personalize a geopolitical argument, to make it about the leader, to focus on Saddam Hussein or Ayotollah Khomeini instead of the political, military and economic goals.  But in this case it's the right course.  Because now that we're engaged, now that we've called his bet, it's desperately important that we understand that we're NOT dealing with a government, there is no diplomatic structure or back-channel conversation to be employed to find a way out of this.  There's just the mad Colonel, and the people around him who's lives and livelihood depend on him, and now they are staring into the abyss and he's the best chance they've got.

There was one chance that he might be persuaded to stand down and accept exile - and that would be if he believed there was some chance of a comeback, that he would have the flexibility and freedom of movement to attempt to depose the new leadership and regain power over Libya.  But now, the gloves have come off, and while he's very definitely not right in the cabeza, he's not crazy enough to believe that he has any choice other than execution in Libya or a cell in The Hague.

So here's what's most likely to happen.  The first part of the end-game will be defections.  LOTS of defections.  The writing is on the wall now - he can't deploy armor and artillery against the rebels, it's all small arms and hand to hand, and there's just no way he can take back the Eastern part of the country without the mobility and firepower he's now being denied.  But those who do NOT defect will represent a powerful and quite desperate force, and the rebels will find it difficult to force them out of Tripoli.  And if the rebels get their hands on the tanks and artillery, are we then expected to stand down and let them slaughter their fellow Gadhafi - supporting Libyans when our very mission statement is that we intervened to protect civillians?

The easiest solution is if one of those defectors can kill him or hand him over to the rebels - then the regime just fades away as the remaining elites scurry for cover with whatever they can loot from the treasury, banks and museums.  If that is to happen, it will happen this week and it will go down as the shortest, least lethal and most successful international humanitarian intervention in history.  But if we're still having this conversation NEXT weekend, with Gadhafi still ensconced in Tripoli and the rebels getting organized and moving west, well, this is just going to get a LOT harder.

And here's the key part to remember.  You never know if the man holding the gun will pull the trigger.  But with Colonel Gadhafi, we DO know.  We've known since Flight 103 landed in pieces in the peaceful Scottish countryside.  That's the crazy side, and make no mistake - he WILL deploy it.  The question is simply this:  how many weapons, anti-ship missiles, MANPADS, sea mines, whatever his fevered imagination can come up with and his oil wealth can purchase, does he have stashed away for his own final Armageddon?  What desperate plans has he put in motion already?  At this point, he really must believe that his only hope is to make the cost too high - a kind of a third-party war of attrition where the cost is borne at random by those in the region.

There's no doubt he'll try it.  This HAS to end quickly.  A protracted standoff could get terribly bloody...



  1. But in this case it's the right course.

    I have my doubts mikey. It's always this way: we're going in to save the little children. And oh, it's just a coincidence that we have large corporate interests. And that's why we're not going to go save the Bahraini children, so don't nobody worry about them. And we care a ton about democracy, except we're going to do whatever Saudi Arabia's royal family wants us to do.

    I'm sure you know all this, and of course, there's a chance this will be turn out to be the right move (U.S. Government: "We're broke, we're cutting your Social Security. OH, another war to enrich our plutocrats? Well then, not even the skies are the limit, boys!")

    My last card: When has Bill Kristol ever been right about something?

  2. You misread me, thunder. Go back and read that para again. I was saying that PERSONALIZING the argument with Libya is, in contrast to past events, the right course.

    I came out against this sort of intervention some weeks ago. And offered my prescription, a kind of a mafia-informed coercive diplomacy, where you use your advantage in military power to achieve specific, short term effects.

    In this we both agree - I'm sorry if I didn't make myself clear...

  3. I should say, for the benefit of any and all readers, that I offer my opinion about the wisdom of particular courses of action, but when a decision is taken and actions overtake opinions, I find it wasteful and pointless to agonize over what might have been. Therefore, there will be no more argument from me over whether intervention in Libya was or was not the right action - it is what is happening, and commenting on counterfactuals is not something I do. Instead, we'll consider where we are today, and examine the options and costs of actions taken. Other options have been closed off...

  4. Other options have been closed off...
    March 19, 2011 7:05 PM

    But one option/question remains: why can't we stop getting advice, and orders even, from people who have been wrong about everything, forever?

  5. We're just never going to agree on this point. I do not, CAN not, hold civilian writers and think tankers responsible for decisions taken at the Pentagon and 1600. The political leadership makes these things happen, not writers, not thought leaders, not journalists or pundits.

    This decision, in particular, belongs to Barack Obama. Since congress decided to opt out of their constitutional responsibility to make war, the decisions to use the military rest with the white house.

    You can blame bloody bill kristol and Joe Klein all you want, but they cannot move a single military asset one inch. That capability belongs solely to the political leadership in this country - you need look no further...

  6. That capability belongs solely to the political leadership in this country - you need look no further...

    I will look further. Our political leadership is owned by our plutocrats, as are the media corporations that employ the likes of Joe Klein and Bill Kristol.

    That's why everything that is done happens to suit their interests, even when the rationales given make no sense.

    "We're broke! We need to cut Social Security!"

    However, we've got plenty of money to extend the Bush tax cuts, and go to war with everybody.

  7. Just won't argue the point. Those forces are in action over Libya because of orders that came from the political leadership. If you don't like the political process, that's ANOTHER argument, one I'll happily join you in. But military assets don't move one inch in response to Bill Kristol.

    It's weird. You're so invested in holding writers and think tankers responsible you seem almost willing to give the real criminals, the people with the power to actually ORDER military action a pass. Maybe you need to balance a little bit - at least acknowledge that our elected leadership is the party that can actually produce military intervention...

  8. It's weird. You're so invested in holding writers and think tankers responsible you seem almost willing to give the real criminals, the people with the power to actually ORDER military action a pass.

    I think you are misreading me. I don't credit the writers and think tankers with actual power, but I do condemn them for being craven assholes. If Joe Klein and Bill Kristol told the truth, they'd be fired and replaced by some other liars.

    I am so disgusted with Barack Obama that I might vote for a write-in candidate in 2012. The Democratic party was handed a huge mandate following the elections of 2006 and 2008, which Barry and the corporatists promptly squandered.

    A sentence I've written more than once: "The corporatists of the Democratic party would rather lose elections than control of the party."