Liberating the Libyans, Part III

Among the victims of the Japanese Tsunami, we may need to include many people in Libya. Taking advantage of the distraction caused by the Tsunami and the nuclear emergency, Gaddafi is pressing home his advantage. By the time the western governments have ceased they’re dithering and discussion of the crisis by committee (fiddling while Libya burns) his mercenary army is getting on with the job of winning the war. By the time the west finally does agree to a no-fly zone, I’m quite sure it will be very effective…that is effective at giving Gaddafi a good laugh!

Of course its also unlikely the UN will agree to a no-fly zone anyway as it will be vetoed by the Chinese (they don’t want any precedent set preventing mad dictators from killing they’re own people, after all most of China’s oil comes from similar mad dictators).

To be blunt we are well passed the point where a no fly zone would do any good, more direct action is the only thing that will now unseat Gaddafi. The UN will not approve this action of course, so unilateral action might be necessary. Now while its important to acknowledge that unilateral military action is a rare step to be taken in extreme situations, and the Iraq war was clearly not one of those (even if you believed the dodgy dossier). But the Libya situation is clearly different (having a madman as leader has to count…so if Palin or Ron Paul gets in the 2012 the Canadians can start bombing one assumes…).

Not least is unilateral action justified in Libya, because such action has been called for by the opposition leadership themselves. By the west just recognising the opposition as the legitimate government of Libya, asking them to make a formal request for assistance and Gaddafi’s you’re Camel (as opposed to bob’s you’re uncle ;D) the West has its mandate for a no fly zone, no need to go to the UN at all. Of course getting a legal mandate for the action that is really now needed – air strikes – would be a little more problematic.

Fortunately, Gaddafi might be stupid enough to supply it. If western fighter aircraft were to go screaming across Tripoli every half hour or so, and US navy ships begin to violate the Gulf of Sidra (a region of sea Gaddafi has unilaterally claimed in defiance of the international rules of the sea) its possible he won’t be able to help himself (he is nutty as a fruit cake remember :crazy:) and will respond by taking pot shots at them…giving the Western forces every justification to engage in “defensive” action to protect they’re forces…by bombing the shite out of his air force and SAM sites…but oh! Fiddle sticks! we appear to have blown up a few of you’re tanks by mistake! Sorry about that mate, we’ll try not to do…oh! deary me! we just did do it again!….and again, oh whoop’s a daisy!

One technical point I would make though, the Libyan opposition are calling for “precision” air strikes against Gaddafi. However, guaranteeing precision strikes from 30,000 ft, or worse by a aircraft screaming along on the deck at mach 1 (meaning he doesn’t actually see the target until seconds before bombs away) isn’t that easy. Forward air controllers and Special Forces recon units would be required, otherwise collateral damage and friendly fire incidents would be inevitable. This essentially means someone on the ground with a radio talking the pilot onto the target, or even better with a big shiny laser indicating to him park you’re bomb right here. Thus some limited ground deployment of specialist troops would be necessary. And given that the SAS can be bested by a load of Libyan goat herders and can’t even find a hotel, this would be a risk for the west and the opposition would need to accept the presence of small numbers of western troops.

The only other options available are more long term, a blockade of Libya and an oil embargo. Ironically the mandate for that is going to be even harder to justify at the UN than a bombing campaign. Furthermore while the Western navy can easily cut off the oil routes through the Med, Libya has an awfully long land border through which oil can be easily smuggled to world markets through his African allies, and everything else smuggled back in. Saddam’s sanction busting efforts saw vast amounts of oil simply spirited across the borders of Iraq in oil drums, giving much needed hard currency to him and the regime. The only people who suffered from sanctions were his people. By the time the sanctions were lifted they were lifted because they weren’t actually working and were more of an embarrassment than anything. Similarly, its unclear they’d work against Gaddafi. Furthermore, given how stretch oil supplies are right now, its probably not an option the west can afford.

Ultimately Gaddafi is, to a degree, finished. The best he can hope for is to consolidate his hold on power long enough to install someone else, one of his sons perhaps, as the new leader. Even this would not be very palatable to the West, a pariah state right on the doorstep of Europe. More importantly as this regime would be effectively isolated from the West he’d likely turn to China for help. The ultimate outcome of Western dithering over this, aside from the suffering of the Libyan people under an insane dictator, but that China may get themselves a military toehold on the very doorstep of Europe. Also, there’s the danger he might retaliate on the West the way he did last time….

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