Untangling the Paris Attacks


Let us be clear there will be only one beneficiary from these attacks in Paris and that’s the French Far right. With an election looming in about a month’s time its entirely possible they will now gain control of several French regions….and I won’t want to be a Muslim living in France when that happened (they’ll probably make them wearing little yellow stars or something). And the chances are high that their candidate may even make it onto the 2nd round of voting, a worrying repeat of the 2002 election. Indeed there’s even an outside chance now that the FN could win (although feuding within the party will likely prevent that)….which would probably result in them nuking Mecca or something.

So if getting electing a bunch of neo-nazi bigots to power in France was the intention of these attacks, well mission accomplished. Needless to say its unlikely France will halt its operations in Syria (not that this would matter, its Russia and the US who are doing most of the bombing). Indeed its likely this will intensity efforts. If Hollande or Obama now ordered in ground troops (I doubt they would, but lets suppose) then I doubt there would be too many objections after last night.

And no doubt these attacks will be wrapped up with the current migrant/refugee crisis. While acknowledging that yes there are probably some Wahhabists amongst the refugees, one has to remember the bulk of them are fleeing the Jihadi’s. Unfortunately, real Jihadi’s and Wahhabists don’t have to swim across from Turkey, they just get on a plane and wave their Saudi passport at anyone who asks.

The suggestion, as even the BBC speculated last night, that the weapons used were smuggled in via refugees, carried across a dozen land borders without anyone (fellow refugees or border guards) noticing is absurd. However, inevitably this attack will probably be justification for slamming the door on refugees, legitimate or otherwise. Again hardly a great step forward for Islam.

But why is it that Wahhabists and the far right seem to be natural allies? Well because they both basically want the same thing. Both are essentially anti-progressive Luddite’s. They are frightened by modern technology, globalisation and even curried food or “rock and roll“. Like so many similar groups throughout history, they want to return to a gilded age. However, the problem for both groups is that, this fabled age never existed.

As I’ve discussed before with regard to ISIS, the Islam of the past was very different to Wahhabism of the present. Any Wahhabi who showed up in 10th century Mecca would likely be beaten to death by the locals as a heretic within about 5 minutes. The tradition of wear full length veil’s is of relatively recent origin and historically there was seen as nothing overtly sacrilegious with images of Mohammed. In short the infidel of Islam in those days were lunatic thugs like ISIS and not the Christians and Jews (whom Muslim rulers generally tolerated, so long as they kept to themselves).

As for the far right, any attempt to implement their policies would likely bankrupt France. And while they may reminisce about how wonderful things were before the EU came along with its migrants, they seem to forget how pre-EU many French in rural areas lived below the poverty line, with none of the modern convinces they now enjoy (you know like flush toilets and electricity). Life back then was far from idyllic. It was short, hard and brutal. And anyone who really wants to return to that way of life can do so pretty easily by just emigrating to certain parts of Africa or Asia.

Certainly there is a need to recognise the threat posed by ISIS and its sympathizers. But a measured reaction is what’s needed. Some security measures, some efforts to separate genuine refugees from economic migrants (or worse), preferably with a common EU wide policy, rather than the current game of beggar my neighbour.

Certainly it is true that Muslims need to wake up to the fact that the Wahhabists are trying to take over their religion and drive it down a very dangerous road to ruin. They need to call these people out, as a Wahhabi led world isn’t the sort of place I suspect any of them would want to live in (just look at life under ISIS). And its just a matter of time before these guys piss off someone whose as crazy as them (and they blew up a Russian plane the other week) and he’s crazy enough to hit back with nukes or a ground invasion.

The West’s support for Israel also doesn’t help. Now while nobody is denying Israel’s right to exist, nor her right to self defence. But Israel’s violation of the 1967 border, the attempts of its far right to colonise parts of the West bank and the brutal behaviour of its military is a major sticking point. The West needs to adopt a neutral stance. i.e. call out the Israeli’s as war criminals (and the Palestinian terrorist groups too) impose an arms embargo, if not a full trade embargo on the entire region. And the policy on Iran’s nuclear weapons needs to apply the same standard to Israel.

And least we forget, the whole reason why ISIS exists is because of Middle Eastern oil. There’s lots of dangerous terrorist groups around the world who nobody cares about, because they aren’t sitting on top of oil fields (Taliban anybody? Remember Al-Qaeda? What about the Tamil Tigers or Farc?). I doubt the West would be entangled in the Middle East if it their main industry was dates and tallow. So getting off our addiction to oil is something that needs to be done sooner rather than later.

Egyptian delusions


Its rare that you find me agreeing with the government on security issues. I tend to take the view that much anti-terrorism “security theatre” often has political motivations (such as the current “snoopers charter”). However, that is not to say there aren’t some crazy people out there who mean us harm, as events at the time of writing in Paris show. And that some reasonable and proportional measures are appropriate in defending against such threats.

So, as for the UK government’s decision to ban flights to Sharm el-Sheikh I’m in full agreement. The Egyptian government are not what one could describe as reliable partners. They are for one very much beholden to what I will refer to as “the camel jockey lobby”, a reference to those Egyptians who hang around tourist traps and try to entice punters into taking camel rides (bit like the fella’s selling jaunting cart rides in Killarney through the gap of Dunloe…rip off merchants!). This is by no means the first time Egypt has faced a security threat, and they have a nasty habit of ignoring or denying such threats exist.

Take for example the case of Egypt Air 990. This plane plunged into the Atlantic off the US coast in 2001. The Americans quickly zeroed in on the actions of relief first officer Gameel Al-Batouti. Shortly after the pilot left him alone on the cockpit (to go to the bathroom) the relief pilot was heard (via black box data) turning off the autopilot, disabling various systems, uttering the words “Tawkalt ala Allah” (I rely on God) before plunging the plane into a dive. When the pilot managed to fight his way through to the cockpit, the relief pilot switched off the aircraft’s engines (rendering any attempt to pull out of the dive impossible).

Despite this overwhelming evidence, the Egyptians steadfastly refused to accept the obvious – that their pilot had deliberately crashed his plane. They concocted theory after theory which could explain away the crash on mechanical factors. The NTSB investigated and then dismissed everyone one of them. While the Americans do accept that the aircraft may have broken up prior to hitting the water, this was more than likely because the pilots had exceeded the aircraft’s flight envelope. Indeed, the very damage on the wreckage was, the NTSB claim, consistent with the sort you’d see if both pilots were imputing opposite control actions (i.e. one pilot trying to crash the plane, the other trying to climb out of danger) in a high speed dive.

To this day, the Egyptians classify this crash as “unexplained mechanical failure”. Some Egyptian tabloids even tried to concoct a conspiracy theory implicating Mossad. And this is by no means a one off. In the wake of the Luxor massacre the Egyptians were very slow to react. They blamed Britain for the attacks (it policy of offering asylum to people they’d tortured) and perhaps predictably, even tried to blame an Israeli conspiracy against them.

Indeed even in 2010, when there was a shark attack off Sharm el-Sheikh, the Egyptians did their best impression of the mayor of Amity, denying any danger….and then blaming the Israeli’s for it (leading to some Israeli bloggers to start posting pictures of sharks wearing Jewish skull caps!).

So with this in mind, you can understand the concerns of the government spooks. They had to accept reports about lax security, put two and two together, while accepting that the Egyptians would be very slow to accept the facts and do anything about it. And when Britain decided to fly people home, the Egyptians got the hump and refused planes permission to land, effectively taking many thousands of tourists hostage for a few days.

Indeed, If you’ve been listening to media reports, you’ll have noticed how they involved the authorities in the West (or Russia) ruling out various mechanical failure possibilities one after the other (engine failure, structural failure, etc.). I suspect that this was because behind the scenes the Egyptians have been concocting theory after theory to try and dance around the more obvious conclusion.

And of course the situation was made worse by the fact it was a Russian plane that was struck. As we all know Putin has been pretending to bomb IS, even though most of their attacks have hit the Free Syrian army. Now even the most pro-Kremlin media source is left with the uncomfortable realisation that all they’ve done is stir up a hornet’s nest and paint a giant target on every Russian in the Middle East. One assumes they are now going to have to actually start bombing IS, meaning they’ll be drawn ever more into a the war in Syria. Even if and when their boy Assad falls from power, they’ll probably still be entangled in Syria.

As for anyone who goes out to places like Egypt or the Middle East as a tourist, I think it has to be accepted that these are not safe countries any more. Yes, you might get a wonderful cheap holiday in the Sun. Yes, its not fair on the people out there, the majority of whom aren’t terrorists. But until Middle eastern states put their house in order, both in terms of dealing with the groups within their borders, but those who sponsor them (read the Saudi’s), these countries will remain unsafe and they have to suffer the economic consequences for that. And the locals need to put pressure on their governments to take appropriate action to deal with these issues and confront the Wahhabists.

The Colonel’s secret recipe – After Gaddafi

At the beginning of this conflict Gaddafi had mentioned that he had something of a rat problem, so I can only assume that was what he was up to when he was captured in a sewer pipe :). It is to say the least an inglorious end, but then again it generally is for dictators who hang on for too long. Look at the fate of Mussolini, strung up by his ankles in a Milan street, or Hitler his body burnt in a shell crater in Berlin (as his thousand Reich fell apart around him).

Of course it would have been better if he’d gone on trail in the Hague. But, as with Bin Laden, there are a variety of very good reasons why he never was going to make it that appointment in the Hague. Many of the NTC were former members of the Gaddafi regime and would rather not have him fingering them as accomplices. Also Gaddafi’s biggest accomplice in recent years was the West itself. As I mentioned in a past post it is clear that his intelligence agency was on first names basis with MI6 and the CIA and directly co-operating with the so-called “Extraordinary Rendition” policy of Bush. The west also sold him weapons, including ironically enough the very tanks and SPC’s he was sending towards Benghazi, that the French airforce destroyed in the opening air strike (further irony, Gaddafi had been negotiating at the time to purchase those very same Rafale jets for his airforce!).

So did he die of his wounds as is the official story? Was he lynched by rebel fighters? Did the CIA/MI6 do him in? Indeed it seems a bit coincidental that his convoy would be disabled like that by a random airstrike . Did the NTC have him killed, as one of there own generals was killed a few weeks back? We’ll probably never know. Suffice to say there’s enough material here to keep the conspiracy theorist going for quite sometime.

What is important is the message that this sends to other tyrants worldwide. I suspect many of them will have been shaken by pictures of Gaddafi being dragged through the streets of Misrata and will wonder whether they are next. As Kennedy put it:

“Those regimes that make democratic change impossible, merely make will make violent revolution inevitable”

Hopefully this thought will make some of them, notably the regimes in Syria, Yemen or Bahrain think twice now. How do they want to exit the stage, exile in Saudi Arabia with a big slush fund, on trial on a hospital bed like Pinochet or Mubarak, tossed into a bottomless pit by your former intern, or left dangling from a lamp post in Misrata with ghoulish pictures or videos of you’re demise rendered instant Youtube hits. The choice is yours!

As for Libya maybe it is for the best, distasteful as this whole episode is (and the circumstances surrounding his death), to simply move on. As I’ve mentioned before the country needs to get back on its feet. The guns need to be given up, the police put on the street, hospitals and schools need to reopen, the people need to return home and get back to work. In short the shutters need to go up on the country as a whole and the “open for business under new management” sign needs to be put outside.

What we don’t want to see happening is an extension of this civil war with one faction or tribe fighting another or a breakup of the country altogether. Libya now has a brief window of opportunity to consolidate on Gaddafi’s downfall and build a democratic and very prosperous nation. In addition to its oil wealth the country is ideally placed to take advantage of future advances in solar energy technology. If Libya can succeed in this task thus, the implications for Europe, Africa and the Muslim world will be hugely significant. But this window of opportunity is brief and will not last for long. If elections aren’t held, and if things cannot be normalised (hospitals opened, power turned back on, schools opened) before the euphoria of victory passes, there is a danger of renewed conflict firing up again. So it’s essential the Libyans now focus on turning things around quickly and working together.

Significantly the Libyans might well achieve what the Bush administration failed to do, win the peace. Indeed I’d advice them to hire Bush or Cheney as an advisor and do exactly the opposite of everything they said!

I have to finish by saying its perhaps a good time to be hearing this song again:

The Colonel’s secret recipe – torture, rendition and the Koussa files

An interesting development, which the mainstream media, particularly the US ones seem to be ignoring, was the discovery by rebels of a cache of documents in the offices of Moussa Koussa, Gaddafi’s former head of intelligence. These documents reveal that there was contact and cooperation between MI6 and the CIA with the Libyan Intelligence services going back years (certainly since 2003 anyway).

Furthermore, it seems to confirm many of the long held suspicions about the Bush Adm. policy of “extraordinary rendition”, in which individuals whom the CIA suspected of being terrorists would be abducted and put on a plane to a third party state, often states with poor human rights records, such as Egypt, Jordan or Saudi Arabia whom are nominally allies of the US, but also to states such as Syria or Libya whom the US is not on terribly good relations with. These totalitarian regimes would then torture the suspects into confessing to this and that and then pass on the information to the Americans. The third party state would get out of this both the intelligence (generally those abducted were militants opposed to the tyrants rule) as well as the opportunity to eliminate the more troublesome opponents from parts of the world it could not reach. In essence such operations may well have helped prop up totalitarian regimes that the US and UK are on record as wanting to see a regime change in.

These documents serve to clear up a number of the missing details of these operations. They also suggest that that MI6 and CIA officers assisted the Libyans in preparing sheets of questions to ask and providing them with crucial background information to use against the suspects. It also seems to specifically shoot down the MI5/MI6 “aw shucks” defence (they claim they were largely unaware of the rendition policy), yet these documents show them complicit in it since 2003. The whole point of the “rendition” policy was to get around those pesky western human rights laws without MI6/CIA agents, or for that matter Tony Blair and George Bush, ending up getting their collars felt and finding themselves persecuted for torture and human rights abuses. However, with the veil of secrecy now lifted (and the wikileaks revelations) it seems to me that this third party arms length cooperation was a little more involved than we’d been led to believe.

Beyond a certain tipping point one can be convicted of crimes against humanity, even if you’re not the individual committing the crime. As far as I’m aware neither Hitler, Goring nor the other leading nazis ever personally killed a single jew, nor did Milosevic ever (far as I’m aware) kill a single Bosnian or a Croat. But in both cases the state and military forces under they’re command must certainly did commit many hideous crimes and at both Nuremburg, the Tokyo trails and various ICC trials it has been established (see the Nuremberg Principles) that a leader can be considered responsible for actions that were committed by others acting under his direction or authority, even those involving third parties (a tactic of the Serbs was to hand Bosnians over to the Bosnian serb army knowing full well they’d be killed). Now while I’m no lawyer, I suspect these documents may indicate that MI6 and the CIA had indeed exceeded this boundary. Consequently, if I was a member of MI6/CIA involved in these renditions, or Bush/Blair, I’d be “lawyering up” just about now!

But don’t heads of state and secret agents have immunity from prosecution or something like that I here people say? Ah…no! you’ve been watching too many James Bond films! There is no such thing as a license to kill. Agents of the state (police, army, secret services) are given certain rights to do “bad stuff” but they still have to act within the legal frame work of the nation. An MI5 agent breaks into you’re home without a warrant (or in a set of specified circumstances when he can do this without a warrant) he’s committing the crime of “breaking and entering” pure and simple as that. A special branch detective shoots dead a Brazilian electrician on a train because he though he might be a suicide bomber – that’s “assault with a deadly weapon” and “manslaughter”, simple as that. Nixon came within a whisker of being impeached and convicted of a host of crimes , and Clinton was similarly impeached for the lesser crime of perjury and obstruction of justice (because he and his secretary “shared” a cigar). Of course the problem in the UK and America, as with so many other countries, is that the when the authorities break the law they tend to close ranks and are generally very slow to convict they’re own. But that certainly doesn’t amount to a get out of jail free card.

However, the problem now is that this rendition case involves a third party – the new Libyan NTC government. One or two of the leaders of the NTC were on the receiving end of Libyan security forces torture and the commander of the NTC forces in Tripoli, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, was himself subject to rendition. He has now demanded an apology off of the American and British governments for his treatment. Again while I’m no lawyer, I think he deserves a bit more than an apology here. Some compo from MI6/CIA (or indeed Bush and Blair themselves) or maybe getting to see those UK/US officials responsible convicted of their crimes would seem more appropriate.

While the UK and America can just sweep this whole matter under the carpet, its very difficult to do that if a third party state gets involved, especially if the “crime” was technically committed in their country (meaning technically they could claim jurisdiction over the matter) and they start issuing extradition requests for people. This would put the cat among the pigeons as regards the whole Megrahi situation, as the UK/US own rhetoric on Lockerbie could be spat back at them by the NTC. If the UK can demand Megrahi’s extradition on the matter of Lockerbie and the Libyans see the UK sweep this whole matter under the carpet and not convict anyone, we’ll surely they’ve the legal right to demand the extradition of one or two of the perpetrators. Bare in mind these documents mean they now have names, although the names Tony “all-smiles” Blair, George “no brains” Bush and Dick “the penguin” Cheney would be top of my extradition list.

I think the Americans were a little too clever for themselves here. They assumed when they started this whole rendition process that any incriminating evidence would be safely buried in a totalitarian state where the only rights people had was the right to do what they were told. But the Arab spring now means that Libya and Egypt are in the transition to democracy and Syria (which would be crucial, as the worst abuses were likely conducted here) may follow. These states will likely bring in (eventually!) a written constitution and a legal system. While that legal system will draw influence from Sharia law it will conform to many of the basic standards of any democratic state throughout the world.

Notably these laws, if the experience in ex-communist countries is anything to go by, will have clauses inserted regarding retrospective prosecutions. In the 1940’s – 1950’s there was an extensive period of “denazification” in many EU countries, particularly Germany where many former Nazis were held to account for the crimes they committed during the nazi period (the Nuremberg trials were but one of the larger of a whole series of similar trial processes). Similarly, many former communist states have engaged in a similar policy of prosecuting people for crimes committed in the communist era. Now while, as I’ve pointed out in prior posts, the Libyans will need to let bygones be bygones and forgive former regimes supporters for the sake of getting the country up and running again, certain people suspected of committing particularly notorious crimes will (and should) be held to account.

Take the example of Peter Fechter. He was shot dead by border guards at the Berlin wall in 1962, for attempting to defect, in full view of the Western media. He lay for several days in the no mans land just out of reach of the Western zone. The guards who shot him were, post-communism, sought out and prosecuted for this, as were several senior GDR government members for actions committed at the Berlin wall. So while again I’m no lawyer, the legal precedence seems to be that just because a crime was committed under a prior totalitarians regime it will just be water under the bridge, etc., ah!….no! We can still do you for it. The “just obeying orders” defence has been thoroughly thrashed several times.

So what are the chances of western intelligence agents or politicans being convicted? Well on a legal level, and again I’m no lawyer, but I suspect the answer is quite high. There may not be a “smoking gun” that directly links, say Blair and Bush to these crimes (yet!), but there doesn’t need to be one. Take again the case of Nuremberg. The senior nazi leadership were very careful to avoid allowing any paper trail leading directly from them to the death camps (and certainly they made sure any such links went up in smoke as the third Reich fell). However, that still didn’t get them off the hook, due to the principle of command responsibility. Also, the suggestion that such a vast operation of murder as the nazi’s constructed could have been conducted without the senior nazi’s knowing about it and approving of it is quite frankly, ludicrous in the extreme. Again, the suggestion that this program of rendition could have been enacted under the noses of Bush, Blair and senior officers of the CIA and MI6 is wholly unbelievable. Either (A they were criminally incompetent by not knowing what was going on, or (B directly involved in it.

Unfortunately at a political level its not so clear how things will pan out. The NTC leadership may be seething over this, but they need western military support and later economic support, so they may have to bite their tongue for awhile. The process of whitewashing this incident is already well under way in the UK. Cameron has announced an “inquiry”, which no doubt like all the other ones will ignore the evidence or selectively interpret it and actually do nothing about it.

However, alongside Wikileaks, the danger is serious long term damage has now been done to MI5, MI6 and the CIA. If you’re the most famous spies in the world, you’re actions regularly being talked about in public inquires or long drawn out trials, then you’re also the worst spies in the world. Spies are supposed to work in the dark, the blinding light of the public discourse is as lethal to them as sunlight is to vampires. In pursuit of their ridiculous policies Blair and Bush have undermined the effectiveness of the entire Western intelligence apparatus and made a mockery of 60 years of international law.

Liberating the Libyans, Part IV – Stalemate

I’ve been meaning to comment on the Libyan situation for sometime, but have yet to have the opportunity and indeed the news keeps on becoming yet more depressing. The worst possible outcome now seems to have occurred, a bloody stalemate and a long drawn out conflict.
As I mentioned in a prior post there was a brief window of opportunity where a no-fly zone (or air strikes) could have worked. That window passed once Gaddafi flew in a load of mercenaries and used his airforce to halt the initial rebel advance. Since then he’s consolidated his hold on the rest of the country. Anyone in his government or military who hasn’t yet defected is unlikely to do so (in for a penny in for a pound and all that). The Libyan rebels have shown themselves to be brave but lacking in combat experience, training and above all else discipline or battlefield leadership. They are not up to the task. Even with NATO air cover its difficult to see them taking back the country.

Several options have been talked about in the press as to how this stalemate can be broken, we will investigate these one by one.

Option #1 – More air strikes. The problem here is, there’s not a lot left for them to bomb. All the really important targets (airbases, tanks, command and control facilities) have been destroyed. Going after any remaining targets will risk “collateral damage” (dead civilians). Aside from providing close air support to the rebels there’s not a lot else that NATO can do. And close air support is always a risky business, given the danger of bombing the wrong people by mistake. This has already happened and given the chaotic situation on the battlefield it’s a wonder he hasn’t happened more often.

Option #2 – Send in the SAS! Chances are they’re already there! Its likely special forces from NATO are actively working in Libya as forward air controllers to limit civilian casualties as well as maximise damage to Gaddafi’s forces from air strikes. However, aside from such cloak and dagger actions there’s not much these special forces can do. Libya is a desert country and inevitably the battlefield here is dominated by mobile warfare, i.e tanks, SPG’s, APC’s and IFV or indeed the “technicals” (a Toyota Hilux with a heavy cannon or recoilless rifle unit in the back). Names like Benghazi, Tobruk and Beda Fomm will of course be familiar to anyone who’s ever studied military history, as this was where the great tank battles of WW2 were fought, and they were fought here precisely because the Libyan desert is perfect tank country.
So it’s not so much boots on the ground that’s needed but tank threats on the ground. Deploying heavy armour is a slow and expensive process. You’d also need the support of the locals (which I don’t think would be forthcoming) and control of a port. Tanks on their own are useless (even in the desert) as they need a large body of infantry to support them (who are familiar with tank warfare and mounted in vehicles that can keep pace with the tanks). Tanks without fuel and ammunition aren’t much use, so an entire logistics and supply chain needs to be established.
Of course Gaddafi’s unlikely to bide his time waiting 4 months for the 1st cavalry to deploy their M1 Abram’s. No, he’ll throw everything he’s got at the rebels to try and win the war before NATO can build up its forces and start driving west. Thus the conflict would inevitably escalate substantially first. Also, there is no UN mandate for such a deployment, and I doubt any will be forthcoming. And I doubt the general public in the West (nevermind the Arab world) would support such a deployment, so by an large this is a non-starter.

Option #3 – Arm the rebels. This one falls down for some of the reasons mentioned above. The sort of hardware that would ultimately prove decisive, heavy weapons like tanks, APC’s and heavy artillery are not the sort of stuff you can put in the hands of amateurs, and sadly most of the Libyan rebels fall into this category. Poorly trained forces such as them wouldn’t be able to use such weaponry effectively and indeed the use of such weapons could greatly increase civilian casualties, so largely a non-starter until the rebels get a better trained army deployed, and that will take some time to organise.

Option #4 – Get Gaddafi! This option of course refers to “terminating Gaddafi’s command with extreme prejudice”……and I’m not talking the sort of “prejudice” prince Philip gets up to, no, much worse than that! Joke’s aside, the question is, would it make any difference? We’re assuming that Gaddafi’s in charge of his forces, and given that he’s clearly lost his marbles I’d argue that all the indication are that he’s not. The rest of his cronies, including his sons are likely calling the shots and they would carry on regardless in the event of his death. There is a slight chance that it could topple the regime, but its more likely it would simply inspire them to do much worse.
Meanwhile there is the legality of it. The UN resolution said nothing about assassinating head’s of state and I suspect it would not be considered legal under international law. Now for those of you who say, so what? The danger is that such an act would give the Gaddafi forces the moral high ground.

Option #5 – Muslim invasion. Another option is for the military of a neighbouring state to send its forces into the country. They could be invited in by the rebels, or use some pretext to declare war (i.e some of our citizens were killed by Gaddafi’s men). The Egyptians have a huge ground army, well trained too, and they could easily mop up and rout the Gaddafi forces within a few weeks, even without NATO air cover. The problem here of course is that nobody in Libya wants to be occupied by a foreign army, even one sent by a friendly Muslim neighbour. Also the neighbouring countries don’t want to be occupying Libya and, like the US in Iraq, spend the next 5 years refereeing roadside bombing competitions. And most of these countries have their own internal problems right now, so the chances of this happening are pretty low.

Option #6 – Smoke Gaddafi out with sanctions. This (along with the next) seems to be the only credible options left. Of course its precisely the option that nobody wants to see. It would take years for this one to take effect, meaning a long drawn out war. A long war means heavy casualties and an increased period of hardship and suffering for civilians. It means more economic disruption. Also it would require NATO to turn off the oil tap, i.e. blockade Gaddafi’s ports and prevent him shipping oil. As I pointed out in a previous post this would be fraught with problems. Not least of those one has to question whether the other OPEC countries have sufficient spare capacity to replace Libya’s output. Many would question whether this is the case (see my post here). Remember, up until now oil demand has been relatively low world wide as spring is a quiet time for oil demand. As we hit summer and the airline industry increases its demand for oil, and the US summer driving season starts up, there is a risk of a spike in oil prices and/or even oil shortages if OPEC can’t replace Libya’s output.
Also, we need to remember that it would still be possible for Gaddafi to smuggle the oil across his lengthy land borders with his neighbours. After the Iraq war Saddam was soon smuggling vast amounts of oil out of the country. Indeed the whole reason why sanctions were then lifted against Iraq is because they were becoming something of a joke and merely increasing the suffering of civilians. The same will likely apply in Libya. And even if sanctions could work Gaddafi is supposedly sitting on a vast sovereign wealth fund, more than enough to keep paying his mercenary army out his own cash/gold stockpiles for sometime to come.
And the longer the war goes on the more likely that civil government across the country will simply collapse. The worse case scenario? Another Somali, with the Libya collapsing into a perpetual cycle of tribal wars without end, right on the borders of Europe.

Option #7 – Compromise and a peace treaty. Really this seems to be one everyone is neglecting (for obvious reasons), but has to be taken seriously. While I doubt the olive branches coming out of Tripoli are anything other than a stalling tactic to buy time, and one doesn’t find it the least bit acceptable to make peace deals with loony dictators, this is the one option that could end the war tomorrow. As always the devils in the detail of any agreement. Some form of free and fair elections is likely to be asking too much, but something that prevents Gaddafi and his cronies hanging onto power indefinitely seems logical. Equally the rebels would need to accept that Gaddafi and his allies are going to not loose power anytime soon (thought a guarantee on the safety of civilians and an amnesty for all arrested would be the price for it) and will likely need to be given immunity from prosecution after ceding power. Unsavoury yes, but it’s the only option that doesn’t involve a long drawn out conflict as above.
Of course one could say that this last option is so unpalatable that the previous option is preferable. However, let’s not kid ourselves as the consequences of such a choice.

Option #8 – A Palace Coup. This option combines several of the above, thought isn’t really one anybody in the West can take, nor the rebels. Its more a case of exploiting an opportunity that arises. It would involve some of those backing up Gaddafi realising that the writings on the wall, the Rebels aren’t going to pack up and go home, Gaddafi’s not going to back down (and he’s off his tits) and the longer the war continues the worse off everybody is. So they “depose” of Gaddafi and his other cronies, cease power, then negotiate a peace treaty. Of course a messy compromise, granting said forces immunity from prosecution for example, if indeed not safe passage to a friendly country where they can live out their lives in safety comfort (via the proceeds of a large Swiss bank account). Unsavoury and distasteful, but if it ends the war quickly without the minimum of casualties, its one that might have to be accepted.
Unfortunately, the chances of this happening are currently slim. It would require an extended war (and sanctions) to push those behind Gaddafi…into pushing him over the edge of a balcony!

Either way, no satisfactory outcome, no silver bullet solution, is forthcoming. The only thing we can do is to resolve not to let this happen again. We need to take a harsher line against dictatorships, stop cosying up to them for the benefits of short term gain, and get the Chinese to realise that doing the same is bad for them in the long run too (dictators have a nasty habit of bitting the hand that fed them and when overthrown the new regime usually punishes those who supported the dictatorship). But for Libya right now, there is no clear exit strategy.

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….

Old man moe’s gotta go!

It looks like the growing protests in Egypt might well lead to the collapse of the Mubarak regime. While certainly it is true that Eqypt has no oil fields and the suez canal isn’t half as important as it used to be (most tankers are too big to use it and avoid it do to the pirates of the Gulf of Aden…Uaaargh!). However, its one of the key players in the region. If Mubarak goes, the writing could be on the wall for Gadaffi and the Saudi’s.

The situation has put the West, the Americans in particular in a bit of a pickle. Backing Mubarak, as they would have almost certainly done in the past is out of the question. While the danger of a military crack down now seems to have passed, if one did happen and Obama supported Mubarak before hand, he may as well ring Mitt Romney (the most likely Republican candidate in 2012) and invite him around so he can measure up the curtains of the oval office.

Furthermore history is repeating itself here. The situation parallels how the ageing shah of Iran gradually lost his grip on power and very quickly thereafter his regime was toppled. Back then, the US made the mistake of supporting the Shah, which all but drove the protestors into the arms of the Islamists who punished the US by turning Iran from the USA key regional ally, into its main regional enemy. Similarly if the West backs Mubarak and he losses power then its likely whoever takes over, Islamist or not will not be too friendly with the West. So the moral, democratic and politically sensible thing would seem to be to back the protestors and pressure Mubarak to take an extended vacation…..in Saudi Arabia!

But backing the protestors, while it seems the morally correct thing to do doesn’t guarantee things will work out well. There are the Islamists to worry about. The primary inspiration for Al-Queda is more Egyptian than Saudi, who merely provides the finance. While often seen as a largely spent force these days, there is a risk that the Muslim Brotherhood could make a come back and use the momentum of the protests to take power. If so, they won’t give a two-penny damn whether or not the US helped pressure Mubarak’s removal. While they’ll probably hold elections it would only be to give them (or more to the point Allah, or at least their interpretation of his words) permanent power. Egypt would likely quickly become a Theocratic state, and they’d probably attack Israel, though the Israeli’s would just kick the shite out of them they do. But either way it could destabilise the region.

On the other hand backing the protestors carries another risk. What if, despite it all, Mubarak hangs on? Unlikely now yes, but he’s survived 30 years and still has the backing of the Army (or so it seems). Also the protestors are leaderless and many such movements have failed to achieve a breakthrough in the past, as lacking viable leadership people have gradually tired of the constant protesting. Its possible (just) that the whole thing will just blow over and he’ll prevail. Of course if he does and the West pressured him to go he’ll then be none to pleased with the Americans and might opt to punish them somehow…such as by signing a trade or arms deal with the Chinese or North Koreans (or Iranians!).

So it’s a tricky situation for world leaders to sort out. Fortunately for Ireland, we’ve the perfect excuse right now, no foreign minister! nor Taoiseach! as an election campaign starts tomorrow. Perfect timing aye :>>!