Never hit a man with your fist if someone else will hit him with his car.

Special Edition Libya: Worldwide Poker Game

By Jay Holmes

In our last post, Dave asked, “How much of the reluctance to act is the result of pressure from European allies concerned about their vulnerability to interruption in the flow of gas and oil from Libya? Or is this just homegrown lack of decisiveness?

This is Holmes’ response. . . .

Thank you for your question Dave. The quick answer is “both,” but if you are bored today keep reading. In my view, there are multiple factors that contribute to inertia in any military activity by the West in Libya. From the European point of view, Italy and the UK have the most to lose in Libya, except for the Libyan people, and they are both wanting to avoid mistakes. Sometimes failure to act while avoiding mistakes can, in itself, be a very big mistake.

The UK has a huge financial stake in Libya and is as oil-dependent as any industrial nation is. Current UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, made clear his disgust for the UK’s unsavory “terrorist prisoner release for oil” dealings with Libya, but he faces the same economic realities that his predecessors did. The UK needs oil from, and trade with, Libya.

In Italy, Berlusconi has been happy to deal openly with Libya, and 70% of Italy’s oil addiction is supplied by that country. Also, Italy has agreements in place with Libya for massive works projects to be completed, principally, by Italian construction companies.

France, and, to a lesser degree, Germany, had been attempting to sign significant trade agreements with Libya, as well. We cannot know what deals are being proposed by whom in the back alleys of Europe’s capitols or in US oil companys’ board rooms, but the motives are easy enough to imagine.

We are not the only one’s wondering about any “deals.” The rebels will naturally maintain their own suspicions about who wants what, but if they are smart they will understand the easy opportunity to make promises of future commercial cooperation in exchange for help now. Overall, Europe may be hoping for the US to act while they play the “slow” game. That way, they can avoid responsibility for any casualties or political fallout while reaping the rewards of any US military activity.

There is, in reality, no military reason why European military forces could not easily handle any intervention in Libya without involvement by US forces. Europe has been touting the superior magical qualities of the Euro-fighter since its conception. Europe now has the opportunity to demonstrate the “fight” aspect of the “Eurofighter,” and France could show us the superiority that they have been claiming for their fighter aircraft as well. Let’s see if it happens. Are they just tax-funded, expensive paperweights, or will they be used as Von Clausewitz, a political theorist, would recommend, as an extension of European political policy? Any desire by European governments for US intervention in Libya would be driven by the desire for the USA to pay the lion’s share of the fiscal and political costs.

As for the USA, Obama ran on a somewhat “anti-military” platform. He told us that he would quickly clean up the mess in Iraq, and that he would chase terrorists from Afghanistan while leaving a tidy little democracy in place. He has thus far achieved neither of these goals. In addition, the US courts have apparently crippled his controversial health care reform bill. Obama has used up lots of political capital without achieving any correspondent political victories since coming to power. And on top of these obvious failures, he still faces massive unemployment in the US.

Obama has proposed budget cuts for the Military while still having to feed the gods of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. War gods don’t usually work cheap. They require blood and treasure. For Obama to order US forces to intervene in Libya may be pragmatic in strategic terms and easy in military terms, but it would not be welcomed by his shrinking political base at home. Self-declared, lock-step American “liberals” are not likely to support a Republican candidate, but Obama and the rest of his party need the vote of pragmatic independents to avoid disaster in the next elections.

Naturally, North Korea was not going to let this period of Western stress pass without trying to improve crazy Kim’s position on the world’s geopolitical stage. Not surprisingly, Little Kimy has announced the development of a magnetic impulse nuclear weapon.

In case Obama didn’t have enough on his mind, he has had to respond to the sad tragedy in Japan by having the US Navy use 3rd Fleet (east Pacific) ships to reinforce the US 7th Fleet (far east fleet) in an attempt to deliver medical and logistical aid to the earthquake-ravaged northeastern Japan. Even the USA has a finite number of naval assets. And while the US 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean has been reinforced to deal with Libya, the US 5th Fleet (Indian Ocean) is continuing its operations in support of our forces in Afghanistan and must deal with ongoing threats by Iran in the straits of Hormuz. And then we have those nasty pirates in Somalia to contend with.

The US Navy is busy this month, and the Pentagon would love to have use of the US-financed bases in Italy to utilize US Air Force assets to conduct any air operations over Libya. If, after financing these bases and pouring in so many millions of dollars into the Italian economy for more than half a century, Italy refuses to cooperate on this point, I think it would represent a turning point for the USA in its troublesome and costly relations with Italy. Change would come quietly, but change would indeed come.

Both Obama and his European “allies” would love to see Gadhafi vanish from the world political stage. In this they are in agreement. But neither Europe, nor the US, wants to help usher in the world’s next theocratic tyrant state. The Libyan revolutionaries have yet to organize enough to present a clear image of themselves to the West so the West is not yet sure what it is being asked to support.

The Arab League has, in a sense, passed the ball back to the Western powers by quickly agreeing to a “no fly” operation over Libya. They are, at the same time, demanding “no military intervention by the West.” I guess in English we can translate that as “make Gadhafi go away, and then we’ll be mad at you for it.” Hardly a surprise.

It seems to me that the most critical need for the Libyan rebels is to establish believable communications with the Western powers. Against this obvious need, they feel a strong instinct to obtain their own “victory” without Western intervention. The rebels will have to get over their own cultural limitations if they wish assistance from the West in removing Gadhafi.

Obama and his policy formulators will have to make their best calculation of what the sum of all the forces at play add up to. This normally simple Newtonian calculation is complicated by everyone’s inability to accurately define the Libyan rebels.

Everyone wants that malodorous diaper changed, but no one wants to be the one to clean the offending baby.

Now take two aspirin and call me in the morning if you need another headache.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

 A history of Libya to help us understand the current dynamics of the unfolding situation:

Special Edition Libya: Timeline, Part I

Special Edition Libya: Timeline, Part II

Special Edition Libya: Timeline, Part III

An Analysis as of March 12, 2011.


6 thoughts on “ Special Edition Libya: Worldwide Poker Game

  1. on ,
    Dave said:


    OK, don’t laugh too hard at my naiveté, but how about this… Indirectly, the US paid for a lot of really nice military hardware to show up in Egypt. Rumor has it that the ties between the US and Egypt in military circles have been more effective than those between the diplomats. How about getting the Egyptians to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya? They could be backed up by a few of those Hawkeyes discreetly giving them tips on where the targets are. The Egyptians get to flex their muscle on the world stage, giving their national image a boost, perhaps getting a little under the table from all the other Arab leaders that can’t stand Gadhafi anyway. It would show that they are still a force to be reckoned with and are willing to act as leaders in the Middle East.
    Laughing may now commence…

    • Holmes: Your idea is not far-fetched. I assume that Saudi Arabia and Western diplomats have inquired about the possibility of Egyptian intervention. As for what would be required of us to help the Egyptians, the military answer is “zero.” Egypt has over 500 combat aircraft on operational status. Their Air Force is adequately equipped and trained to suppress or destroy the Libyan Air Force without assistance from NATO members if they should decide to do so. Their leadership may still be in partial disarray due to their own domestic problems. My guess is that in the short term Egypt will try to avoid taking on any overt involvement in Libya.

  2. Hmmm…I say we tell the Arab League to so suck on an old sock from Michael Moore’s stash, pull our troops out of the region and tell Europe to deal with it. We have enough problems in our own hemisphere, so we don’t need to be the world’s policeman…

    Anyway Holmes, isn’t this more of a situation where Obama is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t? I mean, if they really dislike the West that much, why even bother? Shouldn’t the US and Europe just leave them to their own devices? I just HAD to ask…

    Out of all the headliners this week, why is it that Ghadafi is actually WINNING and Sheen is actually WHINING? Sorry Holmes! Sorry Piper…That’s what happens when I multi-task.

    • Holmes: Thank you for your important perspective. You are not alone in your isolationist view. The sight of young Americans dying far from home and the smoke cloud caused by the burning cash leave most Americans wondering how best to avoid further losses.

      Against our isolationist instincts, we are faced with the legitimate fear of Islamic fundamentalist aggression and our need for international trade including petroleum.

      While few Americans welcome the loss of life and the financial costs involved in intervention, few would accept a total loss of US influence in the Old World. Trying to find the sensible response to the forces at play is where the debate grows more heated.

      As for Obama, like any US president since Truman, he will be criticized no matter what he does or fails to do in regards to foreign policy. Party loyalists from both major parties will likely either worship or hate him, depending on their party loyalty rather than depending on anything that Obama does or fails to do. Little that Obama can do shall change those folks. Those Americans willing to form their own ideas will determine the actual “win” or “loss” for Obama and his party.

      President Obama is faced with the same challenge that every president faces. My hope for Obama is the same as it has been for every other president that I have observed. I hope that he can and will make the best decisions possible based on the circumstances that he faces.

      As for Charlie Sheen, he would serve as a fantastic diplomatic decoy. I think Charlie could serve the world best this week by directing his social efforts toward forging a warm bond of friendship with Uncle Momo. His old pal, Sean Penn, has vast experience in diplomacy, and they would make a great pair. Perhaps the sage political commentator, Rush Limbaugh, could head up their task force. The heat from the colliding egos could drive a steam turbine and generate valuable kilowatts of electricity for mankind.

    • Holmes: We have other plans for Chuck this week. We are hoping he will agree to fly to that always violent and often detested third world city, Washington DC, in order to sneak into a back window of the Capitol and find the missing cash. Can Chuck dodge the local carjackers, meth dealers, pimps, and congressional aids to accomplish his mission? Stay tuned for further developments.

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