By Jay Holmes
In 2004, Moammar Gadhafi realized that he had to make a fundamental choice. Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups were on the rise in the Sahara. Moammar could no longer live in conflict with the oil-consuming, cash-delivering Western nations while watching the Islamic fundamentalists gain strength in Sudan, Algeria, and Tunisia. Moammar made the easy choice. He chose to look north toward Europe for his future.
From 2004 to the present, Libya has played host to a wide range of heads of state , foreign ministry officials, and banking leaders, including the leaders of the UK, Italy, Poland, Germany, and the Ukraine. The times and dates have varied, but the theme has remained constant. Gadhafi has been striving to present a believable “reformed” face to the Western media, while his visitors showed up with oil on their minds. Gadhafi increased his nation’s revenue by allowing more oil exploration and drilling. In doing so, he helped keep oil-consuming, industrialized nations from going into petroleum detox.
Uncle Momo’s willingness to suppress his strong instincts for havoc has been erratic. He has shown himself capable of delivering a speech denouncing Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, and issuing orders to send assassin teams to Malawi, Sudan, or Chad in the same day. Although Gadhafi and some of his family members did cause some trouble in the West, they also consistently avoided supporting European terror groups and blowing up airliners during this “reformed” stage of the Gadhafi saga.
Gadhafi demonstrates a clear interest in the family image makeover by presenting his son and heir apparent, Saif, as a kinder, gentler Dictator in Training. When Gadhafi wishes to back down from any harsh or oppressive measures, he frequently has Saif present the news to create the illusion that Saif Gadhafi is a more moderate influence on the regime.
Though many media commentators in the West accept Saif as a “Gadhafi for the new age,” I simply see him as a son who dutifully acts his part in the fashion that movie director Moammar commands. As fun-loving “liberals” go, Saif seems to be a bit trigger happy. Most liberals would not order their bodyguards to open fire on spectators at a soccer game simply because they booed his team. However, Saif did just that in Benghazi. Also, while Saif might not be deserving of any Oscars for his “moderate” performance, an oil-hungry West has been willing to pretend to believe it. I guess when you have enough oil to sell, you don’t have to be Gregory Peck or Lord Laurence Olivier to be believed.
Since Gadhafi felt no threat of retaliation from African nations, except from his well-armed Egyptian neighbors to his east, he demonstrated little restraint in Africa. Within Libya, itself, the population became more educated, more electronically connected to the world beyond its towns and cities, and somewhat more urban. They became, perhaps, somewhat less desperately connected to their tribal roots, and The Uncle Momo Show became less tolerable.
As Libyans watched the Ben Ali Kennel Club fold up shop in Tunisia and run off with their tails between their trembling, hitherto-unexercised legs, they perhaps felt more emboldened in their resistance to Moammar. While Libyans likely recognized Ben Ali and his particular canine pack as being “small mongrels” compared to Moammar and his wolves, the sight of the Mighty Mubarak leaving office had to seem like a miracle of sorts for Libyans and other Africans and Easterners. Mubarak commanded a well-armed and, by African standards, well-trained military, and yet, he was gone.
Libyans are attempting to seize the day in their large corner of the Sahara, but they face some major obstacles. Western leaders have thus far shown an unwillingness to commit to any military action. The minimal risk, low loss option of a “no-fly zone” spoken about by both UK and US leaders is now a few days later being described as a monumental undertaking requiring apparently more detailed planning and preparation than the 1944 invasion of Normandy and Prince William’s wedding combined. While last week it was presented as a casual “intervention light beer” option, this week the US and European governments have decided that it would first need support and approval of everyone, including Alaskan Eskimos and Australian aboriginal councils. Tribes in the upper Amazonian region are often difficult to locate so this could take a while.
When any Western government says, “Oh yes, we really will do it, just as soon as the UN is in agreement,” they are simply backing down without admitting it. If nothing else, UN participants can enjoy a temporarily upgraded illusion of doing important world business.
While US President and occasional Kenyan Barack Obama was busy explaining that we are “boxing in” Gadhafi, his Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that Colonel Gadhafi had a potentially decisive advantage in arms and equipment that would make itself felt as the conflict wore on, and that Gadhafi would win. Clapper’s performance before the US Senate audience begs several questions. Was this his view or the view that the White House instructed him to present as part of a Washington D.C. political magic show? If Obama and his staff were sincere in the surprise they demonstrated at Clapper’s statement, then why is the Director of National Intelligence not providing the President with his honest assessments in the middle of a major crisis?
Republicans were quick to respond with anger at what they claim is an undermining of the Libyan resistance and de-facto support for Moammar Gadhafi and his regime. Was Clapper doing a subtle sales job in an attempt to get Congress to demand action? If a demand for military action comes most loudly from Congress, then the White House will be able to take less of the blame for any negative consequences from that military action.
As a young, first term senator, Obama was happy to play the “I voted against war” card in his campaign for the presidency. Now that he’s president, it’s tougher to let the military do his bidding without taking a bit of the responsibility. I honestly can’t yet determine if Clapper is the flaming idiot that he presents himself as, or if he has simply been tossed on the fire before the Golden Ox of Congress. The discordant tones emanating from the White House are starting to sound depressingly like the sort of song that Uncle Momo, himself, would sing.
Suggestions are being voiced that perhaps it is time for the United States to dip into its strategic oil reserves. I disagree with the idea, but I am curious about the financial arrangements. Did taxpayers not pay for that oil to be pumped into those reserves? If so, then will Exxon be sending me a check for taking the oil? To prevent having to write so many checks, will the oil simply be passed out for free at the pump? Oh, goody. I finally get to enjoy a visit to a gas station without bringing my wallet. We can’t be sure of the financial aspects of the deal, but we can be sure that, one way or another, most of us will continue to fill our tanks and to shop for groceries at a store that depends on diesel trucks for deliveries.
This morning, neither Uncle Momo nor his rebelling subjects can be sure of Washington’s and Europe’s intentions. If meaningful help will arrive for the rebels, it will have to come from the West, but it does not, at this moment, appear to be forthcoming. It is my impression that the anti-Gadhafi forces suffered a blow to their morale when they realized that the West is avoiding military action in Libya. Intelligence Director Clapper is right in his assessment of comparative forces, but, in my view, the key to success for the rebels will be their ability and willingness to cooperate amongst themselves and organize politically, as well as militarily.
It would be unwise for the rebels to use their limited supplies and capabilities in any further attempts to dislodge Gadhafi’s loyalists from the Tripoli area. Even with their limited equipment and supplies, they have an opportunity to oust the Gadhafi Circus by utilizing a mixture of patience and opportunistic ambush tactics whenever Gadhafi forces move. Gadhafi’s forces are not particularly vulnerable in Tripoli, but whenever they take to the roads, they and their supplies will be ripe for the picking.
That strategy will require cooperation and organization. One of the challenges to cooperation and organization among the Libyan rebels is that the Islamic radicals will continue to attempt to co-opt this Libyan revolution. The Libyan rebels have not called for my advice. We shall see how they evolve their nascent revolution. Their destiny is, after all, not in the hands of Obama or Western leaders in general. Their destiny is in their hands.
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Three-part 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
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?
Hi Dave. Thanks for your questions. Holmes will have a detailed answer for you tomorrow. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂