By Jay Holmes
As the White House’s “days not weeks” line has evolved to “don’t worry, just a few months,” the missile and aircraft attacks have degraded Gadhafi’s goon squad enough to allow the Benghazi-based rebels to push west to Bin Jawad on the coastal road to Sirte. Gadhafi has traditionally taken good care of the tribal alliances of the Sirte area so the rebels might find the going a bit rougher in Sirte and on to Tripoli.
A tactical analysis of the available forces, their assets, the geography, and the leadership in the theater of operations would be a fun exercise, but likely doesn’t matter much as long as the NATO forces continue their “if it moves and belongs to Gadhafi kill it” policy. At this point, the most critical tactics will not be employed on the coastal road to Tripoli or in the air above Libya and the Gulf of Sidra.
The most critical battles that need to be decided now are of a diplomatic nature, and they will not be won or lost with another shipload of bargain basement, Chinese made AK-47’s. Rumors are floating through the political sewers of Washington, London, Paris, and Rome that an escape is being proposed to Gadhafi. Western leaders have opted for the “sources high up in the administration” unofficial leak method of announcing efforts to arrange for Momo’s departure (live departure) from Libya.
The toughest thing about playing travel agent for uncle Momo is the fact that he has so many enemies in so many places. The second toughest aspect of planning his vacation is the fact that the few “friends” that would take him are themselves in no position to guarantee their own future let alone Gadhafi’s.
If Momo leaves, he has to go to a country that is willing and accustomed to ignoring the International Court of Justice. Joseph Mugabe and a few other lower-budget despots would likely be willing to take Gadhafi if he brings some of his loot with him, or if the West is willing to pay them off in some other creative fashion. The creativity will not require any effort on our part because all despots have favors that they need or would like this week. They will all be quick to turn over their Christmas Wish List to us, in fact, and the poor diplomat that visits prospectively will have his ear filled with demands .
While the Italians are so far rumored to be the negotiators, my guess is that they will handle no more than the communications with Momo. It will take the United States, France, and the United Kingdom to make a plausible deal with a “host country.”
Getting Momo gone is the obvious best alternative to grinding out a battle to take Tripoli while magically avoiding massive civilian casualties. The less obvious and far trickier part of the equation is encouraging a transition of power that will not threaten Western nations.
Regardless of public promises made and political careers incinerated, it would be hard to imagine Egypt and the Western nations tolerating a “Tehran West” situation in Tripoli. Some of the supposed leaders of the rebellion have presented a believable facade to the West, but there are clearly some Al Qaeda affiliates involved in the dance.
The best way to avoid a long military commitment in Libya is to invest heavily in helping to create an alternative to Momo that Egypt and the West can live with. It may require some work and a little leadership, but it’s doable. The supporters of the “Islamic Radical Domino Theory” tell us that radical Islamic terrorist states must, by force of nature, replace any government that falls in the mid-east and North Africa. This theory fails to take into account the diversity of cultural and political forces at play in Libya. The Tehran West scenario is avoidable.