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Wednesday, March 30

Washington's headless horseman and President Obama's Address to the Nation on Libya

President Obama's Monday address to the nation about Libya ended at 7:57 PM ET. By 8:05 PM, CNN's Nic Robertson was reporting to Anderson Cooper from Tripoli that the Libyan opposition battling Moammar Gadhafi is deeply divided in their view of the International Coalition's intervention on their behalf, with one side believing that the intervention represents an attempt to split the country in order to steal Libyan oil. I have no idea how that side came to such a ridiculous idea.

But moving along, yesterday U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in London on a cat-herding mission for President Obama, who is rather desperately trying to persuade the International Coalition to think and speak in one voice on the matter of Libya.

Desperation would be an understatement on account of Obama's advisory bench being heavy on Arab affairs advisors and light on African affairs advisors. What this means is that Obama didn't realize at first that (a) Gadhafi thinks like an African, (b) Gadhafi plays the archetypical role of the African chief, and (c) many Africans think like Africans.

What (c) boils down to, in terms of the situation at hand, is that in the view of many Libyans you give the chief the shirt off your back no matter how much he abuses you and the stronger the chief the less you complain about the abuse.

That's the way things are in Africa. That's the way things have been in Africa for countless millennia, on the theory that new-fangled ideas of government come and go while a strong father's will to protect his children is eternal.

Will this theory eventually die out? Will the Libyan opposition on the other side of the split, with leaders educated in the USA and Europe, and including a wafer-thin stratum of democracy activists, someday prevail over the atavistic African model of the most reliable form of government? One would hope so, but right now the President of the United States is facing the stark prospect that not only might Gadhafi survive the International Coalition's onslaught but also that any support Gadhafi receives in Libya could further fracture the Coalition, which is already at loggerheads on how to proceed.

Prime Minister David Cameron made an appeal for unity at the London Summit, which was attended by senior diplomats representing no less than 40 countries, including some Arab countries:
“We are all here in one united purpose, that is to help the Libyan people in their hour of need.”
But when one notes that many Africans (a) consider the Arab Spring an Arab thing (b) still think of the Arabs in Africa as conquerors and colonialists, and (c) have never stopped fuming about European colonial adventures in Libya, I'm afraid that appeals to humanitarianism play better in the United States than where it counts.

None of the above goes near addressing the problem I mentioned in the last post, which is that the 'cooperative' side of the Libyan opposition -- the side that welcomes Coalition intervention against Gadhafi -- has elements that are sympathetic to America's enemies. Top of the enemies list is al Qaeda.

To put the cherry on top, Gadhafi is not a forgive-and-forget sort of person. Thusly, if he survives one must assume he'll divert a considerable portion of Libyan oil revenue to wreaking terrorism on the countries that shot up his air defense system. Top of the shooters list would be the United States of America. Against this prospect is the major rationale Obama cited last night for the timing of the U.S. military action in Libya:
Now, we saw regime forces on the outskirts of [Benghazi]. We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi –- a city nearly the size of Charlotte –- could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.
As I noted in the March 15 post, Gadhafi had no intention of launching a massacre in Benghazi, which would have been counterproductive for his purposes. His plan was to partly encircle the city, then use a variety of measures to encourage and pressure the Benghazis to drive the rebel leaders through the opening in the circle, out into the desert, where he intended to pick off the leaders. So this was going to be a waiting game, not an invasion.

However, governments are entitled to their propaganda and Gadhafi might have been lying in his teeth, so I won't labor the point about Obama's hair-trigger response to Gadhafi's military threat to Benghazi. Moving to the major secondary rationale Obama cited:
A massacre would have driven thousands of additional refugees across Libya’s borders, putting enormous strains on the peaceful -– yet fragile -– transitions in Egypt and Tunisia. The democratic impulses that are dawning across the region would be eclipsed by the darkest form of dictatorship, as repressive leaders concluded that violence is the best strategy to cling to power. The writ of the UN Security Council would have been shown to be little more than empty words, crippling its future credibility to uphold global peace and security. So while I will never minimize the costs involved in military action, I am convinced that a failure to act in Libya would have carried a far greater price for America.
Yes, the refugee problem is considerable. On Monday CNN correspondent Ivan Watson reported that refugees from Libya had been flooding into Tunisia and Egypt at the rate of 15,000 per day. That the flood had been stanched somewhat since the Coalition took military action didn't mean an end to the humanitarian crisis created by the refugees.

And yet the price of all that for America can't be counted because right now there is no limit to the cost of blinkered U.S. initiatives to bring about democratic reform in Egypt; that's because the sky's the limit for the unintended consequences.

If you ask what initiatives I'm talking about -- I forgot to mention that part, perhaps because of embarrassment that I led myself down the garden path after I read a Wikileaks leaked State Department cable about Egypt that the (U.K.) Telegraph published on January 28. You remember that cable; right? I discussed it in the February 14 post in which I contended that under cover of 'peaceful' protests Egypt's military had launched a successful coup to remove Gamal Mubarak and the Gamalists from power.

From the cable's wording it certainly seemed that the idea to have the Obama administration back Egypt's April 6 Youth Movement had been abandoned, so I assumed that the entire project had been shelved. What I didn't stop to consider was that there could be many similar projects afoot in Washington, and that these were never abandoned. So I got a nasty jolt, which frankly I'm still recovering from, when I read Associated Press Special Correspondent Charles J. Hanley's report on March 12 titled, US training quietly nurtured young Arab democrats, and which reads in part:
The revolutionary roar from the Arab street, shaking the palaces of the privileged, toppling presidents, has echoed around the globe, dominating the headlines and airwaves for weeks. But behind this story of political upheaval lies another, quieter story of outside organizations that, with U.S. government and other money, tutored a young Arab generation in the ways of winning in a political world.

All involved emphasize that what has happened sprang from deeply rooted grievances in the autocratic Arab world, not from outside inspiration. But they say the confidence-building work of democratic coaches, led by the U.S. but also including Europeans, was one catalyst for success.

That success, meanwhile, points up a core paradox: A U.S. government that long stood by Mubarak and other Arab leaders as steadfast allies was, at the same time, financing programs that ultimately contributed to his and potentially others' downfall.

Some see American shrewdness at work, covering multiple political bets in Egypt and elsewhere. Others see an America too big and complex to be consistent.

"Speaking as a Canadian, one of the beauties of the U.S. system is that there are many, many entry points in many centers of power, and they can have conflicting policies," said Les Campbell, Middle East chief for the U.S. National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.

The NDI, affiliated with the Democratic Party, and the GOP-affiliated International Republican Institute (IRI) are links in the nurturing "democratic assistance" web, key conduits for grants from the State Department's Agency for International Development (USAID) and from the National Endowment for Democracy, a private organization funded by the U.S. Congress.
[...]
If readers who've been with this blog for years find Hanley's report to have a familiar ring, you might be recalling the following report from Ian Trayner at the (U.K.) Guardian, which I've mentioned several times over the years, and which received mention on the first day of this blog's existence, on November 28, 2004:

November 26, 2004
US Behind the Turmoil in Kiev
[...]
Ukraine, traditionally passive in its politics, has been mobilised by the young democracy activists and will never be the same again. But while the gains of the orange-bedecked "chestnut revolution" are Ukraine's, the campaign is an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding and mass marketing that, in four countries in four years, has been used to try to salvage rigged elections and topple unsavoury regimes.
[...]
The Democratic party's National Democratic Institute [NDI], the Republican party's International Republican Institute [IRI], the US state department and USAID are the main agencies involved in these grassroots campaigns as well as the Freedom House NGO and billionaire George Soros's Open Society Institute. [...]
If American readers -- and for that matter, readers in Western Europe -- say, 'Forget the history lesson; how much is putting humpty-dumpty back together again going to cost us?' -- well, as I mentioned earlier, there are many unintended consequences spinning out from the magical ouster of Hosni Mubarak -- magical, that is, to audiences throughout the Middle East, who watched the CNN International and Al Jazeera Hollywood-style productions made from the Egyptian protests and thought, 'Oh snap, we can do that here, too.'

So, again, because there's no way to factor in the unintended consequences at this point there's no way to even estimate the cost to taxpayers who'll be stuck with the bill for putting Libya back together into some semblance of order.

Technically, the Gadhafi assets frozen by UN mandate should cover the costs for Libya, but those can't be disbursed immediately and immediately is what's needed. As to the cost in human lives and wrecked economies to -- again, there's no way to tell at this point how much it will add up to.

The taxpayer doesn't necessarily have to pay immediately, at least not the American taxpayer. That's because the Federal Reserve can simply make more money, or the appearance of more money, by pressing a few keys on computers. Of course there is a huge cost to that way of funding activities running into many billions of dollars. But large amounts of money must be found immediately. To quote again from Charles Hanley's report:
National Endowment money, $100-million-plus a year, is at work in more than 90 countries worldwide. But it's the USAID grants, from an $800 million budget for developing "political competition" and "civil society" in 67 nations, that have proved vital to activists in a half-dozen Arab lands, from Morocco to Yemen. Some $104 million was requested for them in the proposed 2011 budget.

In post-Mubarak Egypt, that help is about to balloon.

Of a $150 million Egyptian "transition fund" announced by Washington, $50 million will go toward democracy and governance programs like the ones that have nurtured hundreds of Egypt's rising democrats, The Associated Press has learned. That would triple the 2011 funding previously planned.

"We need more support, and fast," said Abdallah Helmy, 34, co-founder of Egypt's dissident Reform and Development Party and one who benefited in recent years from "hundreds and hundreds of hours" of U.S.-supported training in everything from managing campaigns and elections to using Twitter, Facebook and other social media for political messaging.

It's estimated more than 10,000 Egyptians since 2005 have participated in USAID-financed democracy and governance programs, carried out by NDI, IRI and 28 other international and Egyptian organizations - not only political training, but also projects to prepare judges, build PTA-style school associations and otherwise deepen civic involvement.
[...]
Those are all wonderful projects. Pity they wouldn't be worth much in a country where the military cut a deal with the Muslim Brotherhood in exchange for the Brothers' help in ousting Gamal Mubarak. The March 24 New York Times report that discusses speculation about such a deal doesn't mention the part about a coup; to my knowledge the Times hasn't entertained the possibility that a coup happened.

Anyhow the Times report came too late to warn Egypt's secular democracy activists who were engaged in the protests -- although I seem to recall that John Batchelor warned during the early days of the Egyptian protests that the Brothers and the military had cut a deal, and repeated the warning more than once on his show and his blog. Yet within days of Hosni Mubarak's departure from office, and without prompting from outsiders, many secular Egyptians who took part in the protests did become suspicious that they'd been duped by the military and even some of their leaders; unfolding events in Egypt have not eased their suspicions.

In short, it's going to take huge infusions of cash and technical help if Egypt's genuine democracy advocates are to have even a ghost of chance against a coalition of the military's old guard, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the most radical of Egypt's conservative organizations.

To argue that establishing a genuine democracy is always a rocky road would be to ignore or overlook that it would have been impossible for the military to stage a bloodless coup in Egypt without the assistance of the Western-trained democracy activists who planned and led the initial protests. That the activists might have been innocent dupes wouldn't change the fact that democracy activism, as taught and funded by Western organizations, made it possible for Egypt's military to palm a coup in full view of the world.

If you want to argue that there was no coup I'll be glad to debate you on that score, and I'll do it in a Note at the end of this post. For now, the point is that the more players involved in democracy-promotion initiatives that are mounted or supported by foreign governments, the harder it becomes to monitor them all and control how they're used, and where the funds actually end up.

It all started with the best of intentions, in the 1980s, with the establishment of the National Endowment for Democracy to promote democracy around the world. Its activities were to be closely monitored by Congress because even though it was a private organization it would receive federal funding. The idea worked so well that others started copying it. Not in a year or two but over decades a thick forest of NGOs, GONGOs (government-sponsored non-governmental organizations) and INGOs (international GONGOs) grew up.

The idea became attractive to all kinds of players, not all of them interested in democracy. But set aside democracy initiatives that are fronts for lobbies only interested in business deals or in manipulating a country's politics; set aside local crooks and transnational criminal gangs that set up phony NGOs to cover their tracks. I'm talking about what happened when the sincere democracy-promotion organizations morphed into a kind of industry -- a completely unregulated one.

Les Campbell spoke of the "many, many entry points in many centers of power," in America and called this a beautiful system even though it could produce conflicting policies.

But when the unintended consequences arising from the activities of thousands of people scattered across hundreds of organizations, agencies and departments that operate out of sight of the American voter and often in conflict or with no coordination and official mandate suddenly manifest in the screaming headlines of crisis, what then of the beautiful system?

What then is that there's no one to call to account -- no one to bring before a congressional committee or eject from political office, no one to ask, 'What were you thinking, you goddamn lunatic?'

There is only dense fog on a moonless night in Washington, the hooting of an owl wheeling along the dark waters of the Potomac River and the faint sound of a horse's hooves nearer and nearer --

March 30
Hillary Rodham Clinton remark at London [summit], "... to achieve their aspirations through political change ..." is the blandest way of describing what begins now as years of manipulation and misdirection by the Euro colonial powers to secure the energy fields of Libya without looking as if they are running 6 million people as feudal tenants.

The obstacle to this utopian fairy tale is Q [Gadhafi]. Am told Q is looking at exile and sniffing, 'What about Charles Taylor, oh great Uncle Sugar?' You promised him safe exile in Nigeria if he'd depart his Monrovia nest; however, as soon as the Liberian gov changed hands and decided that Taylor was an outlaw (guided by the geniuses at George Bush State) the ICC closed in and Chuck T sits in the Hague playing video games and hiding his money.
[...]
Q knows the ICC is the threat, and he does not believe State. Also, the rebels are a nightmare of stooges and regime plants. Also the rebel soldiers are all featured on Al Q jihadist websites as heroes of Iraq and Afghanistan. Guys we used to chase we are now protecting with air.

Laughter is a useful emotional release for the You Can't Make This Stuff Up planet of chuckleheads and deadbeats called Earth.

Final note: the deep conflict in London is that Pop Q wants Saif Q to take command of apparatus at Tripoli and run election which he will win overwhelmingly. The Benghazi TNC, stooges all with Western educations and Euro bank accounts, reject this Son-for-Dad deal as the end of their days. Pop the popcorn, as the Italians and Turks love the deal, and the US and French hate it.
-- Saif to the rescue; John Batchelor
Who, then, is the victim in all this madness? For a headless horseman must always have a victim. The victim is America's most cherished values, which Barack Obama spoke with great feeling about during his address to the nation about Libya.

******
Note

The Coup

First, for those who read my February 14 post on Egypt but missed the update I added on the 17th, I'll fill you in. On February 14 STRATFOR chief George Friedman joined Associated Press Cairo Bureau Chief Hamza Hendawi in concluding that the Egyptian military used the protests in the country to carry out a 'soft' coup that was aimed at forcing Hosni Mubarak to resign. And while Friedman stressed the military's fear that Hosni's youngest son, Gamal, would be the father's successor as president, he stayed with Hendawi's view that the coup was an ad hoc affair; i.e., improvised after the protests were already underway.(1)(2)

My analysis, the one I published on the 14th, had gone much further than Hendawi and Friedman; I'd concluded that a cadre in the military's high command (the 'Old Guard') had used youth groups to stage protests that masked a coup, which was aimed at routing not Hosni but Gamal and Gamal's closest associates.

However, I had little evidence to shore my contention that the military had planned the initial protests as cover for a coup, and the evidence I'd scraped together could only be considered suggestive. I'd based my conclusion almost entirely on what I'd learned about Egypt's military and its increasingly desperate struggle against the Gamalists, and also on logical argument. In the update I used the same logic to dispute Friedman's conclusion that the coup had been ad hoc:

Friedman had emphasized the military's struggle against Gamal, which was heating up as Egypt's 2011 presidential election drew near. Yet Friedman was willing to assume that despite their desperation the military's Old Guard would simply wait and hope for a serendipitious moment to give them an opportunity to oust Gamal.

The Old Guard was in no position to wait and hope. Ironically, a February 16 report from STRATFOR titled Egypt's Next Crisis: The Economy, aided my argument. The report, which was republished by the Market Oracle website, throws vastly more light on the Old Guard's reasons for wanting to oust Gamal than even the reports I'd used as the basis for my analysis.

What I found most astonishing about the STRATFOR report is that it revealed that Gamal and his band of reformers in the government had achieved more success in breaking the military's hold on the Egyptian economy than had been reported before to the public -- at least, the publics outside Egypt:
Until just a few years ago, Egypt’s ruling military elite was able to “borrow” money from Egyptian banks with no intention of paying it back. President Hosni Mubarak’s son Gamal changed all that, reforming and privatizing the system in order to build an empire for himself.
[...]
One of the many changes [Gamal] made was empowering the central bank to actually enforce underwriting standards at the banks. The effort began in 2004, and early estimates indicated that as many as one in four outstanding loans had no chance of repayment.

By 2010 the system was largely reformed and privatized, and the military elite’s ability to tap the banks for “loans” had largely disappeared. The government was then able to step into that gap and tap the banks’ available capital to fund its budget deficit. In fact, it is this arrangement that allowed Egypt to weather the recent global financial crisis as well as it did. For the first time in centuries, Egypt’s financial position was not entirely dependent upon outside forces.
[...]
From Gamal Mubarak’s point of view, four problems had been solved. The government had more stable financing capacity, the old military guard had been weakened, the banks were in better shape, and he was able to build his own corporate empire on the redirected financial flows in the process.

But these changes and others like them earned the Mubarak family the military’s ire. Mubarak and his reform-minded son are out of the picture now, and the reform effort with them.

With the constitution suspended, the parliament dissolved and military rule the order of the day, it stretches the mind to think that the central bank will be the singular institution that will retain any meaningful policy autonomy.

If the generals take the banks back for themselves, Egypt will have no choice but to seek international funds to cover its budget shortfalls. Incidentally, we do not find it surprising that now — five days after the protests ended — the banks are still closed by order of the military government.

Yet Egypt cannot simply tap international debt markets like a normal country. While its foreign debt load is small, its total debt levels are very similar to states that have faced default and/or bailout problems in the past. An 8-percent-of-GDP budget deficit and a 72-percent-of-GDP government debt load are teetering on the edge of what is sustainable.
[...]
Based on all I've learned about Gamal I'd dispute that he undertook the reforms for the express purpose of building a personal financial empire. And in any event he would have needed all the financial empire he could muster in order to keep prying the Old Guard's fingers away from Egypt's throat.

I also dispute Friedman's claim, in the February 14 report, that Hosni wanted his son to succeed him in the near term; see my Valentine's Day post for my reasons, although I won't plant a flag on that point. I'm willing to concede that the Old Guard might have had inside information that Gamal was going to make a try for the presidency in 2011.

I'll even concede that there could have been two coups - the one I outlined, and the kind of ad hoc coup that Hendawi and Friedman described. I can see how the Old Guard, once noting the military was being hero-worshipped by the protestors, might have decided to throw Hosni to the lions just to make Double Dutch sure that Gamal had no more supporters in the regime -- even though Hosni made every concession the they wanted on January 29 by naming Old Guard champion Omar Suleiman as vice president and calling for the resignation of Egypt's Cabinet, thus ejecting the peskiest of the Gamalist economic reformers from government.

But no matter how you slice and dice it the Old Guard had to act. If they didn't want to resort to a wave of assassinations to solve their Gamal problem their best window for action was the annual Police Day commemoration in Tahrir Square on January 25.

Their biggest problem would have been persuading the April 6 Youth Movement leaders and other activist group leaders that if they mustered their followers to come out in full force to protest on Police Day, they wouldn't be targets of a sting operation to single out and neutralize opposition ahead of the presidential election. They managed to persuade them, but all that for another day.

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