Wednesday, April 13

Libya: Under increased pressure from Sarkozy and Cameron, Merkel hangs tough; Obama, staring into abyss of U.S. debt crisis, votes "present."

This in from The New York Times:
Pentagon Says It Has Kept Up Some Strikes on Libya
By Thom Shanker

WASHINGTON — Pentagon officials disclosed Wednesday that American warplanes had continued to strike targets in Libya even after the Obama administration said the United States was stepping back from offensive missions and letting NATO take the lead.
There's more to the report, much more, but I'll just note here that according to the Times "the disclosure came one day after fissures opened among the allies over the scope and the intensity of attacks against Libyan government forces. Britain and France, in particular, called on NATO and its partners to intensify strikes."
April 13, 2011, from Reuters updated report on Libya:
On Tuesday [French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe] criticised NATO for not doing enough to stop the bombing of Misrata. French daily Le Monde reported that Defence Minister Gerard Longuet had also said more U.S. participation in military strikes was needed in order to stem attacks by Gaddafi's army.
March 31, 2011, from the transcript of Eliot Spitzer's March 31 interview with French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy on CNN's In the Arena:
SPITZER: Let's fast forward this because there's so much more to the story. [Sarkozy] gets them -- you go to Paris, he then recognizes the [Benghazi council] government --

LEVY: And I tell [Sarkozy], I tell him absolutely. I tell him there is French flags today in Benghazi. If there is a bloodbath, the blood of the people of Benghazi will go on the French side --

SPITZER: You made a moral argument to him.

LEVY: Not only I made the moral argument, I spoke with my heart. I spoke with my consciousness, and I -- it was a conversation from one heart to another heart. He is president of France, but he's a man --

SPITZER: And he then did this without even speaking so, we're told, to his foreign minister, to the leadership of his party? You must be one persuasive advocate.

LEVY: Not -- that is not the point. I think that he knew -- he understood that if he began to put everybody in the story, nothing would happen. You know, bureaucracy, administration, European partners --

SPITZER: So what you're saying --

LEVY: So what -- Mrs. Merkel did after -- how she tried to block the process. Just imagine if Sarkozy had told her before. She would have done even more.

SPITZER: So he acted when other people spoke. He moved when the U.N. was dithering. You can -- don't need to be so polite. And the consequence of this was that by leading, everybody else followed -- the United Nations, the United States.

LEVY: Yes.
In the Spirit World post (April 11) I had to bite my tongue to avoid voicing my suspicion that France's President Nicolas Sarkozy had used an uprising in Libya as an excuse to pummel Germany's government out of its increasingly stubborn opposition to any and all schemes emanating from Brussels that require Germany to keep writing large checks. However, I tried to convey what my tongue wouldn't say by making shameless use of the spirit world, which is how an old French proverb ("You have to know how to give an egg to get an ox") got dragged into the story.

If my suspicion is correct then it would be closer to the truth to say that Sarkozy laid an egg in the effort to get an ox. I don't know if the Libyan situation represents the first time a country started a war on the advice of a philosopher -- and it's splitting hairs to say it's not a war -- but that's what happened.

(Read the entire transcript from the Spitzer-Levy discussion if you're having trouble imagining a universe in which a head of state uses as a philosopher as a forward observer.)

The (U.K.) Guardian, which has been keeping a close eye on Sarkozy and the French press since all of this started, clearly thinks that Sarkozy's hawkishness is motivated by domestic political reasons; I'm not so sure it's that simple or that Sarkozy is that cynical. The Reuters report spoke of signs that "cracks" were appearing in the NATO alliance because of the Libya situation. The cracks had appeared even before Germany refused to support the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq; what we're seeing today, in the argument about Libya, is a window on the gulf that opened up in NATO in 2009 (See the Spirit World post). The Washington Post reported this morning:
[...] Both the French and British governments have complained that other countries in the 28-member [NATO] alliance are not doing enough.

The differences in approach to the intervention were also apparent on Wednesday, when foreign ministers and other officials of the nations involved in the bombing campaign gathered in Doha, the Qatari capital. The officials planned to weigh options and seek ways to accelerate a negotiated end to what has become an inconclusive civil war of see-saw battles for cities along Libya’s Mediterranean shore.[...]
But there was no civil war until French, and then UN and NATO interventions, created one. There was an uprising, fueled by anti-Gadhafi Libyans watching cable television reportage on the 'Arab Spring' and principally the Egyptian protests -- but without realizing that what they were seeing on TV of the protests was a military coup masquerading as a people's revolution.

(I suspect I would find the same situation in Tunisia if I started digging; this on account of there is no such thing as a bloodless revolution against an authoritarian regime unless the military backing the regime gives the green light.)

As for a negotiated settlement, the rebels don't want one; they want their own country. To get from here to there they want weapons, military training, more NATO bombing campaigns, and money -- lots of money -- from the 'international community.' So now the United Nations is frantically dialing for dollars to ward off what it terms a humanitarian disaster, and today the U.K. foreign secretary William Hague "called for Libya's rebel movement to receive international funding as Nato members and their allies met for talks on the north African country's deadlocked civil war." This, according to the Financial Times.

Meanwhile, over in the USA, Washington is peering into the abyss. From Eliot Spitzer's interview with Reagan Administration budget director, David Stockman, on April 11:
STOCKMAN [...] We are issuing $6 billion of debt every day and suddenly the field has changed in terms of who's buying that. Japan was buying a lot. They're out of business because of this tragedy. They're turning inward.

China was buying a lot. They just had a trade deficit for the first time in five or six years. They'll be buying much less [U.S.] debt. The Fed was buying a huge amount in QE2 [second phase of Fed's quantitative easing] They're done in June.

And then today one of the biggest bond funds, the biggest hedge fund in the world, announced that they're shorting the Treasury bond. In other words, they're selling the bond. They're not buying it. So I think we're in -- you know, facing this serious crisis within weeks and months.[...]
"Serious crisis?" We're seeing the ground opening beneath our feet.

The good news is that after noticing that the earth was moving even the most hawkish expansionists in Washington have gotten very quiet about Libya these last few days, and that our nation's president has had much practice from his time in Congress at simply voting "present."

So as things stand at this moment -- to return to the Washington Post report:
[T]he Obama administration appeared to reject the possibility of an expanded U.S. military role [in Libya] in the near future. A State Department spokesman insisted Tuesday that NATO was performing adequately in enforcing the no-fly zone and said the alliance was fine-tuning its tactics to address complaints about the campaign’s effectiveness.

“We have every confidence in NATO’s ability to carry out the task of enforcing the arms embargo, as well as the no-fly zone and the protection of civilians in Libya,” the spokesman, Mark Toner, told reporters in Washington.

“The U.S., of course, as needed, would help out if requested in other capacities. But, really, our role has receded.”
Here's hoping, because according to the Post the pressure on Obama is ramping up:
Maurizio Massari, a spokesman for Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, said NATO countries should furnish arms to the rebels fighting to topple Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, saying that was the best way to assure the the rebels’ defense. The suggestion implied that the NATO-led air strikes were incapable of protecting the insurgents and their de facto capital, Benghazi, from persistent assaults by Gaddafi loyalists.

But news agency reports said that Belgium, backed by Germany, contended that providing arms to the rebels would go beyond the scope of the U.N. Security Council resolution that authorized Western bombing against Gaddafi’s troops as a way to protect civilian populations.

Tuesday’s unusual public criticism of the Libya operations from French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and British Foreign Secretary William Hague raised questions about NATO’s ability to smoothly conduct such a large-scale and sustained military operation without the United States playing a commanding role, as it has in the past.

“The Americans have the numbers of planes, and the Americans have the right equipment,” said Francois Heisbourg, a military specialist at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris.
The only way I can see out of this mess, at present, is to first send Bernard-Henri Levy back to Benghazi. Have him explain to the rebel leaders the facts of life in a post-Japan tsunami world, and in a world where NATO no longer marches in lockstep.

Then send Libya's former foreign minister Moussa Koussa back to Tripoli. Have him explain to Col. Gadhafi that there's a face-saving dénouement but that it would hinge on his not wreaking revenge on the Benghazi rebels.

Yes yes supposedly Koussa is a defector but whether or not this is true he could return under the protection of NATO, as a negotiator.

According to the Guardian, Koussa was planning on meeting today with rebel leaders who were in attendance at the Doha meeting. No word yet on how that turned out but whatever settlement offer could be broached at this point, I think it would be heard most clearly from the French.

As long as the rebels believe that France will continue to carry the standard for them at all costs, they will not be in a mood to settle. The longer they remain in that mood the closer Libya's humanitarian crisis moves toward catastrophe
-- a catastrophe that will spill into neighboring countries and Europe, as Libya's humanitarian crisis has already done.

The bottom line is that even with a military victory and control of several oil fields, the rebels are not capable of starting and managing a nation without massive assistance that Germany is not going to provide, the French and British can't afford to provide, and that the USA would be stark-raving mad to provide.

As to where my advice would leave America's promotion of democracy -- which promotion would that be? The debacle in Afghanistan, which has resulted in the country's Muslim hardliners running the show in Kabul? The bloodbath that occurred in Iraq because Paul Bremer confused an economic theory -- Neoliberalism -- with the principles of sound democratic government? (1) The misapplication of Gene Sharp's tactics to Iran? The installation of U.S. puppets during the Orange and Rose revolutions? Or how about if we go all the way back to Indochina and ask whatever happened to the great democracy promotion that resulted in the Vietnam War?

My second essay on this blog praised the principle of the democracy doctrine. But my third essay, and many subsequent ones, argued that Washington had to learn to play it straight when promoting democracy around the world.

Yet playing it straight is only half the task; the other half requires knowing how to intelligently promote democracy. We're not there yet, and now Germany and the United States cannot afford to help patch mistakes after the fact. So the operative phrase for U.S. foreign policy in this era must be "Look before you leap."

1) For readers who didn't closely follow the doings of the Coalition Provisional Authority under Paul Bremer: To his everlasting credit he played a key role in getting a written Constitution for Iraq. Beyond that it was pretty much a fog on account of Washington having had much experience at setting up democracy stage shows, but little experience with setting up the real thing.

But President Bush had his heart set on Iraq having a real democracy, not the stage-managed imitation. So Bremer, a Kissinger disciple, was forced to improvise. That worked out in part to his ordering Iraq's moribund state-run factories shut so that a healthy private sector could establish. In this, he was following good Neoliberal economic principles. However comma he had also ordered de-Baathification, which had routed Baathists from Iraq's military.

With no paychecks from factories or the military, large numbers of Iraqi males were watching their families starve. And so they went to work for the insurgency or al Qaeda. I forget how much AQ was paying for each IED laid -- maybe around 40 bucks a pop -- and to families of suicide bombers, but it was a paying job and thus, the bloodiest chapter in Iraq's post-Saddam history.

Finally some people at the U.S. Department of State gave up trying to argue with Bremer over the issue and staged their own insurgency. They reopened a few of the factories in contravention of Bremer's edict, just to get paychecks generated.

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