Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Libyan Menu

Steven Metz thinks that, whatever happens in Libya over the short term, the losers are likely to mount a robust insurgency against the winners over the longer term:

“The chances of a drawn-out insurgency in Libya are very high.

“History offers a number of sign posts that an insurgency will occur. Unfortunately Libya has almost all of them. At this point the political objectives of the government and anti-government forces are irreconcilable. Each side wants total victory—either Qaddafi will retain total power or he will be gone. Both sides are intensely devoted to their cause; passions are high. Both have thousands of men with military training, all imbued with a traditional warrior ethos which
Qaddafi himself has stoked. The country is awash with arms. Libya has extensive hinterlands with little or no government control that could serve as insurgent bases. Neighboring states are likely to provide insurgent sanctuary whether deliberately—as an act of policy—or inadvertently because a government is unable to control its territory. North Africa has a long history of insurgency, from the anti-colonial wars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to more recent conflicts in Chad, Algeria, and Western Sahara. Where insurgency occurred in the past, it is more likely to occur in the future. All this means that there is no place on earth more likely to experience an insurgency in the next few years than Libya.

“What is not clear is whether the coming insurgency will involve Qaddafi loyalists fighting against a new regime or anti-Qaddafi forces fighting to remove the old dictator and his patrons.”
That sounds right to me. If it is, and we (either unilaterally or in coalition with Britain and France) aspire to promote a stable, humane and strategically acceptable outcome, we're going to have to support one side against the other on a continuing basis. As far as I can see, that leaves us with only three options going forward: 

(1) the regime change/occupation model in which we (the post-2003 Iraq variant) or a broader coalition (the post-2001 Afghanistan variant) apply sufficient military force to install a new government and then enable it to get its feet under it by mounting a long-term counter-insurgency campaign;

(2) the partition model in which we militarily guarantee the survival of an independent political entity in eastern Libya like we guaranteed the survival of Iraqi Kurdistan from1991 until 2003;

or (3) the indigenous insurgency model under which we arm insurgents who happen currently to be the enemies of an old enemy of ours in the hope they’ll drive our the old enemy out of power and then resist the temptation to turn those weapons against us (think about our support for the Afghanistan Mujahideen during the 1980s).

That’s not what I’d call an alluring menu.  If we can't stomach any of these dishes, we shouldn't sit down for the meal.


Anonymous said...

No thanks. Not that hungry.

Anonymous said...

Ron - in many of your posts over the last few months (I'm an avid reader), you've said that it was Afghanistan that was going to be the driver that prompts a primary challenge that would weaken Obama's chances for a second term. Maybe it will be Libya, based on the set of unpalatable choices you laid out.

Ron Replogle said...

I think Libya will certainly make thete anti-war segment of the Democratic Party more restive about Afganistan, especially if the Libyan intervention gets messy. Success in Libya, however, won't do Obama much good with respect to Afghanistan.