Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Libya: What to Expect

Yes, I am very glad I did not blog about what to expect with the rebel forces approaching Tripoli –and all those intelligence bulletins that were making contradictory predictions? They got it wrong –all of them. No one saw how fast the rebels would enter the city and take control of the majority within just a few hours.

One major lesson I think we can draw from that, and which no one has yet mentioned, is that the National Transitional Council is far better organized and supported then they have been given credit for. Apparently the assault on Tripoli itself had been in planning for 3 months using a sophisticated network of spies and “sleeper cells” to smuggle arms and ammunition into the city set to rise up at a single signal (all the mosques began chanting “Allah Akbar” at the same moment. This complex plan went off smoothly, a feat that not many western forces could have pulled off.

OK, Gary, so what will happen next? Hell, I don’t know. But if I had to guess, I’d say to watch what happens in the pockets still loyal to Gadhafi. They are well armed and well trained and could still cause a lot of very bloody urban fighting. They could also see the futility of their situation and, like many of the Libyan Army units, simply surrender or switch sides.

One key here is what happens to Gadhafi himself. Does he surrender? Does he go out like Hitler and fight until he takes his own life? Does he go out like Hussein and hide in a hole until discovered? Or does he go out like Mussolini, abandoned to his fate by his own supporters? There is a chance he’ll get out and make it to someplace like Venezuela (which offered him sanctuary) –but I doubt it. The final possibility is that he will go underground and continue his fighting guerrilla style. If he tries that, he would become more of a nuisance than a serious threat.

That leaves the question of what will happen with a post-Gadhafi Libya. Some, like Dick Morris, are predicting an Iraq style period of chaos. Others say it will be more like Egypt. Personally, I think we can look more to Afghanistan after the Soviets left with the factions fighting each other until one emerges dominate (in Afghanistan it was the Taliban). The question I have is whether this fighting will be more verbal or more physical. The Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood could turn to violence and in that case would get support from many sources, including Iran. I don’t think (hope) that will happen. In Egypt, they have not followed this course and there is no reason to think it will be different in Libya.

If the National Transitional Council can quickly establish a legitimate and functioning government, Libya should be able to avoid too many challenges and bloody, guerrilla style conflicts. If Libya stabilizes quickly and avoids to much transitional conflict, the stability in that entire region will be substantially enhanced. If it descends into a bitter struggle for internal power, it will seriously damage the regions stability and increase the likelihood of a government emerging that is dominated by religious extremists.

That leave one final and very important question. How involved will the U.S. become? Again, I don't know. I can not predict which way President Obama will jump. He did keep US ground forces from getting directly involved until now -and he promises to continue this policy. That is a good thing (but it still has cost us over $900 million to date). If other countries become directly involved it could change the picture but I do not see that happening either. A lot will depend how the situation develops. Barring the threat of a direct military take over by an entity like the Muslim Brotherhood or Al Qaeda, I believe President Obama will keep us out of there except in an advisory and supporting role.

Live Long and Prosper....

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