I know I’ve been off-grid lately (work is the curse of the blogging classes), and I haven’t had much chance to think about much of anything — but in part it’s because I’ve been getting ready for a meeting with folks whose security clearances greatly exceed mine. (It is impossible to have a lower clearance than I do, just to be clear. I’m a citizen, and that’s it.)
So now I’m in London getting ready for this meeting, and one of the Very Interesting People from whom I’ll be learning and I are watching the scroll on the silenced TV in the hotel lobby to see one fact roll by: Qaddifi has distributed arms to a million Libyans.
Smart move, my interlocutor says. Why? ask I — doesn’t this just destabilize the country further, threatening him as much as anyone else?
Yes indeed says my new teacher. That’s the point.
As explained: Qaddafi knows that he can’t engage in a contest of strength. He faces an overwhelming force and so he can’t just roll up his opposition. Stalemate weakens him. He doesn’t want to end up like Ceausesco, dead against a wall, ridiculed and reviled. He wants at a minimum what Saddam Hussein got — martyrdom of a sort amidst the chaos of a country that has become ungovernable, a state that rebounds to the discredit of any successor regime.
This is of course the classic choice of crappy outcomes. I have no idea what could possibly produce what some impartial observer might call a good outcome — either for Libyans or in the realization of actually articulated and reasonable ends for the U.S.
It certainly seems to this non-expert observer that we pursue intervention on the harp seal model: cute megafauna get protected, snail darters don’t.
But it’s at least arguable that it would make sense to intervene in cases where that rise to the level of media-consciousness even if no realpolitic interest is genuinely at stake — if and only if we can demonstrate that such intervention actually stands a good chance of producing a better outcome than the present situation. Sheer awfulness is not sufficient, in other words, if the results do not include a lasting reduction in horrible outcomes.
In that context, these million rifles tell you two things:
First: that there are all kinds of ways for the best intentions to go pear-shaped, and we may already be witnessing one of them here.
Second (and I find this one consoling, in a depressing kind of way): there are plenty of very smart members of our national security apparatus who understand this. I have to tell you the most impressive thing to me about this hotel-lobby conversation was the sheer speed with which my conversational partner seized on the skill of Qaddafi’s manouver, and its potential for lasting mischief.
Me talking, not those I talk to — but this is genuinely important. Folks on the ground have actually learned a lot from Iraq and Afghanistan. That these lessons do not always reach either end of Pennsylvania Avenue is a problem — the problem I would say.
And with that — it’s off to learn something else, depressing no doubt.
Image: Melchior de Hondecoeter, Bildnis von drei Kindern in einer Landschaft mit Jagdbeute (translation help, anyone?), 17th c.
This link I found (I think from Al-Jazeera, but I’m only 1 cup of Java in so far this morning) seems to be a fair synopsis of the matter. I still think Kaddafi takes the money and runs; if it were just him up against the wall eventually, perhaps he stays, but his sons and daughters go up against the wall, too.
Barbara Tuchman, The March Of Folly – still relevant.
(translation help, anyone?)
Pretty much along the lines of “Portrait of three children in a landscape on a hunt”.
So Qaddafi’s a Republican, huh? Who knew?
Also, if you don’t mind having to cut through the propaganda, this Twitter source is interesting. Yes, much of it is propaganda, but the concrete reports are typically eventually supported by less biased sources. YMMV, of course.
It tells you something else: that Qaddafi does not see a million men armed with mere rifles as posing a threat to his corrupt, brutal dictatorship.
It’s an outlook that rather undermines the whole premise of “Second Amendment remedies” as the last defense against totalitarianism.
Ceaușescu for those googling this particular dictator is the correct spelling
Well, pear shaped is certainly the likely outcome.
I think a stalemate is highly unlikely. Qaddafi has virtually no income and virtually no friends. His ability to supply his war machine is going to be extremely constrained, and the UN effort is going to mean that he burns through his war assets at a horrifying rate. He’s always ruled by fear, and the strategy here seems to be to make his military more afraid of the French and whatever blow-upey shit magically appears from the heavens with US markings on it.
The pear-shaped part of this is when Gaddafi’s generals decide that they’re fucked and turn on Gaddafi in the hopes that turns off the war spigot. The resulting new government is a complete coin flip – could be okay, could be Gaddafi v.2.0.
Here’s the kind of things that are motivating the rebels. tl;dr version: Gaddafi massacred 1200 prisoners – many political – and didn’t tell the families who kept trying to visit for years. And he admitted to the act. And he’s done lots of things like that.
In a country no bigger in population than Massachusetts, those kinds of events have wide impact and aren’t soon forgotten. One way or another, Gaddafi will be out with this effort. What’s left behind may be no better, however.
Pretty sure it’s “Girls and Dog (Named Bildnis) in Landscape with Young Breasts.” My Swiss is a little rusty, though.
Umm, people are taking this report seriously? After all of the other crap thrown out there by the regime? Why, exactly?
The Libyan regular army consists of about 50,000 people. And they are supposed to keep a million surplus rifles in storage, maintained, presumably with ammunition? That makes no sense at all.
The opposition has taken over equipment from several army and air force bases inside its controlled territory. If there were really a million rifles in storage, some of them would be in Eastern Libya. Yet there have been no reports of mass arms stockpiles having been found there.
This whole thing is setting off my BS detector.
Lucky you, Tom Levenson. I happen to have my German dictionary open in front of me. The title of the painting is “Portrait of Three Children in a Landscape with the Spoils of the Hunt”.
@Califlander: If that were the case, Qaddafi would not have needed to hand out the rifles right now.
Presumably Qaddafi has not done handed out small arms up to this point because it’s generally a bad idea to have people walking around all over the place with small arms, for regime stability, for keeping money in banks, for general domestic tranquillity, and so on. Handing out small arms is a desperation measure.
Basic agreement with all of your post except the noted; even with frozen accounts, I can’t believe this guy isn’t so crazy as to not have a rainy day fund that could keep him and his kin well off for life.
Now, what country takes him in is a problem, but lots of Nazi’s ended up in South America way back when; first guess would be Venezuela, but … it shall be interesting.
Edit: For those interested, UNC/WA is a ballburner.
Not protecting snail darters doesn’t mean you shouldn’t protect harp seals. That harp seal protection leads to polar bear overpopulation isn’t necessarily a reason to not protect them.
You can’t know every outcome to every question beforehand. You intervene in a low risk way ni the cases where it looks like there’s a chance of something good coming out of it. It’s the best anybody can do. Certainly better than joining the seal clubbers.
If you’re a dictator, you’re not going to disperse your spare small arms across the entire country. You keep them in one location, presumably near your capital, and you make sure that they are in the care of people who are unquestionably loyal to you.
I’m certain that Qaddafi has been stockpiling small arms for just this contingency. Maybe not a million, but almost certainly more than enough.
@The Dangerman: Saudi Arabia took Idi Amin.
Why are there so many different ways to spell Gaddafi? I can understand two but three or more?
Made me look.
@Scott P.: Baghdad Bob!
@ploeg: Agreed that “it’s generally a bad idea to have people walking around all over the place with small arms, for regime stability, for keeping money in banks, for general domestic tranquillity, and so on.” That’s why Qaddafi hasn’t handed out the guns up till now. But he’s apparently not worried that those weapons will be used to bring down his regime … which again is contrary to the Sharron Angle/Second Amendment absolutist position.
Everyone transliterating to the Roman alphabet from Arabic, with no existing authority that is, uh, authoritative enough to standardize the process, as the Red Chinese did with their language, brutally forcing old-timers like me to change from “Peking” to “Beijing.”
Only phonetic; “approved” translation never blessed by the Dude.
It seems to me that Qaddafi’s loyalists do not number a million, and that by handing those million rifles out, he will be partially arming his opposition. In a report I saw on the NYT (IIRC), there was a person celebrating at Khaddafy’s compound who had he previously been quoted as calling for his downfall. I think that Libyans are pretty good at telling which way the wind blows and when they see a lot of dead Gaddaffi loyalists, the wind will blow another way. However, I think the only reasonable way the rebels are able to complete the task is if they actually get their shit together and act like an army, not a bunch of guys with guns.
@Steeplejack: I figured it was Roman and Arabic and thanks for pointing out that it’s not standardized.
Col. Kaddafi, Gaddafi, or Qaddafi’s sons enjoy living the high life and are not willing to fore go their inheritance for the sake of their country. Just my opinion.
edit..ploeg thanks. in that case, I’m using Gaddafi just to spite him.
I just don’t see Qaddafi ending up as an exile in South America. Too different from the culture he’s used to, I figure. If he does go into exile, I reckon it will be someplace with a lot of Muslims, where he can bask in adulation/sympathy as a heroic fighter against Western imperialism.
He’ll also want a particular kind of host: a dictator-ish national leader who’s not really on the best of terms with the international community. That way, when the UN comes to arrest him for crimes against humanity, he’ll have somebody’s skirts to hide behind.
My guess is that his preferred place of exile, if it comes to that, would be in a Muslim-majority former Soviet republic.
Davis X. Machina
That can take years (1775, 1777, 1778…) making French intervention all the more important
Well, we know his tanks were dispersed across the entire country. You disperse your tanks but not small arms?
@Califlander: It’s a bit much to say that he’s “not worried that those weapons will be used to bring down his regime.” He just has somewhat larger problems right now than armed gangs roaming the streets of Tripoli.
“redound,” no? (though odd to connect it to “discredit”)
To take my example (I thought of this after I posted), it used to be (a hundred years ago) “Peking,” “Pekin,” “Peiping”–take your pick.
I still can’t figure how they got to “Ghangzhou” from “Canton”–or the other way around, I guess.
@Scott P.: Army units (with actual troops operating the vehicles personally) are not the same as arms caches. If you’re going to station a unit away from your capital, you’re going to give the troops only enough supplies to take care of business. You’re not going to give the troops access to so much materiel that they will start getting their own ideas.
@The Dangerman: A large personal savings, sure. One to field and rearm an army? No.
I would assume that, in all likelihood, the rifles are meant as a sort of deterrent to the US/UN forces. It’s a “second amendment remedy” of sorts, but in a much more literal sense. When it was just a Libyan civil war, arming the populace was counterproductive. But now that foreign militaries are intervening and he faces the potential for actual invasion, a million rifles distributed amongst the people is a clear message to the imperial powers that, if you invade, this will be another quagmire that you cannot afford. You might be able to take out the antiquated air force and tanks, but a distributed militia will be hard to dislodge, and you’ll have another Iraq or Afghanistan.
The greatest danger to Gaddafi’s regime right now is an implosion under psychological pressure. That’s why he acts with such grandeur. If he succeeds in keeping his troops together, the rebels will have to capture a few cities.
Davis X. Machina
@Steeplejack: One difference is, it’s not an ASCII world any more — you can ‘Qaḏāffī’ easy as pie.
Well, I don’t know about that. This might be a ‘nothing left to lose’ move, if it’s even happening. If he thinks there’s enough tribal loyalty on the west of Libya that are worried about a new ruling government from the east of Libya, then he may simply be gambling that he’ll win this by generating a tribal war. A lot of his propaganda lately seems to be pushing in this direction. More shades of things going wrong for us – it’s a legitimate possibility.
If he’s figured that his army is routed, then that may be the only hope of protection he has left, and whether they use it to turn on him is immaterial since that’d be the outcome anyway.
“Image of Three Children in a Landscape with Their Bag” as in I bagged three ducks the last time I went hunting.
also, wasn’t Mao Zedong once Mao Tse Tung?
this shit just got regional… Qatar is sending planes to fight against Kkaaddaaffii
Oops. Misunderstood; no, not an army.
Kaddafi and family will have to take the OBL route; basically, disappear in some approving country (or disapproving country if the neighborhood is basically lawless like where OBL is hanging). No more Mariah Carey concerts, Guys.
@Davis X. Machina: I don’t think it would take 3 years. Mostly, it would take the army units who rebelled against Qaddafi to take the lead, rather than the students with Kalashnikovs who just kind of walked around in Ras Lanuf and didn’t dig in, prepare defenses, etc.
On the other side, I doubt Qaddafi’s loyalists are exactly the paragon of military execution. Outside of the Western professional armies, I have not seen a lot of advanced tactics. One of the reasons why we sliced so easily through Saddam’s large army equipped with fairly modern tanks is that they did stupid stuff like keep their tanks stationery and behind built-up, above grade sand berms. You know what sand berms don’t block? Armor piercing shells. Point at the little sand hill and shoot. Dead Iraqi tank.
So one would expect that the rebels, acting with any kind of organization, backed with western air power, would fairly easily defeat whatever loyalist forces were in front of them. And once the tide seems to have turned, one would also expect that the loyalist forces would melt away.
In any case, the question is whether the Qaddafists are like Ba’athists and form an insurgency. Since Qaddafism is not really a movement but rather a cult of personality, I wouldn’t think they would be as likely to form such an insurgency, provided of course, that there isn’t the aggravating factor of 100,000 foreign troops in their country.
(And, by the way, the Continental Army was a realistic fighting force fairly quickly. Most of the men had martial experience through serving in local militia, which was called upon fairly regularly. In addition, a decent portion of the officer corps would have had experience in the French & Indian war. The problem the Continentals faced was that they were facing THE most professional military in the world, perhaps save the Prussians).
Suck It Up!
Why are we supposed to believe that fact that scrolled across the screen?
Y’know, it’s not that S. American countries have a shingle hanging that says “all exiles welcome.” There are actual historical reasons why certain Nazis ended up where they did, and no few them ended up in the USA (but only the ‘good’ ones, of course). Hell, a goodly number of Nazis (and many non-Nazified but ideologically compromised Wehrmacht veterans) stayed in Germany and were then ‘reformed’ when we discovered that we needed aid in fighting the ‘red menace’. Their wasn’t a terribly strong effort by Germans to name and shame Nazis and their fellow travelers, wherever they ended up, either.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that in the immediate post-war era, the Nazis weren’t nearly as vilified as the Japanese were, whereas this days the situation is much the reverse.
@Tom up top:
Tom, I think you need to take a lesson from the blog host here. By any chance are there any painting by Old Masters that have their subject flipping their audience the long bony one?
“Our Germans are better than their Germans.”
/The Right Stuff
There is, in the ‘arab world’, a developing revolutionary situation. Syria, Jordan and Lebanon have gone to pages five and seven in the news by these recent events. Keep an eye on those places.
Uncle Clarence Thomas
Hypocrisy and collateral damage cannot be allowed to stand in the way of President Obama’s re-election.
I was just out running errands in the rain (SoCal) and I heard that the leader of Yemen pre-emptively sacked his entire cabinet before they could resign in protest at his suppression of the demonstrators there.
@AhabTRuler: It’s interesting how our attitude towards the Japanese and Chinese flipped in the short period between the end of WWII and the beginning of the Chinese intervention in Korea.
@Uncle Clarence Thomas: Uncle Clarence Thomas, you of all people should know it’s not hypocritical when it’s your guy doing it.
It wouldn’t surprise me if he had a million supporters (his tribe is the largest in the country and there are plenty of people who relied on him for their livelihoods) so this may be a way of encouraging them to take matters into their own hands and start killing the rebel sympathizers in Tripoli and what few areas he still has under his control.
Start considering the possibility that your conversational partner may have advised Kadafi to do that and may have told you how smart it might be so that you would come and tell us, and you may get some security clearance.
I know it says something terrible about me, but the more Sully goes off the deep end against Obama over Libya (see here for the latest), the better I feel about the mission. I usually enjoy reading his opinion on things, but he’s just so over-the-top at the moment that it’s kind of embarrassing.
At the moment? He flies off into hysterics early and often, especially with one of THEM as President.
According to the CIA World Factbook, Libya has a population of 6,597,960. If 27% of them are as loony as our American 27-percenters then he could easily have a million followers.
This event has given him the reason to abandon Obama for Mitch Daniels who, of course, would never do such a thing, not even as Bush’s director of the OMB.
@Steeplejack: Picture of three children in the woods with their hunting trophy (prey, quarry, or whatever).
“Portrait of three children in a landscape with a hunting catch”
@Califlander: These million men are from his tribe and other tribes allied to his. People who have an awful lot tied up in his success.
The closest analog is how the National Rifle Association is composed mainly of middle-aged white guys from the more rural parts of America.
I updated the above painting to fit with the times.
@Davis X. Machina: I wonder where we can find any gay former Prussian junior staff officers from good families.
Because that’s the kind of guy it took to whip the Continental Army into shape.
@AhabTRuler: Do you suppose you could replace the firelock rifle with an AK-47?
Maybe replace the dead foul with oil barrels and gas cans?
Thanks, ‘preciate it.
That is an example of what I am getting at.
We need to start looking at the larger situation.
Fucen Pneumatic Fuck Wrench Tarmal
as to who takes qaadafi(no attempt at speilling) there is only one answer that provides any sort of benefit to any one.
this is when shit got real on reality tv.
as to how to deal with libya, i think qaadafi ought to stew a bit. there has to be a way to manage, or at least influence the rise of the next regime, while waiting for this one to end.
instead of just blasting through to the power vaccuum, lets look at the power vaccuum as the real ball game…
ending quadaphi, is all but inevitable, though we can at most let the u.n call balls and strikes for a bit, while we get something put in place for the chaos that comes after…
We should not be doing a damn thing.
The Other Chuck
The spelling of Gadaffi’s name seems to be converging on, uh, that one, quite likely because that’s how Al Jazeera English spells it. I believe Libya’s own documents they produce in English spell it “Qathafi”
In Arabic, his name is spelled معمر القذافي which begins with a “qaf” (take the “ch” in “chutzpah” and pronounce it without the fricative hock-and-spit part). The “d” isn’t even a hard “d” either: the dot makes it “thal”, which is pronounced like the “th” in “the”.
But the Libyans pronounce qaf like a hard “g”. The rest of the dialect tends to turn his name into something that sounds like “gatheffy”
@Fucen Pneumatic Fuck Wrench Tarmal:
Hot Shots! III: Menage a Trois ?
Am I the only one who remembers that we have longstanding relationships with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and are probably using every diplomatic channel we have to pressure them to knock it off?
Yes, I can’t imagine why we’re more reluctant to use force against our allies than we are to use it against a guy who we’ve been trying to get rid of for 30 years. It’s a mystery!
@Mnemosyne: Careful. You’re starting to sound like an o-bot!
From the Al Jazeera live blog–
10:29pm–US military: “We’re not going after Gaddafi.”
10:35pm–We’ll be bringing you that Pentagon press conference in its entirety, just as soon as we get it uploaded. Watch this space…
10:42pm–So, a second night of bombardment is underway in Tripoli, with explosions being heard across the Libyan capital as the Pentagon gave a press conference on last night’s attacks.
Several blasts rocked the city, say Reuters. The news agency also confirmed what Al Jazeera’s Anita Mcnaught told us, that a plume of smoke was seen rising toward the sky from the direction of Gaddafi’s home in the Bab el-Aziziya compound – which sits in the heart of a south Tripoli suburb.
10:46pm–The Pentagon said it had lost no aircraft in the first day of attacks on Libya -and “questions all statements” from Gaddafi – including his offer of a ceasefire.
@Mnemosyne: When your “allies” include oppressive assholes, you don’t get to cite combating oppression as a reason to go to war with a 3rd party. Attempting to do so anyway marks you as a fucking hypocrite.
@soonergrunt: Well, at first I was gonna throw in a SPAAG or maybe a SAM exhaust trail, but in photoshops, less is more.
Plus, what you’re talking about is more like real work, and you can’t afford my hourly.
OK. That painting is very surreal in the midst of this discussions. I like the juxtaposition.
@asiangrrlMN: You will squeee.