Libyan Quagbump?

The British press has been reporting on Libya more extensively than American outlets, which makes sense considering the greater ongoing involvement of the U.K. in the NATO-led operation.  Two articles suggest that we may, but then again may not, soon need a word other than the scary cliché “quagmire” to describe the intervention.

Paul Smythe in the Telegraph says we should be preparing for the worst:  Victory.  After reviewing statistical and other measures describing what’s been done to Gaddafi’s forces, he offers the following summary:

For Gaddafi’s troops, in other words, this is not a stalemate at all, but a one-sided conflict against an enemy they are incapable of opposing. The devastating recent attacks against Gaddafi’s warships, or the concerted air raids this week against targets in Tripoli itself, provide ample illustration of that. The increasing damage to such cardinal elements of the regime’s infrastructure may undermine loyalty to Gaddafi among senior military officers, as they are a much clearer illustration of the severe and enduring penalty of remaining loyal to the dictatorship. There will also be a limit to how long mercenaries, with only monetary interests in Libya, and Gaddafi’s troops, who lack effective leadership, will keep fighting.

* * *

The real danger, in short, is not of a protracted stalemate, but of a sudden regime collapse: as the campaign goes on, and the capability of Gaddafi’s dictatorship to intimidate the population is eroded, the true extent of support for him among the Libyan people will be exposed. If it turns out to be shallow, the regime could suffer an abrupt end.

His concern is that NATO and allied forces may have not done enough to fill the vaccuum that will arise – and it would hardly be the first time that taking out a big bad boss has led to chaos.  On that note, I’ll share a quote from Andrew Bacevich’s Washington Rules, words from a top general explaining how “we” gave into the interventionist’s illusion of control: “I doubt that anyone appreciated the magnitude of the centrifugal political forces which had been kept under control by his iron rule.”  That’s not some member of the Petraeus generation explaining what went wrong in Iraq, but General Maxwell Taylor, a key figure of the Eisenhower to Johnson era, explaining how the assassination of Diem under JFK, rather than improving the U.S. position in Vietnam, set up a dilemma between major escalation and humiliating withdrawal.

I think Taylor’s maybe-things-never-change observation provides a good background for a second article, this one from the Independent.  Here’s the lede:

The Libyan regime is preparing to make a fresh overture to the international community, offering concessions designed to end the bloodshed of the three-month-long civil war.

The Independent has obtained a copy of a letter from the country’s Prime Minister, Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, being sent to a number of foreign governments. It proposes an immediate ceasefire to be monitored by the United Nations and the African Union, unconditional talks with the opposition, amnesty for both sides in the conflict, and the drafting of a new constitution.

In contrast to previous messages from the Libyan government, this letter makes no mention of Gaddafi.  Instead, it reads as downright reasonable, or at worst Egyptian – the extract:

We propose that parliament will convene at an extraordinary session to appoint an executive committee which will manage the public affairs and foresee the ceasefire and propose a mechanism for a political dialogue… comprising representatives from all regions and civil society. A committee will be… mandated with drafting a constitution to the Libyan people for adoption which will define the political system in Libya. A process of reconciliation will be initiated which will include amnesty and compensation to all victims of the conflict. We are ready to talk to help mediate a ceasefire and to initiate discussions on the future form of constitutional government… Let us create a road-map to the future. What has occurred in Libya is part of a wider series of events throughout the Arab world. We understand this. We are ready and we know what is required of us

Could be an offer that Obama-Cameron-Sarkozy might want to consider – unless their planning and preparedness are a lot further along than Smythe, at least, believes.  It might be taken as indicating that “Washington Rules” can be progressively improved upon, and would support the argument, contra Bacevich, that that’s what Obama really has been about all along.


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  1. the offer would sound more reasonable if they threw in the money Gaddafi’s stashed and threw out Gaddafi before setting out to draw a new constitution.

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