Friday, July 15, 2011

US Recognizes Libyan Rebels . . .

Ya'll know my view on this . . . Why did we handle it so badly?

Or no surprise at all given the current state of US strategic thought . . . if this is any indication . . .

Harlan Ullman writes:

. . . For most of history, war was a contest between more or less like military forces. Defeating the enemy usually meant defeating his armies as a precondition for victory. Of course, insurgencies were as old as war. And, of course, insurgencies had relatively fixed geographic boundaries that, after the Duke of Wellington's brilliant peninsula campaign during the Napoleonic Wars, became known as guerrilla or small wars.

The American way of war remains firepower intensive. We won World War II, with the Soviet army, literally blowing away the Wehrmacht with our superior firepower.

As technology improved dramatically, so did mobility and maneuver. The Iraqi military was shattered twice by this onslaught first in 1991 and then a dozen years later. And the initial and stunning success in Afghanistan in late 2001 demonstrated the effectiveness of this technology in support of Northern Alliance ground forces in routing the Taliban, at least for the moment.

Unfortunately, Clausewitz's genius has been partially trumped by a critical question: How do even amazingly capable military forces defeat an adversary who lacks an army and uses insurgent, terrorist tactics, metastasized by a radical ideology in which suicide is a preferred weapon while possessing global reach manifested by the September 11th and other attacks against the U.S. and European allies? . . .

With all due respects to the father of "Shock and Awe", I think his history is a ways off. Perhaps some wars between Western armies have been between "more or less like military forces", but the wars between Western and non-Western (and there have been plenty of these) have been by definition "asymmetric".

The British and their little wars, the US in the Philippines and much later in Vietnam, the Russians in Afghanistan . . . but we could go back to Clausewitz's time as well and find the same thing. Napoleon went into Spain and Russia with the best army in the world at that time and was defeated in the end by decidedly second-rate forces. Even the Wehrmacht in WWII easily defeated the Yugoslav army in the spring of 1941 only to be faced later with Partisans who continued on the fight. Ullman's view of WWII is flawed. Sure the Red Army ground the Germans down, but at a terrible cost, perhaps five men for every German soldier they put out of action. Could our successes in Western Europe in 1944-45 have been achieved without this great blood letting, the recourse to "grand attrition" on the part of the Russians?

The invention of gunpowder allowed for distance between combatants, war was no longer necessarily up close and personal. Any additional technological improvements have not quantitatively changed that fact. War and killing have had a remote quality for some time. Is there much difference in this regard between "Big Bertha" in 1918 and the Creech Air Force Base drones of today? We're talking about an improvement of targeting perhaps, but not really a new way of war.

War remains subordinate to politics since it is politics which gives birth to war. The recent failures are all explainable in Clausewitzian terms, which is an uncomfortable fact for people like Mr. Ullman who would rather ignore the current political realities . . . and assume that we have blundered in to some new era of warfare. Sorry, but it has all to do with politics and we ignore that basic human fact at our own peril.

The US recognizes Libyan rebels . . .

Discuss . . .


  1. Why did we handle it badly?

    Because there was no real way to handle it "well", short of having a quickly-formed legitimate rebel government that we could recognize and sign a treaty with...a treaty, mind you, that probably would have been ripped apart by those geopolitical geniuses in Congress. We didn't - and couldn't - afford the commitment of troops, civilian advisors, State department mentors, and massive wads of cash it would have taken to make this successful. Because the U.S. public and the Congress didn't WANT to be brought into the loop even if the Adminstration had tried, which it didn't (because it personally agreed with you that the public/Congress is burned out on Middle Eastern adventures.

    And the biggest reason is that this is just flat-out a civil war. Nations involved in civil wars rarely welcome outside intervention unless they are desperately trying to avoid losing. And even though in this case the Libyan rebels WERE desperately trying to avoid losing they were also desperately trying to avoid having to publicly shake the hand of the loathed Western ferenghi devils. The fear of associating with the hated Americans was more frightening to the TNC than the fear of losing to Daffy Gaddafi.

    They're out of options now, and they are going to have to take whatever they can get from whoever they can get to succeed. Hopefully we aren't kidding ourselves over our influence over whatever congeries of goofballs ends up ruling in Tripoli. Libya is fucked, pure and simple. They have little or no experience with popular rule, immense reserves of poverty and experience with violent political change, and the usual ugly history with Westerners as colonists and invaders.

    So recognition or no recognition, regardless of what happens to ol' Daffy, I'd opine that they're doomed to decades of some sort of absolutist rule after this unless they can pull a miracle out of their ass, and given that they are a desperately poor petro-state I'd put that at about as likely as Yemen suddenly becoming a liberal democratic free-market social paradise.

    Sorry, seydlitz; there never was a "good" way to handle it. Admittedly, we picked one of the worse of the potential bad ways, but, still...getting a little dirt on your hands still leaves your hands dirty.

  2. FDChief-

    Saying that we handled it "badly" is not the same thing as saying there was a "good" way to handle it, not given our past with MQ or the fact that we are dealing with war which is necessarily "messy".

    Two points:

    I wonder in fact if we as a major power, let alone "super power" have in fact lost the ability to wield military force and coercion effectively. Obama was all over the place on this. First he was in by virtue of having been seemingly tricked by the French, then he was half-out, then he was in again, then it was NATO who was in while we were supporting, then we were back in again . . . Once in he had to be willing to escalate, and instead he's signaled something while different . . . Maybe ten years of high tempo operations, two strategically lost wars, not to mention a whole series of confused shadow wars, all have something to do with it?

    But then as in everything else American today you have to ask yourself how much of our almost overwhelming domestic political dysfunction played a role here. Whose interest anyway was it in delaying our recognition of the TNC so long? Was it as many have suggested, in order to give Obama's Wall Street handlers a chance to get a cut of MQ's assets in the US before the TNC got their hands on it? As in Iraq and Afghanistan, is not an unending war in Libya in the interests of the various war profiteering political investors that drive much of US foreign policy? So, is it not in the interests of the powers that count that this war be a long and destructive one? Add to this the entire failure on Obama's part to deal with his constitutional obligations in regards to committing military forces. Instead it was used as simply another grab for yet more executive power.

  3. I wouldn't be as hard on Obama & the US as I would on myc country (UK) and our next door neigbour's reaction. Personally I couldn't make my mind up, the reasons you have listed in your above post Seydlitx alone should give pause for thought, any and all of them could be the decisive factor. For once it was a little reassuring to find the US not keen to wade into a conflict.

    Your point about whether the US can wield military power effectively to achieve coercion - I think the Libyan conflict is an example where the military ability of the US is potentially more a handicap than aid to the desired political end.

  4. For me the key statement here is Seydlitz's

    "But then as in everything else American today you have to ask yourself how much of our almost overwhelming domestic political dysfunction played a role here."

    You're going in the right direction, Seydlitz, but I'd argue that you're forgetting the flat-out lunacy of Washington these days.

    It is quite possible that the Washington establishment assumed that the war would either be over by now (a shared illusion with NATO) or that the war would wait for the US government bureaucracy to catch up.

    File this under way too little way too late.

    Don, do you think NATO is running out of will to run combat ops over Libya? Also who here thinks that the rebels can survive without air support?

  5. More to the point, what happens when the Rebel Alliance "wins" out? Do we get to "nation-build" Libya too? How exciting.

    I thought Obama said he didn't do stupid wars. I guess he was wrong.

  6. Don Fernando-

    Welcome back. Interesting comment as before.

    What of the Murdoch scandal in your country? Amazing . . . Would it play out the same way in mine? Doubtful imo.


    Nice, but what is going on in Washington is all pretty much inside the Beltway. The actual aftermath of their foreign policy disasters/scams/adventures as we will experience them is something else . . . speaking of course as an expat . . .


    "Do we get to "nation-build" Libya too?"

    Of course, that's part of the deal ya'll have bought in to.

    And we will pay dearly for it.

  7. To all,
    Why don't we think about our CW a bit?
    What if a super power had recgognized the South?
    After all they had it all-Army/Navy/Constitutions/Leadership and all the other goodies that could've defined a separate and distinct nation from the USA.
    Our policy was to keep EVERYFUCKINGBUDDY outta our playground, and we were successful.
    What gives today?

  8. But Jim, where would we have been without the recognition of the French, Spanish, and Dutch in 1776; to say nothing of the support of a cavalryman from Warsaw, a chief of engineers from Belarus, a drillmaster from Prussia, plus many others.

    Good thing the bloody Brits were not successful in their policy of keeping everybody out of their playground.


  9. Mike-

    I would joking tell colleagues while studying at Cambridge:

    George III had a dream with a vision of what the Colonists would evolve into in a couple of hundred years. He immediately fired off the following message to Lord Cornwallis:

    "I have seen what those peoples will become, and believe me, we do not wish them a part of our Great Nation's future. Find a graceful way to lose and get back home where it is and always will be civilized. It's only a sword, you know. I will replace it."

    Unfortunately, Tony Blair was not as an astute student of history as I, so he chose to be GWB's lap poodle. But that seems to be changing a bit with his successors.

  10. Al -

    I never did understand the Blair/Bush love affair. They were ideological opposites yet....?

  11. Pluto - I don't know about NATO, but it's clear the UK & France don't want to do the heavy lifting. Headlines (several pages behind the News of the World Scandal) a few days ago here in the UK, Minister for Defence announces 4 (!) more planes to be sent to Libya. Not exactly leading from the front, particularly after a lot of bold talk.

    I'm not the only one to wonder what purpose NATO now serves. Agreement by the key partners on action doesn't mean they will commit themselves significantly to it.

    Seydlitz - the Murdock/News of the World/Newscorp scndal is absolutely sensational right now. It's been front page news for over two weeks and shows no sign of slowing. I'm struggling to think of a recent comparison in British Political history, the best I can think of is to compare to an American one, Watergate. It's not just one revelation but a steady drip, drip, one day after the next. The most powerful man in the UK for the past two decades, and it's just falling apart. Initially most thought the revelations would merely dent Murdochs reputation in the US, but then someone mentioned his reporters hacking into the phones of 9/11 victims family members...

  12. mike,
    So you're saying that our revolution was part of the internecine Europe wars and now we gotta stay in that play book.
    Wouldn't the most recent historical example have more significance since it was policy AFTER WE BECAME A COUNTRY.The policy of the colonial rebels has no relevance imo.Rebels will screw their MOMMAS for a few air strikes or French warships.

  13. Tony Blair is an interesting study. Why exactly did he follow Bush, trashing the political dominance of the British Labour Party which looked in 2001 like it would be in for perhaps another 20+ years? The Tories were that bad off back then.

    Maybe it was the Bill Clinton "disease", that is the notion/decision to move to the right and essentially pre-empt the "conservatives" on most of their own issues . . . In 2003, it looked like a neo-con future, after all who - outside of the clear-minded and the Clausewitzians - could have expected the whole Bush dream to collapse into disaster?

    Our history since has been basically attempting to convince ourselves to give the neo-con option another shot . . .

    Don Fernando-

    Thanks for your thoughts. Any comment on Tony B? Also, I think you will find these interesting:

  14. jim - Where are you finding these oedipal founding fathers? There are none that I know of, but anything is possible.

  15. Bush Junior maybe but not our first George W.

  16. Updated the post to deal with Ullman . . . comments?

  17. I find it amusing that Obama is trying to play statesmen/big-daddy to a fledgling, and may I add...suspect rebel faction that has all the companionable nobility of rabid chimps fighting over the last banana.

    I'm certain they have noble ideas about...oh please, who are we kidding...they're a bunch of tribes who got together to unseat the big ape in Tripoli, and once that sitting lunk is dethroned which of them will ascend to the heights of of despotism?

    Yeah, I'm saying, Libya created MQ, and all I see is a pack of chimps fighting over succession, not freedom. And I find it disingenuous of our government to call this gaggle of chimps "rebels."

    But herein is my complaint...I find it disturbing, and this is how I see it: The American government is an aging, gyrating, masturbating geriatric whore that undulates on the pole of foreign policy, and then ironically expects the world to pony up some respect for her efforts.
    Shove a few bills into her laced g-string that is hidden under her muffin-top belly that sags far too much with corporate dollars.
    How can we take anything our government says serious?
    The MO is the same...different decade, hell, different century, but the fucking MO is still the same...criminy, for once, I just wish the government would develop a new MO to spoon feed everyone so at least we could enjoy the flavor of deception before the poison hits.

    It would be a nice change of pace.

  18. sheer-

    "The American government is an aging, gyrating, masturbating geriatric whore that undulates on the pole of foreign policy, and then ironically expects the world to pony up some respect for her efforts . . . "

    Not the first thing I wish to read in the morning before breakfast, but an interesting metaphor nonetheless. Still, I see some weaknesses here . . .

    The whore gets to make a choice, in fact a whole series of choices and the show says more about the audience than it does about the whore.

    Now consider a quite different metaphor, a once prosperous farm which has fallen into neglect and abuse. The overseers allow any one with a bribe to come in and take away whatever they please. The family who actually owns the farm are distant and disinterested, see the farm as a useless burden, something to be liquidated but lack even the energy to do that. What they fail to realize due to their self-absorption and basic stupidity is that the farm actually provides the basis for what security and prosperity they enjoy . . . Consider the characters: disinterested and clueless family owners, corrupt overseers, parasites who bribe the overseers to take what they want and finally vandals who simply come in and trash the place . . . how does my metaphor measure to yours?

  19. Sheer,

    As Seydlitz says, it's not quite the image to wake up on, but I'm sure it holds some interest for Ranger ;)

    Don Francisco,

    I agree with your view that U.S. military might is more of a handicap in situations like Libya. May I ask in what part of England you reside? (I have friends and family over there.)

  20. Mike,
    As for the French helping our revolution, thanks for reminding me, but didn't that help break their bank/backs thru military over reach which led to the over throw of the monarchy which led to Napoleon etc... etc... yaddi... yaddi.
    In short what did the French gain by recognizing our criminal FF's, Oedipal or not,in the long run??
    This seems a perfect comparison to our Libyan gang fuck. We'll follow the Bourbons, but hey this is a pub.
    One bourbon, one shot, one beer.

  21. Seydlitz -

    Blair is a difficult one to fathom. Up until 2003 he was almost untouchable - two thumping election wins, ease in public and at the despatch box, he was a natural, his opponents in awe of him. The move to go to war in Iraq was not popular, certainly not in his own party and never more than 50% of the public. The Bush administration clearly were unhinged. You didn't need to be a clever politician to work out that the safest option for your country and for you was not to get involved, all the more perplexing as Blair was clearly very clever.

    Ask Brits why they thought Blair backed Bush and you'll get a different answer each time. Personally I think there was some hubris, he had been right about so many things for so long, too long. There are some who accuse him of not having read enough history - I'd go along with some of that, but as he was legally trained he will understand sources & arguments. Though he never struck me as particularly reflective, another valuable quality you learn from history.

    To be honest I thought Robert Harris's book The Ghost (now Roman Polanski film) summed up the British view of Blair - he remains a puzzle.

    Lisa - I live in Yorkshire though I'm not from here originally. I lived 12 years in Manchester, before that 18 years born & bred in Scotland. Where do your friends live?

  22. I think that stripped of the rhetorical flourishes this ties back directly to the whole "regardless of who rules in Washington the Washington Rules rule them all" thing.

    The idea that something foreign-policy-y and military could go on in North Africa without U.S. involvement is just poison to a fairly huge chunk of the U.S. "leadership" and policy-thinking classes. Heavens, if there were no GIs involved those furriners might get to thinking that they might make decisions or take actions without even considering the wishes of the U.S. government!

    Hence this clusterfuck. Nobody wanted to think about the complications because...well, because they were complicated, and most of them had outcomes that ranged from less-than-good to outright bad. The critical factor was keeping the U.S. skin in the Great Game, regardless of the actual benefit to the U.S., even if our "side" "won".

    One of the luxuries of being an ocean-isolated superpower is the luxury of not having to fear the consequences of our mistakes. For most of history, for most peoples and polities this has not been the case. In the Game of Thrones you either won or you died. That often concentrated the mind wonderfully (but didn't stop the idiotic monarchies of Europe from playing, losing, and causing pantsloads of their subjects to die, mind you). We are utterly insulated from that today, which, I think, helps produce these idiotic, poorly-thought-out interventions in these strategically problematic and geopolitically meaningless places...

  23. Don Fernando-

    Interesting comment. Religion, or what passes for religion today played a part as well imo . . . Bush and Blair as the two born-agains.

    It will be interesting to observe how this Murdoch scandal plays out in the States . . .

  24. "how does my metaphor measure to yours?"

    yours is for polite company, and well measured in a reasoned way...mine...mine indicates that I'm calling our government an old whore...I'd call it a corpse, but I don't think they've reached that point yet...but I can wish.

    As for the rest...the train wreck of the economy is about to take a double shit once the banks start their write downs on the foreclosures which they've been putting off for near four years...but their boat is about to dock, and what a failure that will bring...and all the assholes in the Republican party can do is jump up and down like wild chimps at a jungle orgy.

    It's just sad.

  25. sheerah,

    'Tis very sad. Per your metaphor of government - as - corpse (I think Jim is still feasting on the muffin top/g-string imagery) ... we in our podunk district of FLA can be proud of one thing -- one small irony -- which places us in the vanguard:

    Our new Rep. Southerland (when he isn't twiddling his thumbs in D.C.) is an undertaker, a bona fide student of the Mortuary sciences from Jefferson State Jr. College, practicing his trade in Pensacola.

    There is some kind of fitness to the job implied here ...

  26. FDChief-

    "The critical factor was keeping the U.S. skin in the Great Game, regardless of the actual benefit to the U.S., even if our "side" "won"."

    Agree, and this is much the reason why we are still in both Iraq and Afghanistan. By leaving we would be admitting that both are lost wars for us strategically, but by remaining operationally committed we kick that can down the road, but at a high price.

    It's the same neo-con/Know Nothing/Nihilist Right that has been our scourge since the mid 1990s if not before. A good example of their twisted logic and inability to confront the results of their own policy choices is clearly on display here . . . amazing in a sick way.

  27. sheer-

    I wonder if in fact your metaphor better reflects the current state of American culture whereas mine better reflects the current situation with the American state . . .

  28. Sheerakhan: "As for the rest...the train wreck of the economy is about to take a double shit once the banks start their write downs on the foreclosures which they've been putting off for near four years...but their boat is about to dock"

    Your comment about foreclosures is the $64k question. I personally don't think that foreclosures will restart on a large scale any time soon. The banks have gotten the accounting rules changed so they don't have to take a hit on a bad loan until they sell it in foreclosure. This removes most of the incentive for them to foreclose on a property (the other major incentive is property taxes but people living in foreclosed houses seem to be paying that).

    Another issue is that the banks don't own the bad loans, one of the genius things about the games the banks played when housing was hot was that they started selling the loans to other organizations, mostly pension funds and non-US government sovereign funds. All the banks got was an administration fee, which they continue to charge on properties that they haven't foreclosed yet.

    One of the dirty little secrets of the foreclosure crisis is the huge hit pension funds are going to take from buying bad loans. The funds are concealing this right now, partly because they don't know how big the hit will be (and they are keeping their lawyers VERY busy trying to minimize the blow) and partly because they fear the consequences when it inevitably leaks out. So they're doing the good bureaucratic thing and sitting on the news and hoping it goes away.

  29. Definitely before. The wingnut right circa 1949 would have had us jumping in to try and "save China", or going to war over frigging Quemoy and Matsu. These fucks have been dumb as stumps since Jackson's time.

  30. Don Francisco-

    Tell us please your current view of the Murdoch scandal in Britain . . . that would be interesting . . .

  31. "Don Fernando", is another guy I know, sorry :-)>

  32. "I personally don't think that foreclosures will restart on a large scale any time soon."

    BofA just posted a 8.8 billion dollar loss, and now the markets are waiting to see who else is going to post a loss...btw, Goldman Sachs came way under't happen to a nicer company...anyway, Pluto, I wouldn't be unbuckling that seat belt yet.

  33. seydlitz -

    Murdoch is a creep. But Mrs Murdoch is my new heroine. Or maybe that whole foam-pie incident was staged to get him sympathy, you think?

  34. mike-

    I'll stick with "Murdoch's a creep".

  35. mike and seydlitz,
    I say again-what has Murdoch done that the NSA didn't do on a massive scale??
    Just curious.

  36. seydlitz - I still suspect that the pie-throw was a setup to get sympathy.

    jim - So are you saying that what Murdoch did is OK since the NSA was worse??

  37. mike,
    Nope i just want to point out that we accept our gov't doing the things that Murdock also did.
    No i don't condone. This sure seems like moral relativism.

  38. jim-

    Murdoch is a private citizen, actually for the Brits, a foreign private citizen, manipulating their political system. Being the country they are he will be lucky to get out of this in one piece imo.

    The NSA on the other hand is a US government agency operating under the orders of the US Executive . . .

  39. MQ's in hiding, Tripoli is in the hands of the rebels, and various politicians are patting themselves on the back for their "consistency" or something like that . . .

    Hey, I'm glad the fighting mostly over and now the Libyans can rebuild their country. The worse guys lost and the not so bad and even good guys won. We'll see how long before the Global War on Terror industry latches on to this and tries to make it into a threat . . .