Some More (Unsolicited) Advice for the Libyan Rebels

Oh what fun we’ve had in the last six weeks! You folks were winning. And then you weren’t. And then the French and the American air forces showed up, allowing you to win again. And now you aren’t. To be crass, it’s like a tennis match. With tanks and bombs.

It’s clear at this point that not all Libyans support the uprising against Muammar Qaddafiy. Many do. Possibly even most. But not quite enough. Qaddafiy still commands a fairly well organized army, one that is still fairly cohesive despite being pounded from the air and losing both armor and artillery and the ability to effectively use armor and heavy artillery. It can still defeat you on the ground. What we had all hoped would be a fairly happy rerun of the December 1989 revolution in Romania has not happened. Qaddafiy has far more support in Libya than Nicolae Ceaucescu had in the end, and I suppose we can thank the tribal nature of Libyan society, as well as the fact the The Brother Leader had put many of his close family members in charge of those bits of government most important to him. (Modern state institutions like Egypt’s or Romania’s, with their desired basis in professionalism and competence rather than familial closeness, can easily betray a dictator if they see their best interests served in doing so. Political parties are also not families. Family is, well, family.)

So, some advice. As romantic and wonderful as a charge across the desert in Toyota pickup trucks is, beating the crap out of regime forces with the help of French and American fighter jets, it’s clear you’ve strung yourselves out too far and aren’t a coherent enough fighting force to effectively hold territory. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • The French and Americans really are on your side. Don’t take the alleged impartiality of the UN Security Council resolution too seriously. The West is working for you. The presence of CIA advisors should be proof of that, not to mention all the bombing. Take advantage of that. Form a defensive line somewhere — I’d recommend Ajdabiya, but I understand y’all may be retreating from there as well — and then, with the help of all this allied air power, hold it. (For inspiration, let me suggest to you Surah 105 of the Qur’an, which relates the account of how God sent the birds to drop stones on Abraha’s army besieging the Ka’aba in Makka and destroy that army. If such a comparison, birds sent from God with the US and French air forces, seems blasphemous to you, consider that Kuwaitis were more than happy to make that link after the 1991 war to liberate their country.)
  • Organize, organize, organize. Yes, as I noted, the dash across the desert probably seems adventurous and romantic, all Lawrence of Arabia/Norman Schwartzkopf-like. (And perhaps there are stories from Libyan history as well.) But you aren’t an army, you are an armed mob. And the difference is being able to stand, defend and hold a position. Which you can’t. Even becoming a militia at this point would be an improvement. Slow down. Time is now on your side. Qaddafiy cannot legally re-equip his army (tanks and howitzers gone are gone for good), and allied air power will continue to wear it down. If Qaddafiy thinks he can outlast Western force, I’d suggest a quick Wikipedia search under “Hussein, Saddam” and “Milosevic, Slobodan.” (This may also inspire you to slow down.) Westerners may come off as sissies initially, but when we decide to wage war, we are relentless.
  • Form a proper government already. See the above section on organizing. You are getting there. But even Cote d’Ivoire has a proper, internationally recognized government.
  • But realize now your are conquering a country, not liberating it. Western reporters wandering around Tripoli a few days after the bombing began, in allegedly unminded moments, would get snippets of talk from Libyans stating something to the effect of “a week more of this and Tripoli will rise.” Maybe. But it has been nearly two weeks now, and none of the cities currently under Qaddafiy control have rebelled. It could be those under Qaddafiy’s rule — some, many, or most — are still oppressed by his regime and still too frightened to rise up. But it could also be that, at least in places, there is significant real support for Qaddafiy and his war aims. It is impossible to tell with dictatorships. It could also be the intervention of NATO has changed how Libyans in Qaddafiy-ruled areas view their government. Like Russians facing the Wermacht in 1941, they may be willing to fight for a regime they hate because it is fighting against foreign force. I do not know. But once it was clear this was no longer a mass, popular rebellion against a hated government and had become a civil war, the obvious outcome is that someone was going to be defeated and ruled against their will.
  • Foreign forces are coming ready or not. I know y’all have said you don’t believe you need foreign troops to help. And some of you may actually believe the UN resolution authorizing the war prevents foreign soldiers from intervening. It doesn’t. The West has already committed itself to the success of your increasingly haphazard rebellion, and if defending Benghazi and protecting Misurata cannot be done from the air, well, then it will be done on the ground, probably with French Foreign Legion regiments and U.S. Marine battalions. This will likely make any regime partisans fight all that much harder.
  • Get ready for a long war. It’s nice that Mousa Kousa showed up in London, resigned his old job and denounced his former employer. He also doesn’t matter much. Until the Qaddafiy regime leaders on the UN Security Council resolution 1970 list of sanctioned people and people prevented from traveling start defecting, the regime is still solid and still united and will still stand whatever ground it holds. You are going to have to take that ground meter by meter, probably, especially at the end. This is why you need to organize. To break Qaddafiy, you will need to break his state. Every bit of it. Without tiring or flinching. It’s very likely going to take awhile. And when you are done, you will have to rebuild just about everything from scratch. This is the course you have committed to.
Again, I suspect I have told y’all anything you don’t already know. And I haven’t said anything your supporters in Washington, Paris and London don’t already know too. May God be with you.

One thought on “Some More (Unsolicited) Advice for the Libyan Rebels

  1. Appreciate the deconstructions of some of these thought processes–the notion that one can pillage and rape and plunder if it’s at bottom an exercise in unselfishness rang in my head after I heard it on Antiwar Radio. The the thought about “essentialism” also was informative . . ..

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