As Ramadan kicks off, NATO’s millitary operation in Libya is sinking into total confusion, has observed Alexis Crow.
This Chatham House analyst, specializing in the study of the Atlantic Alliance, is one of the first Western think tank experts to have publicly addressed Al Qaeda’s role in the bosom of the “rebel forces”. Today again, she is the first one to talk about the elephant in the room: NATO’s political leaders have abandoned their war aims, both formal and informal. They have, strictly speaking, no alternative strategy, other than to look for an escape that would allow them to hold their heads high. Quite obviously, it is not just the French General Staff, but currently also London that is concerned to see its forces getting bogged down in Libya with no solution in sight.
The “protection of civilians” has never been anything but a contrived slogan to begin with. Now, the idea of “regime change” in Tripoli has also evaporated, as has the option of dividing the country into two separate states with Tripoli and Benghazi as capitals. At most, Brussels hopes to obtain autonomous status for a few enclaves.
Aware of the looming political and military disaster, Washington is seeking a negotiated exit, while claiming that it is not because NATO has lost the war that it must stop bombarding Libya. Time is on our side, tout US emissaries, while the National Transitional Council has drained the Libyan bank accounts that were frozen by the UN Security Council.
In any case, if Washington has made a mistake and is incapable of redressing the situation, it is because it hasn’t learned the first thing about Libyan behavior. Intoxicated by its own propaganda, the United States believed it would be facing a centralized and vertical dictatorial structure; instead it stumbled upon a horizontal and opaque system in which power is spread out, including at the military level. In spite of meeting with several emissaries in various capitals, the US failed to gauge their lack of political representation. And even worse, they cannot figure out the reactions of mercurial Muammar Gaddafi, who is equally persuaded that time is on his side.
The strategy of the West was simple: take advantage of Libya’s normalization and economic opening to form a class of ’golden boy’ technocrats that would end up preferring the American Way of Life to Gaddafi’s Green Book. As soon as this process reached maturity, the CIA organized the Benghazi events and the media distortion campaign. With their humanitarian discourse, the French and British were placed in the forefront to provide cannon fodder in the case of an eventual ground action. The National Transitional Council was put together by retrieving Americanized members of the ruling class, with the addition of old expatriates sponsored by the CIA ever since the fall of the monarchy, plus Al Qaeda fighters overseen by a Saudi faction.
Although seemingly a mixed bag, this coalition is based on the common history of its individual members. Most have worked for the United States for many years and have switched political affiliation several times over in keeping with Washington’s tactical interests. Many are secret members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
True to the Green Book, Muammar Gaddafi intentionally exacerbated the class divide by announcing on February 22 the dissolution of several ministries and distribution of their budget equally among all citizens (or 21 000 USD per person). Seeing the “Brother Leader” reviving his anarchist project, the privileged class who became rich during the country’s economic liberalization got scared. Some chose to flee to the West with their families and their pile, while others believed in a quick victory by the Atlantic Alliance and joined the CNT in the hope of ruling Libya in the future.
To carry out this color insurrection, Washington had only one card to play: the corruption of one of Muammar Gaddafi’s companions, Interior Minister General Abdel Fatah Younes. His volte face was the cue for converting the ongoing the political destabilization operation into a military adventure. But, the assassination of General Younes at the hands of his rivals, on 28 July 2011, has caused the collapse of the “rebel army“, thereby revealing the artificiality of the National Transitional Council.
Today, there are more than 70 armed groups that are dubbed as “rebels.” Almost all of them acknowledge the authority of Younes Abdel Fatah, who aimed to coordinate them. Since the announcement of his death, each group has resumed its autonomy. Some have created their own government and are vying to be recognized by Member States of the Coalition, including Qatar, on an equal footing as the CNT. Each locality has its own warlord who intends to proclaim independence. Within days, Cyrenaica plunged into an Iraq-like situation. The level of chaos is such that, at General Younes’ funeral, his own son called for the return of Gaddafi and of the green flag as the only means, in his view, of restoring the safety of the population.
Hence, it is enough to simply listen to the speeches of Muammar Gaddafi in order to grasp his strategy. While the streets of Benghazi have emptied, massive demonstrations are being organized all over Tripolitania and Fezzam to jeer against NATO. The “Brother Guide” intervenes through loudspeakers and dialogues with the crowd. He explaines that a quick truce would be detrimental to national unity, while the protraction of the war allows more time to overthrow the illegitimate power of the CNT and thus preserve the territorial integrity of Libya. Colonel Gaddafi, who has already rallied the tribes, now intends to win over the people who still support the CNT. In his audio interventions, he urges his people to stand ready to liberate the occupied cities. They will have to swarm together, unarmed, to regain control of the “rebel” pockets in a non-violent way.
Muammar Gaddafi has already defeated NATO air power politically; now he thinks he can also win politically on the ground against the “rebels”.
In this entangled situation, where most players are at a loss as to what to do, reflexes override reason. Supporters of the Green Book intend to take advantage of the vacuum created by the flight of technocrats to return to the fundamentals of the Revolution; those around Saif el-Islam Gadhafi, who believed they could combine Gaddafism with globalization, are negotiating with their Western friends; and NATO continues to bomb the same sites it already bombed yesterday and the day before yesterday.