Posted on 07-11-2012
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

We won’t have Mitt Romney to kick around for much longer.  However, just released back story for Romney’s Benghazi blunder shows just how much Romney was in thrall to the neo-con elements of his base.  When the American consulates in Cairo and Benghazi came under attack on September 11, Mitt Romney jumped the gun to score cheap political points while the consulates were still under attack.  The Washington Post notes  that Mitt Romney was aware the next day he had blundered.  However, fear of the neo-cons being outraged prevented him from admitting his boneheaded mistake.

Within hours, on the advice of his messaging shop and with the blessing of his foreign policy advisers, Romney approved a statement that accused Obama of sympathizing with anti-American interests in the Muslim world. It was sent out shortly after 10 p.m.

By sunrise the next day, it was clear to Romney that they had acted too quickly. The campaign learned that four Americans had been killed in an attack on a U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Even to some Republicans, Romney’s hasty statement looked insensitive.

“We screwed up, guys,” Romney told aides on a conference call that morning, according to multiple people on the call. “This is not good.”

His advisers told him that, if he took back his statement, the neoconservative wing of the party would “take his head off.” He stood by it during an appearance in Florida.

A gutless weasel who cannot stand up to the extremists of his own party has no business being President.  We are lucky to have avoided a Romney presidency.

 

 

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Posted on 12-09-2012
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

On September 12, 2012 the alliance between Egypt and the United States appears to have officially faded away.  Its end was not surprising. Under Sadat and then Mubarak, Egypt became an American ally and one of the biggest recipients of American aid after Israel.  Then the Pharaoh was swept away by the Arab spring and Egypt began its messy transition to democracy.  The much ballyhooed freedom agenda of George W. Bush withered away when it became clear that the popular franchise would not magically bring friends of the United States to power.

The transition in Egypt has been interesting to say the least.  Pharaoh Mubarak was forced out of power after popular protests, but the departure (like Tunisia) was stage managed by the army.  The Egyptian generals were showing signs that what they would live with was a “managed” democracy like Turkey until the 1990s and Pakistan today.  The civilians could rule within the margins set by the men in khaki.  If so, that belief was misplaced.  In August, the newly elected Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi – a former leader of the Muslim brotherhood – fired his military chiefs and nullified their constitutional declaration that gutted his office.

So far Morsi has not ended the Egyptian peace treaty with Israel, but it is clear that relations with Egypt had changed.  The embassy attacks highlight just how much.  The Libyan attacks were met by apologies of the Libyan government and were condemned by the government and people.  Indeed, the Libyan attacks appear to be more of a planned attack than triggered by the anti-Islam film.

In contrast the response from Morsi for a failure of his government to honor its diplomatic obligations has been….crickets.  For domestic consumption Morsi has ordered his embassy in Washington to try to make the pointless effort to prosecute the twits who made the movie that was used as an excuse for the riots.  David Frum speculates that Morsi is using this to solidify his power base.  Notably, President Obama’s statement today pointedly did not mention the Egypt attacks but evidently has sent the message to Egypt that it has the obligation to protect American diplomatic establishments.  This evening the Egyptian police dispersed the crowds without violence.

This evening Obama also gave an interview that made a now obvious point.  Egypt is not an ally, but is not an enemy either.  Clips of the interview from the Rachel Maddow show below:

 

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This is a huge strategic change in the Middle East.  Left unsaid (unless it is in the full interview to be aired tomorrow) is what happens to the huge aid package that went to the former ally.  The conduct of Morsi in the last couple of days is not likely to endear his government to Congress – where many on the right are already fulminating at the abandonment of the dictator to allow the election of Islamists to office.  Will the drying up of American military aid encourage Morsi and the khaki clad men who remain in line for now to temper their actions?  It is unlikely that the Obama administration would use this to encourage a Latin American style coup and it should not.  It complicates the strategic situation for Israel, which is already facing the possible replacement of the devil it knows in Syria with chaos.  It makes Netanyahu’s obsession of a war with Iran even crazier.

Ultimately, I am not upset about the end of an alliance forged with an unpopular dictator rather than with a government backed by public support.  The former is inherently unstable and makes the United States look away from abuses that tarnish our reputation by association.  The latter are generally more enduring.  Far too many foreign policy hawks pine for the client state relationships that existed in the Cold War.  They gave a type of negative stability but cost America in the long run.  Other countries have interests too and they will not always align with ours.  That is the basic principle that in coming years will guide American relations with India, Brazil, South Africa and other countries with whom we will have warm relations without a NATO style alliance. In the long run it is a healthier and more mature approach.

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Posted on 12-09-2012
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

This blog excoriated the politicization of the death of an American diplomat in a violent attack on the embassy in Benghazi yesterday.  Turns out the attack was even worse.  The death toll currently sits at 4, including the American ambassador Christopher Stevens.  Video below:

 

 

This blog is about as militant a supporter of free speech there is, but has no sympathy for deliberate provocation to stir up trouble.  Most countries do not have our free speech protections or do not share our heritage of protecting them.  So acts/statements by private individuals who then walk free are easy tools to gin up anti-American violence in the region.  Personally I find riots based on an obscure statement by an unimportant asshole on the other side of the world profoundly stupid.  But since the Satanic Verses we have known that insults or presumed insults against the Prophet Muhammad or the Quran trigger a reaction that most Americans find puzzling and overheated.

The movie blamed for the riots was a deliberate attempt to goad the bull.  Congrats Sam Bacile, Terry Jones and the other assholes who made or are promoting this film.  It worked.  You proved how easy it is to trigger riots in the Muslim world.  You have exercised your right to free speech.  Now others will pay the price.  That will range from American diplomats and citizens in the Arab world to Coptic and other Christian minorities.  I hope you are happy with the results as you head into hiding.

 

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News readers across the world suddenly discovered that Timbuktu actually exists.  Unfortunately this was for the wrong reasons.

The half baked war to topple Muammar Gaddafi did topple the world’s longest serving non-royal ruler and few tears are being shed for his grisly demise.  However, the fallout still reverberates over the Sahel.  The mercurial Gaddafi had a romantic fondness for the Tuareg people.  Libyan oil largess was spent in the region and the Tuareg were recruited as mercenaries for a dictator who was careful not to arm his people.  The Tuareg of Libya were one of the only Libyan ethnicities (other than Gaddafi’s own tribe) to stick with him till the bitter end and Gaddafi’s dauphin Saif was captured as he tried to flee to Tuareg territory.

As the fighting in Libya drew to a close, many of the Tuareg mercenaries returned home.  They brought along the military equipment Gaddafi paid for.  The result has been turmoil in the region.  In Mali, one of the relatively long lived democracies in the region, it turned a simmering rebellion into a hot civil war.  The Tuareg inflicted a series of reverses on the poorly equipped and led Malian army.  The frustrated soldiers mutinied and almost accidentally launched a coup.

This leaves Mali’s erstwhile allies in the horns of a dilemma.  Without the cold war to rationalize it, supporting dictators is a no no – even for Mali’s African neighbors.   Even though the coup leaders have promised to restore democracy (at an unspecified time) and not try to retain power, aid has been cut off.  Then there is the ugly military reality on the ground.  The legendary city of Timbuktu fell to the rebels this week.  It appears very unlikely that Mali, even with the assistance of West African neighbors, can win the territory back by force.

For now the Tuareg in Mali are content with their ethnic homeland.  But the conflagration could spread with regional involvement sparking a Tuareg revolt in Niger, Algeria and Libya.  Even if the fighting does not spread, Mali is effectively partitioned by force.

In the post colonial era the African Union elected to suppress an ethnic free for all by retaining colonial borders.  Secessionist movements like Katanga and Biafra were strongly discouraged.  Even though Eritrea could claim an exception as an Italian colony before World War II, it took 45 years and the fall of the communist Derg in Ethiopia for Eritrea to break free.  The effective partition of Somalia into three parts is ignored as if it does not exist.  South Sudan has been the one carve-out from the colonial borders that has been grudgingly accepted.  Now Mali could be the next.  And accepting a Tuareg homeland creates the type of uncertainty that causes Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran to collude in preventing an independent Kurdish state.

This was not what the world wanted to see in the aftermath of toppling Muammar Gaddafi.  The risks had been noted, but had largely been ignored.  Now Mali reaps the whirlwind.

It should serve as a cautionary tale for the current drumbeat to get involved in the Syrian ethnic quagmire.  The Assad regime is vile, but the Alawite, Shiite and Christian communities of Syria fear the alternative of a Sunni dominated regime.  The Saudis who had no qualms in crushing a Shiite rebellion against the Sunni al-Khalifa despots in Bahrain have cynically become the apostles of human rights for the largely Sunni Syrian rebels.  And the bomb everybody trio in the United States Senate (Messers. McCain, Lieberman and Graham) are chomping at the bit to suck the United States into another ethnic quagmire.

Good intentions can have unintended consequences.  Beware those who would launch us into costly wars without weighing the consequences.

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Posted on 21-10-2011
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

This blog has been dormant for a while, but the graphic images from Sirte has shaken it out of its stupor.  Perhaps for the first time since Baghdad residents got to vent their anger on the corpse of Nuri as Said in 1958, has a middle eastern mob had a similar opportunity against a despised and hated leader.  A year ago the graphic videos from Libya were unthinkable.  A few months ago with his tanks at the gates of Benghazi it looked like the 41 year rule of the mercurial dictator would survive the Arab Spring.  And then NATO with the fig-leaf of Arab support got involved and the “Northern Alliance” strategy finally bore fruit.

And then the hunt for the deposed tyrant began.  The end was pathetic.  As his hometown of Sirte finally fell to his enemies the wounded Gaddafi was dragged from his hiding place (a drain pipe).  As the fallen dictator pleaded for mercy he met his end soon after in murky circumstances.  Cell phone videos of a bleeding Gaddafi are available for anybody willing to conduct a Google search.

The rest of the Gaddafi clan is either captured, dead or has fled (warning gruesome pictures in link).

Apart from one expected quarter, Gaddafi goes to his grave unmourned.  His legacy is broken, factitious oil rich tribal mish-mash bunched under a new/old national flag.   Libya faces an uncertain future once the euphoria over the lynching in Sirte fades.

Also uncertain is the future of NATO.  The French and the British wanted this operation, but soon discovered that they could not sustain a campaign against a fourth rate military without access to the American arsenal.  Former Defense Secretary Bob Gates departed with a well timed salvo at Europe questioning the worth of an alliance where only one country carries the weight.  The solution from Congressional hawks appears to be to bankrupt the United States by continuing to sustain 40% of global military spending alone.  A reappraisal of American military commitments and spending is long overdue.

With the specter of their crazy leader gone, the people of Libya sleep easier tonight.  So do perhaps diplomats in a land of cheese, chocolates and banks.

 

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Posted on 21-08-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

After weeks of horrendous economic news, Barack Obama and NATO can heave a sigh of relief. The longest ruling despot in the world appears to have fallen.

As expected, the fall was dramatic. Just last week the squabbling rebel alliance cut off the dictator’s supply lines. Today they entered Tripoli to cheering crowds. Some of Gaddafi’s sons appear to be in custody. Gaddafi’s fate is yet unknown.

It remains to be seen whether the tribes united by the Libyan flag can create a national state. Hopefully a revenge bloodbath can be avoided.

This also turns the spotlight uncomfortably on Bashar Assad. The fears of unraveling Syria’s ethnic quilt kept many Western states quiet. Last week it became clear patience was running out. While NATO bombardment is unlikely, the younger Assad is finding it hard to emulate his father in suppressing dissent with an iron fist.

The bufoonish Gaddafi falls largely unmourned, except perhaps in Caracas, Havana, Harare and some African capitals.

The bloody Arab summer has harvested its first tyrant.

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Posted on 22-03-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

After weeks of refusing to get involved in Libya with the war-mongerers Stateside accusing him of dithering, Barack Obama turned on a dime and endorsed military action in Libya.   The push for war was largely driven by the French and the British and cloaked with legitimacy by the Arab League’s call for a no-fly zone over Libya.  The French intervention appears driven by a desire to restore their tarnished prestige following a series of diplomatic blunders with respect to the Arab uprisings.  In my opinion Obama’s shift can be explained by the following:

  • Nobody likes Muammar Gaddafi (other than Hugo Chavez) and everybody was excited at the thought of his imminent departure.
  • But Gaddafi has proved surprisingly resilient and his opposition hopelessly disorganized.
  • Last week as Gaddafi’s armor reached Benghazi there was the sudden unpalatable realization that Gaddafi was about to win.
  • Gaddafi went on television once again promising wholesale slaughter, conjuring up memories of the failure to prevent the massacres at Srebrenica in 1995 and of the Iraqi Shiites in 1991.
  • Even though he stood at the brink of victory, Gaddafi’s armed forces are weak and his advance was easily stopped.

It is interesting to speculate whether the UN would have acted if Gaddafi had not broadcast his genocidal intentions to the world.  The broadcasts may have been enough to prevent Russia and China from vetoing intervention in Libya (ironic given the willingness of both those regimes to slaughter their people in Chechnya and at Tiananmen respectively).  Yet the old fault lines are obvious.  The BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and Germany all abstained at the vote.  The Arab League whose support lent legitimacy to the operation promptly flip-flopped when the bombs started to fall.

It is hard to avoid the impression that the war was a half-baked attempt to stop a Gaddafi victory.  To his credit Barack Obama is aware (unlike many of his domestic critics) that the United States no longer has the credibility to initiate an armed intervention in the Arab or Muslim world.  Unlike the coalition of the billing that accompanied the United States into Iraq, this is a true (if disorganized) coalition with NATO allies doing heavy lifting and a few Gulf monarchies sending their fighter jets to enforce the no-fly zone.  Gaddafi’s unpopularity on the Arab street has muted some of the reflexive anti-American voices.  People still carp that this is “about oil.”  That makes no sense since Gaddafi’s legitimization in the last decade was followed by the entry of western oil companies into Libya.  Getting rid of Gaddafi was no longer a prerequisite to get Libyan oil.

The problem is that nobody has explained the end-objective of what is likely to be an open-ended military commitment.  Nobody has any idea what the disorganized Libyan opposition stands for.  Various parts of the coalition differ on the wisdom or legality of killing Gaddafi with a military strike.  Other NATO allies are showing marked reluctance to being involved in the operation and the United States is on record wanting to hand off the baton to someone else.  With the rest of the world used to freeloading on US leadership and the casting stones at the United States for “causing civilian deaths,” it is difficult to see who that would be.  There has been no debate within the United States about what American strategic goals are and how this war will be paid for.

Basically the allies are gambling that elimination of Gaddafi’s air and armor advantage will allow the opposition to sweep into Tripoli.  The precedents for this exist in the success of the Bosnian Muslims and Croats after NATO’s bombing of Serb positions.  Aerial bombardment and limited special forces involvement enabled the Northern Alliance to sweep the Taliban out of Kabul in 2001.  Yet key differences exist.  The Bosnian and Northern Alliance forces had been tempered by years of war and had an organized command structure.  The Libyan opposition is hopelessly out-gunned by even Gaddafi’s ramshackle army and mercenaries.  On the flip side the ramshackle nature of Gaddafi’s military and regime makes it unlikely that his generals will want to go down shooting for him.  There is a rumor that a kamikaze attack by a Libyan pilot may have killed one of Gaddafi’s sons.  Combined with rumors of members of the regime seeking exit strategies, Gaddafi’s rule may be cracking.

The quickest solution to this military dilemma would be for the Egyptian army to march west.  Even if it is bloated and inefficient, the Egyptian army would probably sweep aside Gaddafi’s forces.  Such an intervention would probably play well with the Egyptian street that is suspicious of the Generals’ commitment to democracy.  But the Egyptians are playing coy and their aid to the rebels has been under the table.  Their Generals have some cause for worry that an invasion of Libya could trap their army in an unwinnable occupation of a failed tribal entity with a national flag (See: Ethiopian intervention in Somalia – 2006-2009).

This is a war where the ends will unfortunately justify the means.  The quick fall of Gaddafi (even though regime change is not a declared purpose of the war) with minimal bloodshed will vindicate Messrs. Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron.  If Gaddafi holds on and the result is a long drawn civil war and military stalemate the intervention will ultimately be seen as a failure.  The fall of Gaddafi followed by chaos will probably be seen as a failure as well.

For now we cross our fingers and wait….and hope.

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Posted on 28-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

As Muammar Gaddafi digs in for his final stand, mockery of the brutal dictator is spreading across the web.  A couple of samples are below:

  • The clip below “Zenga Zenga” by Israeli musician Noy Alooshe mocks the dictator’s speech last week.  The video has garnered over 1.6 million views and is a hit in the Arab world.  Using Autotune to turn an excerpt of his speech to song the dictator promises that he will clean Libya “inch by inch, house by house, room by room, alley by alley.”  At the edges bikini clad women gyrate to the music.  The Israeli origins of the video have not prevented it from becoming a hit in the Arab world.

Enjoy…

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Posted on 24-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Robert Fisk of the Independent files this report.  Given the regime’s threats against journalists, hope he stays safe.  Excerpt below:

There is little food in Tripoli, and over the city there fell a blanket of drab, sullen rain. It guttered onto an empty Green Square and down the Italianate streets of the old capital of Tripolitania. But there were no tanks, no armoured personnel carriers, no soldiers, not a fighter plane in the air; just a few police and elderly men and women walking the pavements – a numbed populace. Sadly for the West and for the people of the free city of Benghazi, Libya’s capital appeared as quiet as any dictator would wish.

But this is an illusion. Petrol and food prices have trebled; entire towns outside Tripoli have been torn apart by fighting between pro- and anti-Gaddafi forces. In the suburbs of the city, especially in the Noufreen district, militias fought for 24 hours on Sunday with machine guns and pistols, a battle the Gadaffi forces won. In the end, the exodus of expatriates will do far more than street warfare to bring down the regime.

I was told that at least 30,000 Turks, who make up the bulk of the Libyan construction and engineering industry, have now fled the capital, along with tens of thousands of other foreign workers. On my own aircraft out of Tripoli, an evacuation flight to Europe, there were Polish, German, Japanese and Italian businessmen, all of whom told me they had closed down major companies in the past week. Worse still for Gaddafi, the oil, chemical and uranium fields of Libya lie to the south of “liberated” Benghazi. Gaddafi’s hungry capital controls only water resources, so a temporary division of Libya, which may have entered Gaddafi’s mind, would not be sustainable. Libyans and expatriates I spoke to yesterday said they thought he was clinically insane, but they expressed more anger at his son, Saif al-Islam. “We thought Saif was the new light, the ‘liberal'”, a Libyan businessman sad to me. “Now we realise he is crazier and more cruel than his father.”

If he cannot feed his mercenaries, time is running out for Gaddafi.  Time for the world to start freezing his assets.

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Posted on 24-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The beleaguered Muammar Gaddafi was expected to appear on state TV to deliver his latest rant.  But instead of appearing live he called in the latest paranoid delusions.  Even though he appears to have locked down Tripoli, the dictator’s failure to make a live appearance makes it seem he is afraid to appear in public.  Video below:

Also worth seeing is this survey by Vanity Fair of Gaddafi through the years in full sartorial splendor.  He will not be missed, but Gaddafi’s fall will make state summits really drab.

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Posted on 22-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

With his back to the wall, his army crumbling and parts of his navy defecting to Malta, Muammar Gaddafi has lashed out at his people with little restraint.  This presents his pals abroad with a dilemma.  After providing an open embrace to Libya’s leader for the last decade, what do they do when he resorts to large scale bloodletting.

Other than the usual pro-forma comment accusing the US of hypocrisy in Egypt and plotting to take over that country, Venezuela’s caudillo has been uncharacteristically quiet.  He cannot be happy at the repeated rumors (angrily shot down by both sides) that Gaddafi fled to his country (or the ease with which people like me made the assumption).

But two of his ideological comrades have finally spoken out.  Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega called Gaddafi to express support.  The former Sandinista dictator had no words of sympathy for a populace assaulted by its own head of state.

Fidel Castro appears to have been a bit more circumspect, largely focusing on the alleged upcoming NATO invasion of the country. He avoided taking a position on the atrocities based on the difficulty of deciphering the news coming out of Libya thanks to Gaddafi’s military blackout.  Much easier to fall back on anti-American paranoia than condemning a dictator who just went on state TV promising to kill his countrymen.

Bolivia’s Evo Morales has come closest to a critique of his former buddy by issuing a pro forma statement of concern for the loss of life.

The dilemma facing Gaddafi’s Latin American friends highlights the risk of embracing rogues merely because they are enemies of your real or perceived enemies.  For countries that spend so much time criticizing the United States, it is a pity they did not learn from the harm to America’s reputation abroad for supporting apartheid South Africa, Zaire’s Mobotu Sese Seko and other third world dictators under the banner of anti-communism.  It is a lesson that Hugo Chavez, who actively seeks out the embrace of despots, and his acolytes need to learn.

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Posted on 22-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

After a quixotic appearance on state TV yesterday night with his umbrella (clip in post below), the beleaguered Muammar Gaddafi made an appearance on state TV for a long rambling paranoid harangue that went on for over an hour.  The speech contained many ominous overtones as he promised to kill the “drugged” youth who rose in revolt against him.

Some of the quotes compiled by Al-Jazeera are listed below:

Muammar Gaddafi is not the president, he is the leader of the revolution. He has nothing to lose. Revolution means sacrifice until the very end of your life
Muammar Gaddafi is not a normal person that you can poison.. or lead a revolution against
I will fight until the last drop of blood with the people behind me
I haven’t even started giving the orders to use bullets – any use of force against authority of state will be sentenced to death

Also below is a video of a portion of the harangue.

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The die is now cast.  Gaddafi will fight to the bitter end.  May that be soon.

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Posted on 22-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The slide is complete.  Libya is now in civil war as Muammar Gaddafi pulls out all the stops in desperate attempts to hold on to power.  The Libyan air force has been ordered to strafe the country’s two largest cities and a few pilots defected by flying off to Malta.  Earlier today there were reports of Libyan navy ships opening fire on Tripoli.  Its been a long time since a ruler indiscriminately strafed his own capital from the air (Gaddafi’s son claimed they were targeting ammunition depots) or the sea, let alone had such a gambit keep him in power.  Later in the day came a declaration from some Libyan officers asking their troops to switch sides.  Whether this will have any effect is still unclear.

Libya’s diplomatic outposts appear to think that the die is cast.  From New York to New Delhi the regime’s ambassadors are turning in their papers refusing to obey the diktats of a ruler willing to massacre his own people on a scale not seen since Tiananmen or perhaps even since Syria’s Hafez Assad blasted his own city of Hama (mention must be given to the Soviet pulverizing of Grozny, though the Chechens at the time were in open revolt and would have angrily denied suggestions that they were part of Russia).

On Monday, Khaled Al Ga’aeem, under-secretary of Libya’s foreign ministry, phoned Al Jazeera to create a Baghdad Bob moment in stating all was well in Tripoli.  Video below:

Also on Monday night, Gaddafi himself made a very brief and odd appearance on state TV with his umbrella to deny that he had fled Tripoli for the welcoming embrace of his buddy Hugo Chavez.  Video below:

The usually impotent UN Security Council is expected to huddle behind closed doors on Tuesday to figure out an international response to the situation.  Ironically, Libya is currently on the Security Council but no longer has any lackeys in New York willing to obey the beleaguered Gaddafi.  Other than the usual platitudes, travel bans and sanctions there are two things that the UN could do.  One is direct military involvement.  The obvious candidate for such an action would be Egypt’s bloated but well equipped army.  I think that outcome is unlikely.  The other would be to declare a no fly zone over Benghazi and Tripoli that would restrict Gaddafi’s ability to draw blood.  Whether China (which is actively censoring news of Middle East unrest) or Putin’s Russia will allow such action remains to be seen.

It is hard to imagine Gaddafi surviving this revolt.  If by some miracle he does wade through rivers of blood to hold on to power, his regime would revert to North Korea type pariah status.  Having tasted the lures of international acceptability the last few years, would Gaddafi’s henchmen be willing to put up with this?

If the insurrection does succeed, Libya is likely still headed for turmoil.  United by the Italian conquest of the Ottoman provinces of Tripolitania, Fezzan and Cyrenaica in 1912, Libya like Iraq (the fusion of the Ottoman provinces of Basra, Mosul and Baghdad) is very much an artificial creation of the colonial era.

Ottoman provinces that make up modern Libya

Tribal loyalties are still paramount and Gaddafi’s long rule has largely been a tribal balancing act instead of an exercise in nation building.  One of the few things that were probably accurate in Gaddafi’s son’s incoherent rant yesterday is that a post-Gaddafi civil war cannot be ruled out.

Libya's ethnic quilt

Post Gaddafi Libya will have to devise means to balance the interests of its tribes and ethnicities without Gaddafi’s brutality and cronyism.  The oil hungry countries of the world looking to harvest Libya’s oil wealth will be watching this exercise intently.  But before we can flesh out the post Gaddafi scenarios, the tyrant still has to fall.

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Posted on 20-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The regime of the longest ruling non-royal in the world is crumbling and the amount of blood likely to be spilled in its death throes should easily surpass that shed so far in the other Arab states.  Used to pariah status in the west, Muammar Gaddafi was always unlikely to bow to international pressure of the type that cowed Baharain’s al-Khalifas.  True to form, his regime reacted to protests this week with bullets.  With limited media and internet access, distinguishing fact from fiction in Libya is hard.  But it does appear that the regime’s forces shot to kill and the death toll was high.

And then things appear to have spiraled out of Gaddafi’s control.  Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, Libya is still a tribal society.  Gaddafi’s tribal balancing act appears to have collapsed when he ordered his troops to open fire.  Reports indicate that parts of his army switched sides enabling insurgents to seize control of Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, and the fighting has now spread to Gaddafi’s home turf of Tripoli.  The Warfala tribe, one of Libya’s largest, may have turned on Gaddafi as well.

The cornered dictator sent the respectable face of his regime, his son Saif, on state television to broadcast paranoid stories of foreign attempts to split Libya and the impending civil war.  That civil war appears to have already begun.  There may be no Saudi (or as rumored Venezuelan) exile for Libya’s long time autocrat.  He has indicated that he will fight to the “last man standing.”

Western countries who allowed the lure of Libya’s oil reserves to seduce them into rehabilitating Gaddafi can only sit and watch as this bloody denouement plays itself out.  The fall of Gaddafi would be truly momentous and will cause more and more Arab autocrats to doubt the fealty of their armies.  A sign of the times is a letter sent by senior commanders of Iran’s revolutionary guard to their commanding officer promising not to open fire on demonstrators.  If true, and if it holds up, Iran’s rulers may soon be faced with a popular revolution instead of the reformation sought by the Green Revolution two years ago.  In the latest bout of Iranian protests, the vitriol is increasingly directed at the true leader of Iran’s autocracy, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, instead of the President Ahmadinejad.

Protests also appear to have spread to Morocco.  The still popular King Mohammed VI once allegedly indicated that he wished to emulate Spain’s democracy bringing King Juan Carlos rather than his own father King Hassan II.  While Morocco may have eased up on the worst excesses of Hassan’s reign, it is time for the still absolute monarch to emulate his political idol more completely.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s worried rulers have promised to support the al-Khalifas of Bahrain.  The nature of that support is still unclear and for now Bahrain appears to have walked back from the brink.

With the Middle East convulsing, it will be interesting to see if the virus of unrest casts a wider web.  China’s rulers are on edge and Venezuela’s caudillo appears to be uncharacteristically quiet.  The next wobbly domino should emerge soon.

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Posted on 14-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The fall of the Pharaoh raises the question whether the Middle East tumult will subside, or if this is the beginning of an avalanche not seen since Eastern Europe in 1989. While it is easy to get carried away, regime change in Tunis and Cairo occurred because the men with the guns did not act against the protesters. As Iran showed a couple of years back, unfortunately that is not always true. When the generals obey their masters and when the grunts obey the generals, democratic hopes come to a bloody end.

It is also still not clear whether Tunis and Cairo were soft coups, where the public face of the regime changed but little else did. However, some local despots do need to be more scared than others.  On cue the days of rage have commenced in three of the most vulnerable autocracies in the middle east.

  • Iran – When Egypt erupted, the mullahs hypocritically cheered the right of Egyptians to protest.   They should have known that their restive masses were looking at Cairo and drawing encouragement.  Now the embers of the Green Revolution are reigniting.  The opposition leaders are already in preventive house arrest and the riot police are cracking skulls.
  • Algeria – Algeria was the rare Arab country that held free elections in the early 1990s.  When it appeared the Islamists won, the military quashed the results (taking their cues from the Burmese junta who made the similar error of not rigging their elections a couple of years before).  The next few years saw a brutal and bloody civil war.  Though violence died down the last few years, unrest has always simmered underneath.  Now it has erupted.
  • Bahrain – The Gulf monarchy’s presence in this list may seem unusual to people who do not follow the Middle East, but the Sunni monarchy ruling a 70% Shiite population has had periodic bouts of unrest.  After promising to respect peaceful rallies, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has opted for bullets.  Warning:  Violent video below.

The protests in all three countries already highlight one huge difference with Tunisia and Egypt.  These autocracies are willing to spill blood.  The men with guns and batons will have to refuse to take orders for these tyrants to fall or give way.  The list above is also not exhaustive.  Yemen, Jordan, Sudan and to a lesser extent Syria (where you have to frankly be foolhardy to publicly protest) have faced protests.  Then there is the longest ruling autocrat in the region who has seen his fellow dictators on either side of his country fall.  The recent cables leaked by Wikileaks revel how the 41 year regime of Muammar Gadaffi has been tarnished by his licentious progeny.  Even Libya may be facing the unthinkable, public protests.

It is very likely that no more dominoes will fall this go around, but the yearnings for freedom and respect on the Arab street will be harder to bottle up again.  And if one can dream, if Egypt actually manages to create a constitutional democracy the clock will start running out for the remaining autocracies in the region.  The 1990s saw the demise of assorted military juntas in Latin America.  Even though the Chavezs and Ortegas are threatening democracy in the region, by and large military rule is passe in the region.  Lets hope this decade sees similar change from the Maghreb to the Fertile Crescent, and beyond.

As a final note, do notice how quiet the murderous thugs of Al-Qaeda have been at the sight of the Pharaoh being toppled without suicide bombers.

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