Thursday, March 12, 2015

Bombing Libya Into a Failed State. Mission Accomplished. Next?

Nobody listened to me.  They didn't listen to al Qaeda either.  And now Libya is poised on the brink of collapse, a failed state.

Back in February, 2011 when the anti-Gaddafi revolt was getting underway, I advocated having the Americans send the Egyptian army and air force to clear out Gaddafi and his troops.  It would have been a piece of cake.  Egypt, right next door, was awash in modern US deathware - loads of M-1A1 Abrams tanks and late model F-16 fighters.  Gaddafi's clapped out 70s and 80s-vintage Soviet gear wouldn't have stood a chance.

Why did I advocate an Egyptian invasion of Libya?  Because I'd listened to al Qaeda when they announced their intentions to get involved.  They were completely candid.  They regretted missing their chance to get established in North Africa during the ouster of Mubarak and said they weren't about to pass up their next chance, Libya.  The key to keeping them out was to get rid of Gaddafi quickly and help the rebel side establish a new Libyan government before al Qaeda could make their move.

We didn't do that.  Instead we dithered and dawdled for a few more months before commencing a NATO bombing campaign against Gaddafi units.  That took ONE HUNDRED and SIXTY ONE DAYS.  And that provided al Qaeda the perfect opportunity to do precisely what they said they would do, get established in Libya to spread through other parts of North Africa.  Today even ISIS is in there.

One of the first things al Qaeda did when it got its forces operating in Libya was to ambush the general leading the anti-Gaddafi resistance, the guy everyone was counting on to establish the first post-Gaddafi government.  al Qaeda knew that guy had to go and, as our jets flew overhead turning vintage Soviet tanks into scrap metal, that's precisely what they did.  The rest, as they say, is history.

The CBC's Brian Stewart says all we've done is plough new fields for ISIS to take hold.

Our fired-up foreign minister at the time, John Baird scribbled "Free Libya. Democracy" on one of our bombs before it was dropped on Gadhafi's crumbling forces.

Whatever befell Libya, Baird predicted, "wouldn't be any worse than Col. Gadhafi."

This struck some observers as a rather sudden conversion given Canada had been steadily enhancing its diplomatic and especially business links to Gadhafi's notorious regime for most of a decade.

In any event, the 8,000 bombing missions —10 per cent of them Canadian — can hardly be said to have brought democracy to a free Libya.

Far more accurate to say it helped unleash a nightmarish civil war and murderous anarchy on a nation that still lacks a stable government four years later.

Notwithstanding the proud ceremonial reception that the prime minister accorded the Libya mission on Parliament Hill two years ago, that country remains just the kind of collapsing state that ISIS preys upon.

We now have seen the ISIS handiwork there in a video-taped round of brutal mass executions of 21 Christians late last month.

Last weekend it launched a new series of attacks on the country's once vital oil fields, killing petro-workers and seizing foreigners as captives.

ISIS is believed to be attacking in three areas of Libya, and have captured much of the historic city of Sirte.

ISIS's move into Libya has alarmed Western governments, of course, but what they are just as concerned about is that the extremists have suddenly become active in war-torn Afghanistan.

Now the so-called Islamic State's Afghan connection is even causing Washington to reconsider ending its planned troop reduction there this summer, according to new Defence Secretary Ashton Carter.

...the wealth and materiel ISIS apparently gained from its fighting in Iraq and Syria, may be proving influential in a country like Afghanistan, which is still devastated by war and insecurity.

Radio Free Afghanistan is reporting that ISIS recruitment is strong enough to alarm local mullahs even in the remote mountainous regions in the east and north, and is provoking growing demands by Afghan clerics to confront the black-flag waving newcomers.

...While it remains unlikely that ISIS can seriously threaten the Taliban's long established lead in the Afghan insurgency, that country's vast opium production, by far the world's largest, presents a huge target for it to try to control, presumably with its usual mix of terror and bribery.

Russia, which struggles with its own drug problem, claims ISIS is now a major part of the long heroin smuggling trail through the Middle East and Balkans into Europe.

It is a trade that is said to earn the jihadists an estimated $1 billion a year in illegal profits.

There's a good chance, of course, that ISIS will overstep its capabilities in the highly confused and fragmented rebellions in both Libya and Afghanistan.

Other movements will surely oppose their extreme and vengeful form of Wahhabism (they make even the brutal Taliban seem restrained by comparison).

But who anymore can confidently predict the outcome?

Military analysts are a good deal more cautious in predicting anything these days, and it must be said Ottawa's record of forecasting military outcomes in the decade since 2005 seems to lie somewhere between dubious and fragile.

I would go a step past Brian Stewart's too-charitable assessment.  Going straight back to the Big Cod (remember him?) our combined military and political leadership has been pathetic.  

General Hillier completely failed to achieve the objectives he promised us.  A complete and utter failure.  Stephen Harper promised great things in Afghanistan - an end to the Taliban, the establishment of human rights, the introduction of lasting democracy - and he too failed on every count.  A succession of ticket-punching generals assured us the Talibs were on the run, whipped.  They too were full of shit, full almost to bursting.

And now they want to get stuck into combat again in Iraq and possibly Syria. Why leave out Libya or Afghanistan?  We left both places in a total mess.  Don't we owe it to the Libyan and Afghan people to clean up our leavings?

Surely if Afghanistan has taught us anything it's not to play war.  Either go in to win or just stay out.  With our military budget down to a post-war record 1 percent GDP, with our navy unable to deploy a single task force for want of essential ships, with our army's kit already clapped out from a decade in Afghanistan, with our CF-18 fleet getting long in the tooth, with a growing Russian military presence in the Arctic, with the crisis in Ukraine, with a perceived threat to the Baltic states, with the looming threat of a war against Iran, with the spreading threat of ISIS making us all but forget Syria's Assad, with America's new focus on containing China, just what in hell do we think what's left of Canada's military is going to accomplish?

The defence of Canada is no longer assured and, while that is in doubt, we have no business exhausting our military capacity on foolish adventures in the Middle East.


Kim said...

Amen! I completely agree.

Anonymous said...

Banking bombing Balkanization ?

Anonymous said...

I left this comment in "The way we wage the war" article on Feb 18:
"The creation of radical Muslim movements/opponents was PLANNED* and Iraq and Libya were destroyed to accomplish such goal.
*fringe benefits included protection of USD (both Saddam and Ghaddafi liked gold and hated greenback) and few other minor goals."
Just to add that any illusions that Obama is somehow "different" were dispelled when he authorized Libya mission.

The Mound of Sound said...

Yes, you've made that contention before, A..non. Do you have anything to support your claim, anything at all? It's the sort of thing that could be another conspiracy theory.

Purple library guy said...

Or we could have, you know, NOT transformed the country with the best standard of living, education and health care in Africa into a failed state. By, like, minding our own goddamn business, and the Egyptians too.

Anonymous said...

Mound, word "conspiracy" is routinely overused and ridiculed by those who would like to hide in plain sight. "Cui bono" worked 2,000 years ago and works now. Combine this with observation who is exploiting(!) the situation and the motives and enablers of "Realpolitik" become clear.

Few stories back you posted this: "Sakwa maintains it was the United States, fearful of suffering economically, that subverted efforts for an economic and political reconciliation between the EU and Russia"
To me this a perfect example of Realpolitik.

Troy Thomas said...

Honestly, Libya was a failure by NATO in every way imaginable.
I suppose the only comfort NATO takes from destroying Libya is they ruined a Russian ally. That's probably the only positive NATO can take from this. Otherwise, it's abject failure.