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Libya – A Quick Military and Geopolitical Overview

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Crazy But Not Stupid.

Libya, a nation in name only, is in the early stages of a tribally driven and brutal civil war.  But for all the comparisons between Colonel Gaddafi and the other ranter du jour, Charlie Sheen, there is very little that’s deranged about the Colonel. Indeed, he’s probably been prepared for the eventuality that Benghazi would fall for longer than we imagine.

Gaddafi kept the army small and disorganized for precisely the reason we see now. The rebels are too poorly trained and lack the cohesion to beat Gaddafi’s family and tribal led elite units and African mercenaries in a head-on clash. They’re small but far better trained and equipped than the rebels will ever be. Gaddafi’s men also have their backs to the wall. If Tripoli falls, they are clearly dead. Which is why he’s counterattacking to head off the possibility that the urban mob in the capital will turn on him and end the game through the back door.

The battle will most likely center around the oil terminals on the coast to the east of Tripoli, as is already happening. And as took place during 1940 and 1941, the battleground will be the coast road, although neither side has anything like the skill and determination of the Desert Rats or Afrika Korps. But Gaddafi has to control the spigot. It’s the only way he has any hope of controlling the battle.

The problem for the Colonel is that he probably loses even if he is able to see off the rebel threat. The world has U-turned. The embarrassing rapprochement with the West engineered to secure Libya’s agreement to scrap its probably non-existent WMD threat has backfired dramatically. Even if he’s able to survive, his financial situation will become more tenuous over time, and with it his ability to pay mercenaries to help keep him in power. His only hope, without a doubt, is to control the oil terminals and keep oil prices high. If he can maintain and build his grip on the terminals, then he at least has some leverage to help him survive. But, ultimately, that requires moving through Benghazi and onto Tobruk, which seems a tall order, unless his units have some unlikely victories to the West and build up a head of steam.

What is more likely – because neither side has much military skill – is a bloody, messy, protracted war of attrition that might go on almost indefinitely. The US and NATO could of course put a stop to it fast, but there is little stomach in Brussels, Washington and the capitals of Western Europe for anything other than a token humanitarian intervention.

That might change if the Libyan crisis takes oil prices up the $120+ range over time. $4 gas has a habit of stiffening the backbone of even the most reluctant Commander-in-Chief, especially if it risks stifling a nascent and flimsy American economic recovery on which his reelection hopes may depend.

Written by coolrebel

March 4, 2011 at 10:53 am

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