There Is No Plan

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Winner Syria. Loser Libya.

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It’s a sure bet that Colonel Gaddafi or Qaddafi or however he spells his name isn’t the envious type. He’s too busy right now lobbing shells onto his own people for that. But if he were a jealous kind of guy, you can bet your bootstraps that he’d be full of schadenfreude for President Assad of Syria.

I mean, see it from the Colonel’s rather warped POV. There he was successfully compromising and cajoling the West into a rapprochement (including a deal with the US and handshake with Tony Blair) when suddenly Tunisia goes up in smoke, Egypt follows, and then the restive tribes around Benghazi decide to go all freedom fighter on his ass. So he does what any self-respecting dictator would do. It says it right there in the manual. Page 2. If there’s any organized dissent of any kind, crush it with obvious and public brutality. All he did was follow the book to the letter and suddenly the Brits and Frogs are down on him with everything they’ve got (which granted isn’t that much). With President Obama as a cheerleader and even the Russkis and Chinese sort of on board, everyone wants the Colonel gone, and to prove it they bomb the crap out of his compound nightly, for humanitarian purposes, of course.

One can only guess what’s going through old Muammar’s mind as he lounges about in his bunker with his Amazonian bodyguards, the soft pounding of NATO missiles thunking into his compound outhouses a hundred feet above his head.  But I’m guessing that the one word that is never uttered within earshot of the old man is “Assad”.  The very word probably brings Muammar out in hives. After all, Assad’s pretty much doing the same stuff in Syria as Gaddafi (insert your own spelling as required) is doing in Libya, and nobody is doing anything to stop the Syrian dude. Sure, the West does an awful lot of talking and whining and trots out ye olde sanctions (as if these guys didn’t prepare for that possibility), but when it comes to, well, action, they’re doing bupkis to stop Assad’s assault on his own towns and cities.

Libya has oil, holds the threat of a massive refugee crisis when the EU least needs it, and is run by a pariah of a dictator (it’s conveniently forgotten that the US and Europe were trying to bring him back into the fold until very recently). It’s also of limited strategic value (at least in the short term), so bombing the bejesus out of the weird bad guy with the Starsky and Hutch sunglasses is really a no brainer.  Of course, the three month air campaign is doing plenty of superficial damage but not changing the ground game in the slightest.  Gaddafi’s ground forces have been weakened but they’re still far stronger than anything the disorganized rebels can field, and consequently the chances of a successful rebel assault on Tripoli are, at this point, nil. It’s a likely stalemate, the only proviso on which is whether Gaddafi’s bankroll is dwindling too fast to maintain loyalty from his entourage and the contracts of his mercenaries. Thereisnoplan’s guess is that the Colonel is pretty confident he can wait out NATO, which he knows will never commit the ground forces needed to change the strategic balance. He has the added advantage of no golden ladder for him and his peeps. He has nowhere to go except to the Hague or to hell, so he might as well stay and fight it out to the death. And just as importantly, you can be sure that even if his henchmen ‘defect’, they’ll have a hard time leaving too – which is probably tantamount to a death sentence when the Benghazi boys roll into Tripoli. In the Arab world, having no better way to go than sticking with the evil dictator guy often translates to undying brotherly love.

Syria, on the other hand is a poor as muck country with no oil, and no refugee problem either, but it does have strong ties with Iran and Hizbollah. The West is probably making the correct realpolitik calculation that is Assad falls, the Sunni majority may take over after a nasty civil war and weaken ties with both Tehran and Nasrallah. And even if they don’t, there will be a total fracturing of the country, which will certainly complicate Hizbollah’s pipeline from Iran. But if the West – and with the UK and France committed to Libya – that means the US, were to intervene militarily in Syria, that would raise the tension in the region to breaking point, and probably boost the Assad regime’s chances of long term survival. An attack on Syria would also unsettle the intensely fragile peace in Iraq. In short, strategically and diplomatically getting medieval on Assad is probably a really bad idea. He knows it too.

Of course, the lofty humanitarian rhetoric that the West delivers on Libya and Syria almost daily runs contrary to their calculated and calibrated response to each crisis. The hypocrisy is utterly palpable, yet hardly noticed. One wonders whether there’s a downside to it. It’s hard to see the wily, slippery Assad overstepping the mark in his assaults on the Syrian people to the point that the West has no choice but to actually do something concrete. Indeed the biggest threat to the West’s wholly inconsistent stance might be time. If this keeps on going like it is, the situation starts to get obvious and people might start talking. But is that talk going to impinge on the campaign of a President whose re-election depends entirely on the US economy?  Not a chance. Nobody really cares that much. After all, the mess is someone else’s and it’s far, far away.

So the rhetoric of freedom will continue to soar in London and Washington while the bombs continue to fall on Libya, while other dictators from Damascus to Riyadh continue to linger in the their gilded cages.

Summer has arrived.  So much for the Arab Spring.

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Written by coolrebel

June 10, 2011 at 3:02 pm

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