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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

Turns Out We’re Not Leaving Iraq After All

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It was a reminder of the bad old days.  But it was today in Baghdad. Big suicide bomb, coordinated attacks on rescuers, dozens dead and wounded, and the customary “bears all the hallmarks of an Al Qaeda operation designed to ferment sectarian strife”.  It’s doubtful whether it had any effect on the tone of Robert Gates‘ interview on NPR this evening, but I’m sure the bombing was on the Secretary’s mind.

We’re not sure whether his boss is on board with this, although it seems likely, but Gates might have given us a little glimpse of reality during the interview. In response to a question about differences between him and the President on a final departure date for our troops from Iraq, Gates was less than convincing about the finality of that. From the NPR report. (My italics)

With regard to Iraq, Gates noted that under the Status of Forces agreement, all U.S. troops will be out by the end of 2011. Gates says he’s on the same page as Obama with the withdrawal and, barring a new agreement with the Iraqis, there will be zero troops in Iraq by that time. But he also speculates that the Iraqis could ask for logistical and intelligence support.

“The president’s statement is absolutely clear and it conforms to our current commitments, that is, according to the agreements we have signed, we will have everyone out of Iraq by the end of 2011,” Gates said. “And unless something changes, that is exactly what will happen. …[A change] would have to be at the Iraqis’ initiative. And the president will have to determine whether or not he wants to do that.”

“Logistical and Intelligence” support might well be a good cover-phrase for something a little more, shall we say, effective. In other words a new agreement ‘at the Iraqis initiative’ to guarantee some “we need your firepower because we’re getting our asses kicked” type support. Obama suspects that Al Qaeda is just waiting for us to shut the door after us before going all out again, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the President could make a judgment that keeping a few brigades on base for selective “logistical and intelligence support” might just be the insurance policy we need.

There’s been an awful lot of talk about the President’s philosophy. Nobody seems to know what it is. The reason is simple. His philosophy is the absence of a philosophy. Pragmatism.

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Written by coolrebel

March 10, 2009 at 1:53 pm

The Recession Is About Who We Are – Just ask Dolly Parton

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Don’t ask why, but I just relistened to Dolly Parton’s song, “9 to 5” for the first time in many years. Even though it was written thirty years ago, it’s an anthem for the times we’re living in. It reminded me that the harsh recession (and maybe depression) we’re in isn’t just about economic statistics, or even jobs lost or lives destroyed, it’s about who we, as Americans, are at our very core.

Take a listen, study the lyrics.

Tumble outta bed

Her fellow secretaries were played by Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, at the time two of the most politically
progressive actors in Hollywood.

And stumble to the kitchen
Pour myself a cup of ambition
Yawnin, stretchin, try to come to life
Jump in the shower
And the blood starts pumpin
Out on the streets
The traffic starts jumpin
And folks like me on the job from 9 to 5


Workin 9 to 5
What a way to make a livin
Barely gettin by
Its all takin
And no givin
They just use your mind
And they never give you credit
Its enough to drive you
Crazy if you let it

9 to 5, for service and devotion
You would think that i
Would deserve a fair promotion
Want to move ahead
But the boss won’t seem to let me in
I swear sometimes that man is out to get me

They let your dream
Just to watch ’em shatter
You’re just a step
On the boss mans ladder
But you got dreams he’ll never take away

On the same boat
With a lot of your friends
Waitin’ for the day
Your ship’ll come in
And the tides gonna turn
An its all gonna roll your way

2nd chorus:

9 to 5, yeah, they got you where they want you
There’s a better life
And you think that I would daunt you
Its a rich mans game
No matter what they call it
And you spend your life
Going funny if you want it

3rd chorus:

9 to 5, yeah, they got you where they want you
Theres a better life
And you dream that I would daunt you
Its a rich mans game
No matter what they call it
And you spend your life
Going funny if you want it

It’s a song about unfounded hope, and unblinkered reality. It’s a song about exploitation, expendability, and redundancy. It’s a song about a system that’s trapped us, a system that as recently proved simply doesn’t work.

The Reagan Revolution didn’t just change our economic priorities. It changed us philosophically and spiritually, Americans, too. We became more shallow, more individualistic, more selfish, more interested in conspicuous consumption and less interested in the communitas and its welfare. We decried the social contract as a burden on our freedom, and saw poverty as weakness.  Now, in these dark times,  we may be suffering from the hubris of our arrogant wilfullness, succumbing as we did to easy credit, and simplistic marketing, and believing that those prettly little kleenex and spit houses we bought with money we didn’t have were actually worth what we were told they were worth.

The movie “9 to 5” came out in 1980, the year that Ronald Reagan was elected on a promise to bring “morning to America” Nearly thirty years later, that morning has turned into something darker, more determined, more malicious than we ever imagined. Will today’s new reality shift our priorities, and make us realize that the behemoth of growth, progress and wealth was founded on very little, and has perhaps been fundamentally punctured? Will reality change us, will it make us reflect perhaps on how easily we allowed ourselves to be led?

I doubt it. But if we don’t, we may not learn the lesson that may be the only path to recovery. The need to recognize our weaknesses.

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The Mumbai Massacre – An Opportunity For Clarity

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peace will once again come to the taj

“Rogue Elements” is a big word du jour right now. The idea that within an organization there’s often a fifth column conjures up all sorts of conspiracy theories about CIA spooks with their own twisted agendas. Usually, this stuff is confined to fiction or the far reachs of the blogosphere. But what happens when the lunatics truly have taken over the asylum?

The strong suspicion that Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group of jihadists once nurtured by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, ISI, is behind the horrific massacre in Mumbai a few days ago has turned the simmering distrust between India and Pakistan into a potential supernova.

There’s been an awful lot of talk about the ISI over the years, primarily because of their role in developing and protecting the Taliban as a way to stabilize their Afghan neighbor. But its the ISI’s link to Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the ongoing conflict in Kashmir, that have pushed it to the forefront of world attention.

The ISI is a multi-tentacled state within a state, created by the military just after the Partition, that trusts and has the trust of no-one, probably including its own members. Its not surprising that the ISI became truly powerful during the military rule of General Zia al Huq, and was fiercely protected by General Pervez Musharraf, in power until very recently. Its clumsy, anachronistic approach to statecraft feeds off Pakistan’s inferiority complex with a blustering nationalism that has led it into a multitude of miscalculations. Its latest excess has led us squarely to the tinderbox moment India and Pakistan face now.

Perhaps it would take a conspiracy theorist to surmise that the timing of the the Mumbai attacks is not a coincidence. The slow-moving negotiations between India and Pakistan over Kashmir had recently begun bearing fruit. The longstanding mutual distrust between the two nations was just beginning to dissipate when the Mumbai attacks took place. There is no way that preparations for the attacks by Lakshar’s former benefactors could have taken place without ISI’s knowledge. It’s well within the bounds of possibility to suggest that it probably could have stopped the attacks had it wanted to. The ISI feeds off fear. If fear begins to evaporate, the ISI’s raison d’etre is reduced, and the glue that holds it together might start to weaken. The prevailing wind was towards better relations between India and Pakistan, and perhaps the ISI wanted that wind reversed. Even if that is remotely true, it calls for serious action.

A report prepared for the British Ministry of Defence in 2006 cut to the chase. It stated that it’s time for the ISI to be disbanded. Musharraf’s response at the time was perhaps a little too categorical. “I totally, 200% reject it. I reject it from anybody – MoD or anyone who tells me to dismantle ISI.” Reading between the lines, it’s clear the the ISI had become too powerful to mess with, even for the Head of the Army and Pakistan’s then President.

Musharraf is now gone, and the faint hope that the ISI’s freedom to act could be at least resisted by pressure from the Army hierarchy has gone with him. But at least Musharraf’s departure has clarified the landscape of the Pakistani internal power struggle. The internal politics of Pakistan have been the world’s business ever since 9/11. And it’s pretty complex stuff. The Army is the enforcer, the civilian democratic apparatus is the cover, and the ISI makes sure everyone behaves in accordance with its old school nationalistic values.

The new civilian leadership of President Zardari is very weak, and can only sit by and watch as the ISI, a child of the military, the elephant in the room, goes about its business of creating ever more disastrous crises for Pakistan. It’s really no surprise that Zardari bounces from sympathy to bluster. The former is the moral response, the latter is the response the ISI require. But now we have reached crunch time. The course that the ISI could conceivably set Pakistan and India on is very dangerous and could develop its own unstoppable logic.

Is there any good news in all of this? Perhaps.

It often takes a crisis to focus the mind. If we’re going to change the dynamic in Pakistan and dramatically ease tensions with India, the logic of that prescient UK Ministry of Defence report should be examined again. The ISI needs to be replaced by a newer, more transparent intelligence organization. That’s not going to happen by force of arms. The Pakistani army would never take the chance, and the Zardari administration couldn’t engineer the ISI’s replacement in their wildest dreams. It has to be a peaceful process.

The best and perhaps only way to weaken the ISI to the point that it can be reorganized is to make it less relevant, an outmoded organization that is publicly seen as a brake on Pakistan’s progress. To do that means building up the one commodity that the ISI loathes more than any other. Trust. In a sense, the speculation that the ISI triggered the Mumbai attacks because of the growing trust between the two historical adversaries needs to be tested again. The United States must lead the charge for a strong and lasting relationship between Pakistan and India, not just for the good of each nation, but for our own national security and the future health of mankind. Both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers. It’s time for some serious shuttle diplomacy that makes the India/Pakistan relationship the top State Department priority. These two already have their two-state solution. It’s time that we helped them be good neighbors.

The US must put pressure on India to continue its restrained response to the Mumbai attacks and build renewed trust with its neighbor. If India is seen as magnanimous at its darkest hour, its goodwill with the Pakistani people, will rise dramatically. A new spirit of tolerance and cooperation could develop. India could aid Pakistan’s ailing economy. New power-sharing arrangements for Kashmir might emerge. And as for New Delhi’s internal logic in all this, India’s recent economic transformation would be put into screeching reverse if a hot and potentially nuclear war with Pakistan broke out. Such a conflict is simply not in India’s interest. The US must take full advantage of that fact.

The US must also offer to build the fabric of the Pakistani economy as part of Pakistan’s reward for restraint, trust and its government’s effort to isolate the ISI. The US must encourage the Pakistani authorities to talk openly about their concerns about the ISI, and privately offer aid, expertise and support in the building of a replacement. Pakistan is a poor country with few resources. A war with its larger neighbor could break it, and the nightmare of potential nuclear escalation is too awful for any to contemplate. Not just for Islamabad, but for anyone.

The stakes are very high.

Written by coolrebel

December 5, 2008 at 8:15 pm