Pro-Gaddafi demonstrators in Green Square in Tripoli, Libya (Source: AP).
By Vladimir Socor, Eurasia Daily Monitor, Vol. 8, Iss. 153, Aug 9, 2011 — As in Iraq and Afghanistan, a Western coalition intervened in Libya with only a weak grasp of the local society. The coalition underestimated the resilience of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s base of social support in the country’s west. It seemed blindsided by the complexity of tribal dynamics among its suddenly acquired protégés in the country’s east. In that polarized context, the allies misjudged the level of force necessary for a quick success of their intervention. This proved insufficient for short-term victory over Gaddafi, but only sufficient to shore up the rebels, thus producing a stalemate between the internal forces, and escalation of the civil war. This in turn necessitated escalation of air bombing, with further damage to infrastructure. The coalition did not adequately check the rebels before arming and funding them. Initially it portrayed the rebellion as holding democratic promise for Libya, but has toned down such claims.
Unlike pre-2001 Afghanistan and pre-2003 Iraq, there was an ample Western presence on the ground in Libya prior to the military operation. Undoubtedly, embassies and oil companies had a strong grasp of local society and its dynamics. Whether the coalition drew on that information adequately in planning this intervention seems to be an open question.
Western belligerents did not anticipate the intervention’s adverse impact on their core interests in Libya. These interests focus on: reliable access to oil and gas supplies, effective policing of illegal migration to Europe, and the suppression of transnational jihadism and associated threats.
Prolonged hostilities have totally halted Libyan oil and gas deliveries to Europe, with long-term damage to the infrastructure for production and export in Libya. This issue is missing entirely from the coalition’s debates, and almost entirely from the media coverage. The production halt in Libya contributes to the rise of oil and gas prices in Europe. Among other countries, Italy needs an increase in Russian gas imports, and Germany in Russian-delivered oil, to fill supply gaps in the absence of deliveries from Libya. The prolonged war increases the scale of population displacement while the system of migration control is breaking down. A growing refugee stream is reaching Italy, which seeks unsuccessfully to redistribute the refugees to European Union countries. In Libya’s eastern half, jihadi groups previously suppressed by the Gaddafi regime are reported to have joined the diverse array of rebel forces.
Although the intervention carries NATO’s political approval and flag, only seven (out of 28) NATO countries currently participate in combat actions. The United States takes the position that it plays a “supportive role” (basically, high-end command-control and intelligence). Germany and Turkey, with NATO’s largest forces in Europe, do not participate in combat actions. Britain and France bore the brunt from the outset, and are bearing a growing share as some countries quietly withdraw or reduce their commitment.
This conforms to an evolving pattern of Western wars of choice. They are waged by coalitions-of-the-willing, with limited participation (“national caveats”) by the half-willing, and with opt-outs for the unwilling and the unable. In the final analysis, this is the result of an unconvincing casus belli –whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Libya. . . .