Tag Archives: libya

The Emerging Obama Doctrine

News broke seemingly without warning this afternoon that the U.S. is significantly increasing its military assistance to Uganda, enough that U.S. president Barack Obama felt it necessary to send a letter to Congress for War Powers purposes. The soldiers will be noncombat advisers helping regional militaries fight the Lord’s Resistance Army and its leader Joseph Kony.

The sheds some light on the “doctrine” of the Obama Administration. American administrations typically have a doctrine associated with them–the Truman doctrine, for instance, was a standing offer to assist any nation threatened by Communist agitation, while the Reagan doctrine supported rolling back and undermining Communist influence. Presidential doctrines seem to become more complex with each Administration–the (George W.) Bush doctrine, for instance, included a range of propositions about how the U.S. would prevent threats from overseas and resists straightforward definition (thus, with chagrin, I must admit that the normally oversensitive Sarah Palin was justified in claiming that an interviewer’s question about it may have been a trap intended to make her look foolish).  We are more than halfway through the Obama Administration, yet it has so far not made a clear statement of doctrine. This has drawn some praise–the post-Cold War world is complicated enough to resist those who would simplify it. However, the Uganda and Libya actions suggest that if there is not a doctrine, there is certainly a tendency. Behold, the Obama Doctrine:

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Odd Sighting as Tripoli Falls

Like the rest of the Middle East-enthusiast world, I’m glued to CNN as rebel action has broken out in Tripoli. It’s a good day for free people–more than thirty students at my university were killed in the Gaddafi-backed Pan Am 103 bombing, and that pales in comparison to the horrors Gaddafi has inflicted on his own people. Gaddafi’s faux-liberal son, noted plagiarist Saif al Islam Gaddafi, is reportedly in rebel custody, and we have to wonder how long it will be before the Mad Dog himself is captured, betrayed, or kills himself. It’s good to see that Gaddafi has had the rug pulled out from under him–I was very worried that there would be massacres by Gaddafi’s falling armies (some of the Second World War’s worst massacres occurred as German troops withdrew from occupied territory).

Anyway, CNN has changed their video loop, so I can’t get a picture, but for a while they kept showing a group of rebel fighters celebrating, and I noticed one of them wearing a pakul hat, like this:

That's Ahmed Shah Massoud, of course. (Image via kayakif)

Thing is, I’ve never heard of people wearing the pakul in North Africa. It’s traditional in tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, thousands of miles and a vast cultural gulf away from Tripoli. It’s a woolen cap that would be, I think, uncomfortable during a summer on the Mediterranean coast. There’s really no reason that someone would be wearing one in Tripoli, unless they had odd fashion taste. There is, however, one other possibility for our pakul-wearing man.

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Gaddafi Gets Desperate: Ballistic Missiles Enter the Conflict

There are reports today that forces loyal Libya’s isolated leader Muammar al-Gaddafi launched a Scud missile against rebel forces. Al Jazeera reports that the launch took place 80km east of Sirte, a Gaddafi stronghold, and landed somewhere east of Brega, home to key oil facilities. Here’s my estimation of what this looked like:

As you can see at the bottom, it’s about a 230km shot, well within the range of Gaddafi’s Scud B missiles. (I estimated the launch and impact points based on reports.) It reportedly landed in the desert and didn’t kill or injure anybody. This isn’t a particularly surprising result–basic ballistic missiles aren’t very accurate, and their inaccuracy worsens at long ranges. They need a weapon of mass destruction in their warhead, a very large target (like a city), or a lot of luck to be effective. To give an example, I ran an estimate at work of a very similar shot with a derivative of the Scud B a few weeks ago (you can do this with Microsoft Excel if you know the formulas!) against a target that was about 2km by 2km in size. In 100,000 simulated launches, the low-end estimate was a 65% hit rate. Not very good. Brega looks to be about 6km by 1-2km, with an airport, water treatment plant, and outlying town outside that area. Not having hit any of that shows just how inaccurate Gaddafi’s missiles are–they may be even more errant than the derivative I ran my simulation with. (We also can be confident it’s inaccuracy, and not bad targeting, as targeting information is available online via Google Earth, and Gaddafi used to rule Brega anyway.)

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Gaddafi’s Empty Threat to Europe

The media’s having a bit of a freakout right now over comments made by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi that his military would “one day move the battle to Europe.” These fears are overblown. Gaddafi is of course willing to use terrorism–he’s done it time and time again when his regime wasn’t facing an existential threat. However, that was a risk that states took when they launched the intervention in Libya back in mid-March, and it’s telling that there have apparently been no acts of Libyan terror since then. Gaddafi’s being squeezed very hard, so if he’d had the ability to pull off an overseas terrorist attack, we’d probably have seen it by now.

So why, exactly, is it unlikely that Gaddafi’s agents will be able to pull off a terrorist attack? As I’ve written before, terrorism is a human capital-intensive activity. You need people trained in a variety of things–not just “blowing things up”–to launch an effective attack. Libya certainly has people with the right skill sets, but it’s going to have a great deal of difficulty getting those people into place. The most natural way to get them into a targeted country would be as embassy staff, but many countries have expelled Libyan diplomats (Spain being one of the most recent). Indeed, even those that were able to remain in place find themselves in a very tough position, as Libya’s diplomatic corps was hit by mass defections when the rebellion broke out. The biggest challenge by far, however, is that countries have long been aware of the dangers posed by hosting a Libyan embassy, and so they certainly have been monitoring them, identifying intelligence agents among the embassy personnel, and expelling them–precisely what happened, for instance, in the case of Spain.

We can’t write off the threat of Gaddafi. However, just as the drone strikes have deprived al Qaeda of a lot of its best leaders, expulsions of Libyan intelligence operatives, and close monitoring of those that remain, will make an attack much harder. It is possible that Libyan operatives could enter through another Schengen Zone country and travel to their targets, but the no-fly zone and constant harrassment of Libyan command and control facilities by NATO bombers and electronic warfare assets will make organizing such an operation difficult. Europe has little to fear from the madman of Tripoli.


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Sports Blogger SportyFive Is Plagiarizing Me

One of my coworkers told me the other day that she’s an amateur novelist, and was chagrined to find somebody impersonating her online and claiming to have written one of her books. That made me curious since I write as well, so I did a little Googling of my posts. As it turns out, my essay about FIFA forcing the Iranian women’s soccer team to forfeit because they play in conservative hijab had attracted the eye of another blogger, sports site Sportyfive. This toad, this son of a goat, this Saif al-Islam Gaddafi of the blogosphere thought it would be alright to post my content as if he had written it himself. I politely asked him the other day to properly attribute the post, and there has been no reply; if you look at his site it seems to be entirely content scraped from other sites. As a student of the Middle East, I’d be quite content with his hand getting cut off for theft, but instead I’ve alerted his domain’s host of what’s going on, and let them know that they’ll be served with a DMCA notice (you can do it from the comfort of home!) if they don’t take care of the matter.

Life lesson, kids: attribute your content. Like this:

From Sahih al Bukhari (Authentic Hadith of Bukhari), M. Muhsin Khan’s translation:

Narrated ‘Aisha:

The Prophet said, “The hand should be cut off for stealing something that is worth a quarter of a Dinar or more.”

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Our Weird Middle East: Grandmaster Gaddafi, Lion-fighting Egyptians, Iranian Space Missiles, and more!

Al Jazeera English this morning showed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi receiving a visit from International Chess Federation (FIDE) president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Since Ilyumzhinov is also president of the Russian autonomous region of Kalmykia, this was a historic meeting–two of history’s most bizarre heads of state in one room. Gaddafi’s oddities–his Amazonian bodyguards, his rambling speeches, his rumored dabblings in prostitution and drugs–are likely well-known to readers of this blog. Ilyumzhinov is quite possibly even stranger than Gaddafi. His most famous oddity is that he claims to have had extensive contacts with alien visitors from another planet. Among other unusual decisions: building an entire city in Kalmykia dedicated to chess and constructing a grandiose Roman Catholic cathedral to commemorate a papal visit. Considering Kalmykia is reported to have one Catholic resident, he will likely have plenty of seats to choose from! As president of FIDE, Ilyumzhinov has made a number of odd decisions, including an attempt to have the World Championship contested in Saddam Hussein-era Baghdad.

Gaddafi played a match with Ilyumzhinov, footage of which can be seen here:

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NATO Increasing Pressure–and Risk–in Libya

With the rest of Arab world still in chaos, the ongoing civil war in Libya has become less visible. However, that war has been continuing at a steady pace. The number of daily sorties, including strike sorties, has remained stable since the beginning of NATO’s intervention. Misurata continues to bleed, but rebel forces have, with the aid of large numbers of NATO strikes, been able to push Gaddafi’s men away from the city. The US, despite the public minimization of its role in the conflict, has reportedly spent $750 million protecting the people of Libya. The conflict has clearly dragged on far longer than the NATO powers expected when they began their intervention, and this has put significant political pressure on political leaders like US President Barack Obama to adequately justify continued involvement. Just this past week, US Senator Rand Paul attempted to use the (legally toothless) War Powers Resolution to force Obama to halt the operations. His effort was a failure–his motion was rejected 90-10. That does not mean, however, that 90 of the Senators are satisfied with the progress in Libya.

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New Resolve from NATO on Libya?

A joint op-ed on Libya by David Cameron, Nicholas Sarkozy, and Barack Obama will appear in tomorrow’s papers. Despite reports of significant disagreement within NATO on the direction of the ongoing intervention, the piece includes a strong denunciation of Gaddafi, and states clearly that his presence in a future Libyan government is unacceptable. The leaders seem to be deliberately forcing themselves to commit to his removal, because they linked his political survival to renewed Libyan terrorism:

“Qaddafi has promised to carry out terrorist attacks against civilian ships and airliners. And because he has lost the consent of his people any deal that leaves him in power would lead to further chaos and lawlessness. We know from bitter experience what that would mean. Neither Europe, the region, or the world can afford a new safe haven for extremists.” Continue reading


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Arab Elder Statesmen

Several former American presidents. Carter, Clinton, and Bush have assumed elder statesman roles; Nixon's soiled reputation made this an impossibility.

I encourage you all to read this post by Bahraini blogger Burajaa, which discusses several possible future elder statesmen of the Arab World. I especially agree with his nomination of Rafik Hariri–his international background and continued symbolic influence testify to what a giant he was. I’d like to add a few potential future elder statesmen myself.

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Assessing the African Union Road Map for Peace in Libya


Gaddafi with the AU's peace team at Bab al-Aziziyah.

Gaddafi with the AU's peace team at Bab al-Aziziyah.

African Union negotiators are currently meeting with rebel leaders in Benghazi to push their peace proposal, already agreed to by Gaddafi. The reported terms of the deal are an immediate ceasefire, including NATO, the delivery of aid, the protection of foreigners in Libya, and a national political dialogue. Not mentioned is the future status of Gaddafi and his family. Sources within the rebel movement have said that the presence of Gaddafi or his sons in a future regime is beyond their red lines, yet personality assessments of Gaddafi–and his aggressive responses to the uprising–suggest that he will never choose to leave power. Given that Gaddafi’s status was an essential cause of the revolts, any settlement will have to find a way to satisfy both sides. The AU’s negotiators know this, and are certainly proposing some sort of solution behind the scenes. Continue reading


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