Friday, 11 March 2011


There may be many reasons US National Intelligence Director James Clapper testified publicly instead of privately that the Libyan dictator Gaddafi and his sons will defeat the rebels in the long run, no matter how it appears right now, and no matter what happened in Egypt where Mubarak eventually left the country

Why did Clapper make such a statement in a public forum? Was it for the sake of public domestic consumption to prepare the public for an eventual military move of some type, 'soft' intervention or 'surgical hits' on Libya? Was it to send a message to the Colonel in Tripoli that he may defeat the rebels, but how does he deal with the world the 'day after', especially now that the US has suspended diplomatic relations with Libya's embassy? Was it to send a message to world public opinion that favors the rebels over Gaddafi; to send a message to the EU, and especially China and Russia that are against the non-fly zone and military intervention that Gaddafi is damaged goods and his victory over the rebels will simply be more costly later? 

Was Clapper's testimony right before the NATO defense ministers' meeting intended to send a message of US support for 'soft' intervention as opposed to what some Republicans are proposing, or is this a pretext to buy time and appease anti-interventionists among them Germany, Russia and China? Clapper's public testimony coincides with a very sharp rise of oil prices, a corresponding decline of stock markets, new reports about economic slowdown in China, lingering fears that the EU debtor countries (Spain, Greece, Portugal, Ireland and even Italy) may have a long way before the EU agrees on a common policy that would engender both a strong euro and US recession seems to be lingering according to the latest unemployment, slow housing sales, drop in household income and slow pace of reducing consumer debt, record budgetary deficit, wider trade deficit, and uneven growth in the economy.

What does this have to do with the Colonel in Tripoli? The last thing the US needs right now is another energy price scare with people wildly speculating oil will hit $250 per barrel if popular unrest spreads to Saudi Arabia. What if unrest is sparked in Saudi Arabia because of Western intervention in Libya? The quicker the colonel and his sons leave Libya without direct NATO intervention, the quicker energy prices will stabilize and growth can be back on track as the IMF had been predicting for 2011. Public diplomacy is indeed a great way to help achieve the goal, with all kinds of frantic behind the scenes diplomatic activity to bring this crisis to a close. There are wild rumors Gaddafi wants his billions and who knows what other assurances in order to leave Libya. His sons certainly seem determined to fight to the last man, but that too is for public consumption and nothing more.

While some neo-conservatives were celebrating the calamities that befell the Gaddafi clan, the real loser is not the billionaire colonel and his sons but the US and world economy, given that for for every $10 per barrel GDP drops by 0.5%, according to some studies. After all, people may recall the very high price of oil in 2007, followed by the US housing bubble amid a sub-prime climate and paper traded by financial institutions globally; all combined contributed to the global recession of the last four years. 

Secretary Hilary Clinton stated that the US "remains engaged' to deal with the Libyan situation, but only if there is concerted action and international consensus. This is diplomatic language for actively seeking to remove the Colonel through multilateral action that has the UN's stamp of legitimacy and without having to pay the high price of military intervention that may create more problems throughout the Islamic countries that see the West as the crusader. Germany fears getting tied down in a North Africa war like that of Afghanistan where there is no end at the end of the tunnel and nothing to show for it. EU defense ministers are guarded because their countries are suffering through economic recession that may worsen in case of a dragged out NATO intervention in Libya.

Does it really make any difference to the Germans if Gaddafi is selling oil and pocketing a percentage of the money, or if a more popular regime is selling oil and using all of the funds to build the nation instead of buying influence with the London School of Economics and western multinational corporations, as Gaddafi was doing? Given Germany's reluctance for military involvement, France has pledged to recognize the rebel National Transitional Council, but what can it do alone militarily, even if UK pledges its support. The pretext of 'humanitarian' aid to Libyans that Obama is requesting - politically astute piece of public diplomacy - may be the opening for an eventual NATO intervention that will have high risks amid the Libyan civil war. 

While I agree with director Clapper's assessment about Gaddafi's resolve to hold on until the very end, I have no doubt that the regime has lost legitimacy and it cannot govern a divided land. Humanitarian aid, 'soft' intervention, or otherwise, western military intervention will unleash a fresh wave of anti-West sentiment across the Muslim countries even if the operations were 'surgical' as Sarkozy proposed.

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