Libya: Illusions and Delusions


This is a guest note by Harlan Ullman, Chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business as well as Senior Advisor to the Atlantic Council.
Wars too often are created by illusions and delusions. This is what is happening in Libya. It is an illusion to believe that if Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi clings to power, the credibility and authority of the opposing UN, Arab League, NATO, U.S. and other states comprising the coalition will not be dealt a severe blow with accruing consequences.
But, it is a delusion to think that if the rebels do not succeed in ridding Libya of this desert rat, there is no possibility of an outside ground assault to finish job. The excruciating dilemma is that to limit the damage caused by the first illusion of Qaddafi holding on, reversing the delusion that no alternative exists leads to a course of action likely to prove unacceptable. Either way, the news is very bad.
As a result, we could be stuck in Libya and in a larger sense with an Arab Spring that could metastasize into an Arab winter of discontent.
We have agonized over what to do about Libya. The Arab League surprisingly sought a no-fly zone over Libya to protect civilians. Despite five abstentions, the UN followed suit with Security Council Resolution 1973 authorizing “all necessary means” short of occupation to protect innocent civilians. Then NATO, in its own lurching way, pressured by the U.S. and U.K., agreed to assume command of all military operations that include sustaining a no fly zone, air strikes to protect (and aid) the rebels and an arms embargo.
The demand that Moammar Qaddafi must go leads to an inescapable conclusion. Like it or not — and very few will like it — ground forces may be necessary to remove Qaddafi if he does not leave by other means or if the rebels fail to dislodge him. Stalemate is to Qaddafi’s advantage.
At this point, the use of outside ground forces is thinking about the unthinkable. Who would have the capacity and the stomach to supply the forces? Beyond that very tricky matter, no one has any idea of what a replacement government would look like, how that transition could be made and for how long outside countries are prepared to invest time and money to ensure stability in that oil rich land. And, perhaps we unsuspectingly delude ourselves by calling the rebels “democratic forces.”
President Barack Obama tried to square these circles in his address Monday night. Sadly, the president had no running room. He did not wish to antagonize Arabs and Muslims further by calling for a third U.S. intervention into those worlds. For the moment, explicit recognition of the need to use force to expel or remove Qaddafi is something the administration will defer like the plague until it sees whether or not the rebel forces are capable of achieving that end state with minimal outside help.
The tragedy is that we and the coalition face a potential quagmire. And the options are not favorable.
First, the rebels could succeed in throwing Qaddafi out one way or another. Providing arms and air attacks could be part of this option best conducted with Arab or Muslim help from outside Libya. For a betting person, this is a Hail Mary option.
Second, a stand-off or partition of Libya with Qaddafi in control in the west and the rebels in the east could follow. Tightening Obama’s noose, Qaddafi would face a strategy of attrition and death by a thousand cuts. Significantly, he would still be in power and this could last for an extended period. This option makes hollow our threats and credibility and makes Qaddafi at least the de facto winner.
Finally, there is a Noriega option. In December 1989, President George H.W. Bush sent U.S. forces into Panama to capture President Noriega. A similar operation could be mounted to end Qaddafi’s rule.
The risks are breathtaking. The prospect of bloody battles and massive casualties cannot be excluded. Reprisals against such an attack from terror groups would be likely. A political backlash and not merely from the Arab world as the UN Resolution 1973 precludes occupation would be severe. And finding the forces and willing partners to intervene may be missions impossible.
Here, illusion collides with delusion. Whether the UN, Arab League and other organizations realized it or not, a no fly zone would ultimately lead to this juncture. To succeed, Qaddafi must go. If the rebels are unable to achieve that goal, someone else must. This is the inevitable consequence of the decision to impose a no-fly zone and the illusion it would work.
Perhaps the leaking of such plans will force Qaddafi to quit. But don’t count on it. Then, if all else fails, the illusion will leave a single unpalatable and risk laden alternative— direct intervention on the ground— what some will call the ultimate delusion.
— Harlan Ullman


10 comments on “Libya: Illusions and Delusions

  1. Chumanist says:

    The reservations shown by Ullman over the ongoing US_Nato involvement in Libya do arrest the conviction of wisdom.


  2. kotzabasis says:

    Talking of illusions and delusions. If the aim of the U.S. is to get rid of Qaddafi, one cannot achieve this MAXIMAL goal “with MINIMAL (M.E.) outside help.” Osama


  3. Don Bacon says:

    All these illusions and delusions occurred only to the muddle-headed that didn’t realize that a no-fly zone enforced by cruise missiles with thousand pound warheads and planes dropping five hundred pound warheads is — surprise — a war, a war where for the first time the U.S., cajoled by France, France!, sides with insurgents (now called rebels) against a close U.S. ally.
    You can’t make this stuff up. So let’s send us some American kids to die on the Libyan sand, all because of some idiots’ illusions and delusions.
    “The tragedy is that we and the coalition face a potential quagmire.” Who’s “we,” kimosabe? It wasn’t anything that I agreed with, nor did any American citizen agree with it because the Congress was never involved in any consideration of declaring a war with debates that would have eliminated any or all of these illusions and delusions.
    That’s the beauty of the Constitution, a document that candidate Obama embraced but President Obama eschews.


  4. Cee says:

    Warner writes:
    And I don’t know how many people realize that Paul Bremer, Bush’s “brilliant” manager of our post invasion success in Iraq, was on loan from Henry’s consulting agency.
    I know it. When I think about all of the missing money I wonder why his bank accounts haven”t been checked.
    I’ve also noticed how many people formed companies to profit since the 9-11 attack.


  5. Warren Metzler says:

    I remembering suffering through the years of Henry Kissinger being the so-called expert behind our foreign policy; an example being that monstrosity the Vietnam peace agreement. And my favorite personally observed anecdote of him was a discussion after a t.v. movie about nuclear disaster, during which a questioner asked why we didn’t fund a Peace Department as a counterweight for the Defense Department.
    Henry immediately leaned forward, ready to give us another profound assessment of reality, and begin, “this is my view regarding the peace problem…, promptly realized the absurdity of what he was about to say, shut up, sat back and wasn’t heard from for the rest of the discussion.
    Then I noticed that he had formed a company that gave advice to foreign countries and major corporations. And I wondered, who would possibly listen to what a man who provided us with a failed policy over and over again. And I further wondered what he might say.
    And I don’t know how many people realize that Paul Bremer, Bush’s “brilliant” manager of our post invasion success in Iraq, was on loan from Henry’s consulting agency.
    Now Harlan Ullman has finally given me a taste of what you hear when Henry and his crew come to your office, and bestow you his very extensive wisdom.
    Each point being total delusion, based on not a smidgen of fact, all intellectual postulations that lead us further and further away from reality.
    NO ONE CAN PREDICT THE FUTURE! Want proof? Try to remember a single activity where the outcome you wanted in the beginning was exactly what you got in the end. Can’t remember a single one can you?
    Since no one can predict the future, the only reasonable way to live is to develop principles to follow, that guide you through each specific type of situation you encounter. And for our foreign policy situations I suggest the following (forgive the redundancy from former posts).
    Recognize that no society moves from oppression to freedom without extended struggle. So as any one society begins to struggle, let them know you support them, give them the logistics they claim they need, and leave them alone. If the powers that control them don’t allow that struggle to advance, engage in vigorous diplomatic pressure. If what then occurs is violent and morally unacceptable actions by the powers that be, go with sanctions and freezing assets. And if further violence and oppression occurs, go with international agreements and effective military actions.
    Once the opposition is in charge, leave and let them through struggle find their way, providing them with the logistics they request (if such requests are reasonable).
    I recognize that many of the powers in international affairs provide oppression to various parts of their citizenry, so what I suggest isn’t going to happen in the near future. But maybe at some point in the future we all learn how to live in peace and harmony.


  6. DakotabornKansan says:

    Arming Libyan rebels/laying the foundation for new war ten years from now
    Glenn Greenwald writes about the wisdom and legality of arming Libyan rebels:


  7. DakotabornKansan says:

    Surprised? No.
    Interesting, though, what Obama said in his interview with NBC


  8. Dan Kervick says:

    Surely nobody is surprised that the administration is actually trying to oust Qaddafi and help the rebels win the war, and not just protect innocent people?


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