It is a staple of much of
postmodern political theory to posit the state as an “assemblage.” That is, the
state itself is not static, it is an equilibrium between contending factions,
bureaucracies, and stakeholding organizations. In the ideal-type scenario, they
achieve a way of dividing labor and consolidating power in such a way that the
ability to wage political violence is consolidated in responsibility and
unified in the interests it serves.
Of course, life is not always that easy. As Corey Robin provocatively pointed out, our theories of national security are Hobbesian, but our states rarely live up to the best aspects of his theories. Assemblages do not always capture a truly “national” interest and fall sway to faction, whether bureaucratic, regional, ideological or social in cleavage:
To cite just one example: it is a well known fact that African Americans have suffered as much from the American state’s unwillingness to protect them from basic threats to their lives and liberties as they have from the willingness of white Americans to threaten those lives and liberties. Throughout much of US history, as legal scholar Randall Kennedy has shown, the state has deemed the threat to the physical safety of African Americans to be an unremarkable danger and the protection of African Americans an unworthy focus of its attentions.
… At the most fateful moment of white-on-black violence in US history, in fact, the national government deemed the threat to African Americans a relatively minor item of public safety, unworthy of federal military protection; by contrast, it deemed the threat to employers from striking workers an public emergency, worthy of federal military protection.
Indeed, the ability of the U.S. to retain control over the South
always butted against a broad front of resistance that ranged from political
opposition through rapidly “redeemed” formal institutions in Virginia to the
highly paramilitarized environs of Louisiana. To the North and border states,
the most essential and broadly accepted objective of the war was preserving the
Union. Abolition was, among other things, an instrument towards that end. A
broader program of equality was unnecessary or even abhorrent to those who
merely sought to destroy the slaveholding South because it imperiled the country’s
In a previous post, I noted how Reconstruction-era tolerance of anti-black violence shared some characteristics with Libya’s relatively laissez faire approach towards militias that were desecrating Sufi shrines, Western graveyards, and harassing, attacking, and then killing diplomats. The messy process of state-building could make room, or at least time, for this, but not for trying to bring to heel well-armed and organized militias with strong ideological objections to Libya’s nominal civil authorities. Libya’s new government limped along, not much a Mogadishu on the Mediterranean, nor one, even in moments of triumph, effective in Hobbesian terms. While Libyan militias and militants intervene in political processes, they do not, for the most part, appear to seek regime change, but rather to augment their political clout within the bounds of the new system through violence and intimidation.
Similarly, in American Reconstruction, paramilitary groups neither themselves seized governments (although similar paramilitary groups did throw a coup in Wilmington, NC in 1898) nor created a real counter-state, but provided a specific political class with the means to win control of existing institutions - state and local governments - without attempting to recapitulate the goals or overall method of the original rebellion.
While many Redeemer militias
acted as the conservative wing of the Democratic party, these ought be
considered distinct from the groups which were insurgents from the start of the
war. Bushwhacker militias, such as the James-Younger Gang, went from
participants in the civil wars within the civil war in the border states and
West to criminal organizations which used attitudinal affinities to bolster
their strength. Notably, in the case of the James-Younger Gang, another
non-state entity, the Pinkertons, joined in a manhunt operation. Silas Woodson,
the Democratic Missouri governor, secured pay to contract detectives, and tried
(but failed) to fund a militia to assist in the hunt. As Robin pointed out,
government responses varied with reference to the political interests. Federal,
state, local, and private forces would continue to intervene in issues of outlawry
and labor strife, but conceded, in ugly compromise, rights for blacks and
patronage networks (the position of Postmaster General, for example) to their
If we take up Tilly’s model of state-building as organized crime, we note most criminal organizations cannot kill off every single competitor. Legitimate actors and trust networks integrate into the criminal enterprise, and even with rivals, cutting deals is often more appealing than cutting throats. In state-building, too, cooperating with illegal, extralegal, and paramilitary groups lends advantages to fruitless or premature pursuit of total primacy. For many political communities, non-state groups provide instruments of governance by other means.
As the Reconstruction example shows, paramilitarism, though obviously antithetical to democratic values, is complementary to democratic systems. In Colombia’s bloody internal conflict, paramilitaries became significant players in the Colombian democratic system, bolstering the candidacies of friendly politicians with funds and coercive influence. As Giustozzi notes in his excellent book, The Art of Coercion, irregular groups often provide highly beneficial roles, particularly when options for bureaucratization and institutionalization of a professional army are limited. Indeed, in some cases a weak bureaucratized, centralized army may be insufficient or an inferior alternative for local and regional elites who prefer decentralized security provision accountable to their interests and persistent at a local level. Of course, tolerance of and cooperation with these forces allowed counterinsurgents to engage in assassination, massacres, and enrich local elites. Yet the point remains that irregular groups, within limits, provide a force multiplier to state prerogatives. Ceding autonomy and some authority to paramilitary groups such as the AUC And Los PEPES empowers extralegal or illegal entities the state prefers to negotiate and collaborate with to destroy ones it considers more threatening.
In Brazil, too, the rolling back traditional drug trafficking organizations relied not simply on special tactics units and community policing, but tacit or explicit sanctioning of paramilitary units occupying and extracting rents from neighborhoods. Indeed, the very political pressures that encouraged the Brazilian government to crack down on drug trafficking organizations with state force created power vacuums for militia groups to expand their reach within cities such as Rio de Janeiro. In all of the aforementioned cases, paramilitary groups have exploited cleavages in the interests of political assemblages, providing a tool to advance interests of actors participating within the state without breaking the state itself – and, indeed, feeding off the cooperation of state institutions. Indeed, if, as Javier Osorio notes in his excellently titled dissertation, “Hobbes on Drugs,” weaker criminal actors have incentives to step up violence against groups targeted by security services, emergent non-state actors have strong structural incentives to muscle in on the state’s foes, providing an unscrupulous government an opportunity to cut a deal.
Particularly as the U.S. and other countries turn towards SFA and FID to offset its diminishing will and capacity to take the lead in counterinsurgency operations overseas, and as states such as Syria the dynamics of paramilitarism ought register highly in importance for policymakers and academics alike. Although paramilitary groups are of most interest in instances of state failure and civil war, to dismiss them as mere warlordism ignores how paramilitarism may grow in prevalence even during periods of democratization and state consolidation. Similarly, without recognizing when and how elites will seek to decentralize the state’s use of force, attempts to build partner state capacity or engage in security-sector reform will likely fall flat. Finally, examining paramilitarism shines a light on the state as more than a mere set of institutions and bureaucracies, but as an assembly of actors with political interests that do not always overlap, nor see bureaucratization and institutionalization as the most natural or efficient manner of bolstering state capacity or instituting control. Not only do paramilitaries illuminate an ugly side of state behavior, but they also help reveal why successful states and elite coalitions, though they may be failed Hobbesians, remain so persistent despite their flaws.
Thus far, the intervention in Mali seems, at least initially, a banner standard for the practice, insofar as Washington is concerned. A coalition of African and European forces, with France taking the lead in the air and with crack troops on the ground, is sending AQIM and fellow travelers and cobelligerents such as Ansar Dine and MUJAO packing from the cities of Gao and Timbuktu*. The U.S. role appears for now limited to the provision of airlift, refueling, and ISR, a far less costly task than firing barrages of Tomahawk missiles and airstrikes to dismantle its air defenses and the rest of the regime with it.
The debate about the role toppling Gaddafi played in Mali’s current crisis still rages. Algeria’s government, which appears a great deal more sympathetic to the latter position, forced a bloody end to a retaliatory hostage-taking and siege in its own territory, killing foreign citizens along with the terrorists who seized the gas field. As for America’s limited role in the operation, Philip Carter rightly pointed out that even extremely limited role in the U.S. intervention comes at a price, and one perhaps too high.
If the war in Mali is – for now – the best Washington can hope for in an intervention, then the flaws it presents are worth paying attention to, for they’ll arguably be the hardest to eliminate. At the largest level, and perhaps applicable to the widest number of future crises, is the issue Carter highlights – the broken system of burden sharing. I disagree with Anne Applebaum when she posits this intervention as proof of a new European superpower. For one, let’s not give “Europe,” or even the majority of countries in it, so much credit. France is leading Operation Serval, neither the EU nor NATO are in control. That other countries are providing ancillary support is well and good, but French troops are the only Europeans openly committing to combat operations.
Not only that, but France and an assortment of other countries conducting a limited war in Europe’s historical backyard does not a superpower make. Operation Épervier, France’s long-running intervention in Chad, along with many other French operations, long demonstrated Paris’s ability to conduct military operations across northern and western Africa. Nobody ought to question that when French troops arrive in theater, they are extremely competent, and the record of French troops after Algeria and Indochina affirms this. However, that European states lack the willpower or capability to muster sufficient airlift and refueling assets for a small-scale operation in Mali, just as many ran low on munitions in Libya, is a warning sign for future planners, and an obvious red flags for any hasty claims to superpower status (not even de Gaulle was so grandiose).
If one of our most militarily capable allies cannot confidently act unilaterally in its own historical sphere of influence, or requires significant subsidization to do so, the U.S. ought question the incentives it is perpetuating for the supposed major stakeholders in its emergent security policies. Without allied capability to independently project power, burden-sharing could mean the U.S. getting locked into wars primarily of interest to its allies, while its allies will have less to offer in return during U.S.-led war efforts, which frequently require much longer logistical tails. The next war European states want American assistance in may come at a time when U.S. forces are more overdrawn and the conflict in question is more difficult, while the next theater of war America may ask European aid in may be even harder to operate in without the U.S. paying for an increasing share of the power projection.
Beyond issues of power-projection, the interaction of issues of counterterrorism, regime change, and rebellion in Libya and Mali still demand attention. Even assuming forgoing intervention in Libya would have led to the exact same outcome in Mali, resources are finite. Those engaged in toppling Gaddafi and now dealing with the aftermath of Libya might have been better spent in contingencies to limit the spillover of a longer-running civil war or surviving Gaddafi regime. Particularly since the Algerian gas field siege demonstrates that even the most successful interventions face the potential for expansion, escalation, or blowback, saving energy and assets for dealing with the vicissitudes of fog, friction, and fate is particularly prudent, especially when the next crisis presents a more direct threat.
Now, France is outlining plans to halt, or at the very least suspend, its offensive into central Mali, and let other forces take on the brunt of the ground fighting. As limited warfare in practice, France’s model initially has much to recommend it. Jason Fritz, when assessing the merit of airpower in support of unconventional warfare, suggested a rebel force unworthy of ground support might also be unworthy of air support. In Mali, France identified a threat urgent enough to merit a ground deployment and interests constrained enough to sketch a plan for that deployment to be responsible.
Ultimately, France’s ability to contemplate restrained interests relies on the political context of its intervention. It fights at the request of the local government rather than to unseat it. It fights broadly on the side of tradition against Islamist groups perceived to be foreign in origin, intolerable in behavior and alien in ideology. It fights more to restore a status quo rather than revolutionize a region.
Of course, it is far too early to tell if Mali’s war will end up being so amenable to French and broader international interests as it is now. Trying to understand the local context that will ultimately decide so, however, is more a job for analysts such as Andrew Lebovich, Alex Thurston, Hannah Armstrong, along with journalists such as Peter Tinti and Joe Penney, who have regional experience or, in the case of the last three, are in Mali now. Ultimately, while it is useful to consider at the macro-level where Mali fits into understanding of how interventions succeed and fail, the more vital questions about Mali itself can’t be answered at this level of analysis. Hopefully, though, a better conception of what interests are worth fighting for and how best for the U.S. to advance them will, even if it cannot prevent such a tumult from reoccurring elsewhere, clarify if and how the use of force can ameliorate its consequences.
* I also wanted to highlight an amazing story about the preservationists and other residents of Timbuktu, who saved the majority of the city’s collections of historic manuscripts – documents important not simply to locals but to the world’s posterity – from destruction at the hands of retreating Islamist militants. Although initial reporting suggested arson destroyed most of the records, it appears preservationists had left enough in museums to prevent militants from catching on, and sequestered the rest in safe houses. Despite the recent retreat, the location of historical materials remains guarded, in case those who tried to destroy them have a chance to return.
Academi (formerly Blackwater) and other military contractors received an early Christmas present on the 20th: a windfall in future profits from diplomatic security:
[B]oth the influential independent commission on the September attacks in Benghazi and a Senate hearing on Thursday pointed to flooding the State Department’s security corps with money. And one of the key post-Benghazi decisions the next secretary of state will make is whether to continue spending that cash on hired guards or to bolster the ranks of State Department employees that protect diplomats themselves. The Benghazi commission, run by former Amb. Thomas Pickering and retired Adm. Mike Mullen, recommended spending an additional $2.2 billion over the next decade on “construction of new facilities in high risk, high threat areas.” It also urged using emergency war funding to finance “respond[ing] to emerging security threats and vulnerabilities and operational requirements” in dangerous postings. Ironically, even while the commission blasted the Bureau of Diplomatic Security for inadequately protecting the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, its recommendations will line the bureau’s coffers.
There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth on my Twitter and Facebook streams. Articles were posted and resposted warning that diplomacy is inherently dangerous, a fortress mentality would only prevent diplomats from doing their jobs, and that the new contracts would lead to a return to the low points of Iraq War military contracting. Certainly, returning to the era of "Big Boy Rules" (if that is what this means, which is by no means self-evident) would be a net loss for American national power. But just like my blogmate Dan's UAV-loathing nemeses, the cottage industry of contractor-haters tends to ignore the real problem at hand while focusing their ire on a handy external object. However, frantically attacking a goateed, black polo'd voodoo doll will not make policymakers stop using private military contractors--the fault lies in larger questions of statecraft.
Diplomacy is indeed inherently a dangerous business. In Iraq, Afghanistan, and other environments of transitional authority, State Department employees have risked their lives alongside general-purpose forces, special operations forces, and CIA agents and tactical operators. But there is a crucial difference between a diplomat and a soldier, a difference that has been unintentionally obfuscated by ten years of "civilian surge"-ing. As Steven Metz noted, only DoD has the redundancy and capacity to deploy, equip, feed, and protect large numbers of Kevlar-clad men in places where many residents with guns aren't Americans trying to get out. Diplomatic risk is unavoidable, but without something akin to the British imperial civil service there is a limit to the level of risk an under-resourced organization like State can bear.
It is easy to criticize the State Department's tendency towards bunkering in Iraq only if one forgets that the United Nations, which lacked proper security, was attacked with significant loss of life. Sérgio Vieira de Mello is evidence of the unfortunate fact that credible influence has costs. Many non-governmental organizations are now agonizing over whether or not to use private military contractors themselves. Much of the world is in the middle of political transitions, many states have not established full control, and local political factions don't always see foreigners with good intentions as a boon. In fact, stability and the rule of law can actually upset the informal arrangements that undergird many political systems. In Haiti, cracking down on gangs robbed established politicians of their enforcer cadres.
But this does not answer the question of why diplomacy is a dangerous business for Americans. Whether or not you damn or praise America with the ideologically charged term "empire," the growth of a network of contractual relationships is the most tangible legacy of our centuries-long climb to global preeminence. Great powers contract out security, logistics, and economic commitments to trusted agents. But those agents must struggle to legitimate said commitments to domestic audiences. Libya's largely pro-American populace did not produce or sanction the Benghazi attack. But there were still men with guns who did, and the government will not act against them.
The principal-agent problem arises when trusted agents in places like Libya are unwilling or unable to fulfill their contracts. Diverting resources to benefit a distant power, stepping on local interests, and risking being damned as the pawn of foreigners is costly. Withdrawing from contracts is not. The patron needs the client, and failures to complete the contract are often unpunished. This is why Pakistan can funnel money, arms, and even operational direction to those who kill Americans and Afghans with impunity. To make matters worse, the nature of strategic geography often dictates that clients are sought in some of the world's most unstable locales. Every administration since Carter has the same Persian Gulf security policy, and that policy involves cozying up to repressive states. The logistics tail of the Afghan war proved beneficial for many a Central Asian autocrat.
Unfortunately, contractual relationships have a nasty way of enmeshing the US in local political disputes, because our support makes us an actor in other states' domestic politics. Americans--diplomats, soldiers, or otherwise--are thus targets to any faction with a grievance or a desire to position themselves in the political arena. Counting on the locals to respect a little thing called the Vienna Convention is a fool's errand, and the 1979 Tehran hostage crisis should have signaled loud and clear that norms of diplomatic conduct are just scraps of paper to armed "students," terrorists, and militiamen.
Increased security, private or governmental, is a ready solution when trusted agents cannot or will not protect Americans from those who seek to do them harm. The Libyan government cannot properly protect the American consulate, does not exert effort to capture those responsible, and does not even provide security for American law enforcement to investigate the attack. So if the host nation cannot do the job, why blame the State Department for turning to those who can? Blackwater, for all of its lethal flaws, never lost a principal.
Note too, as Dan and Jason Fritz have, that Benghazi is also a symbol of how light-footprint interventions magnify the consequences of the principal-agent problem. The US was willing to overthrow Gaddafi but preferred exerting influence rather than control over the turbulent post-conflict environment. The fact that the Benghazi consulate's security was contracted to an unreliable militia is a potent symbol of how trying to avoid the costs inherent in the exercise of power can sometimes lead to disaster. This is not to argue that a large American occupation force was the answer. But as Fritz observes, the reluctance to pay the cost afterwards to advance American political goals should have been a deciding factor in the intervention itself.
The real problem with PMC diplo-security is that it only accentuates the fundamental problem--unreliable client governments offloading costs onto the United States. By waging air war on Pakistan's proxies instead of holding Islamabad to account for its misdeeds, we become the focus of the Pakistani public's rage. Meanwhile, Islamabad keeps on providing the material support that keeps terrorists and insurgents in the field after our platforms return to base. Similarly, responding to Benghazis by bulking up on security entails assuming responsibility for what the Libyan government should be doing.
For better or worse, superpower status means that we will have to deal with the tough reality of trying to maintain a set of hierarchal relationships for the foreseeable future. We will struggle to manage complex security, logistical, and economic relationships in unstable places with often unreliable partners. And we will create new relationships through interventions that entail lengthy post-conflict assistance. Raging at the Blackwaters of the world is unproductive, and the consequences of Benghazi should highlight precisely why. PMCs are market-oriented institutions and no demand that is worth paying large sums to satisfy will go unmet.
Benghazi's partisan nastiness will fade as we enter 2013. But its consequences for American diplomacy are enormous. Fortress security may prevent future Benghazis, but at a high cost that we bear alone. We would do better by trying, through a mixture of various forms of national power, to incentivize the governments we rely on to actually fulfill their most basic of responsibilities: protecting the men and women we send into harm's way to advance our interests.
When Egyptian rioters stormed the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, raising the black banners (and bizarrely enough, some were hiding behind Guy Fawkes’s now ubiquitous visage), the news was bad enough. A handful of well-financed cranks, advancing a deluded and hateful but crushingly unsurprising agenda, helped ignite a crisis in a critical U.S. partner. The Embassy’s security personnel managed to avoid harm to its staff or the exercise of deadly force (today, it seems, Egyptian internal security has finally showed up at the compound walls). Yet despite the presence of Egyptian security services in the area, the rioters still stormed the walls, desecrated the flag, and flaunted those of the country’s foes – all on nominally sovereign U.S. territory.
In Benghazi, the stronghold of a revolution that, with aid from America and its allies, toppled the murderous Gaddafi regime, worse fears came to pass. Beset by militants – let no media outlet utter again the ridiculous phrase “armed protesters” – firing automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades, U.S. personnel returned fire. An outmatched Libyan security force proved basically ineffectual. One U.S. diplomat died, at least another was wounded, and the whole consulate burnt to the ground after the mob finished looting it.
UPDATE: As I woke up to edit this, news broke reporting that in addition to a potential three additional U.S. deaths, a high-level official – possibly a Consul or even U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, died as a result of the assault there. This new information, if it is verified, makes this all the more urgent, and the record of warning signs below all the more troubling.
This was not, of course, the first attack on diplomats in free Benghazi. Militants fired rocket propelled grenades at British embassy vehicles, and bombed an Egyptian diplomat’s car. America’s Benghazi legation also suffered an IED attack. I discussed the apparent compromises with, or neglect of, Libya’s extremist armed groups in a previous post, when they were mostly focused on razing Sufi shrines. Today, the inability or unwillingness of the Libyan security forces to rein in these actors cost American diplomats their lives. The last Ambassador to die in duty was Adolph Dubs, the U.S. Ambassador in Afghanistan, killed after a botched, hasty raid on his militant kidnappers in 1979. That same year, three American embassies – Tripoli, Tehran, and Islamabad – all suffered sieges. As in Tehran, there was a record of targeting foreign diplomats and officials (including by groups such as the MEK) before the siege. Unfortunately, the hindsight is too late.
What is to be done? The most obvious solution would be for the governments of Libya and Egypt to perform their diplomatic obligations and curb attacks on other countries’ diplomats. Yet compelling even a friendly government to conduct such a task when it disrupts transitional regimes’ relationships with violent, and powerful political actors, is a task difficult even when the government in question is deeply dependent on American largesse.
For those few for whom hasty (and later repudiated) Embassy press releases and tweets might tip the balance from violent assaults on American lives and sovereign soil to less ferocious forms of truculence, there is public diplomacy, information operations, and the “war of ideas” (which Adam critiques magnificently). For everyone else, there’s the Marine Corps. In addition to the Marine Security Guards at U.S. facilities, today’s Marines maintain FAST units – Fleet Antiterrorism Security Teams and RRTs – Rapid Response Teams – to protect American officials, citizens, and interests abroad.
Far from being historically unprecedented, the Marines and Navy have long been the big stick that enables American diplomats to speak softly, and for merchantmen to go about their business peaceably. In the hundreds of military interventions from America’s founding to today, many concerned specifically the enforcement of widely recognized sovereign privileges. These were initially, and especially, the rights of maritime shipping, upon which global trade and diplomatic communication depended. Depredations against American merchantmen, murder of sailors, and piracy all earned swift and limited punitive action. Revolutionary upheaval prompted landings in defense of American lives and property.
When the Marine Corps hymn sings of the “shores of Tripoli,” they really mean Derne, in Cyrenaica, where Marines, supporting a Consular official leading an army of mercenaries, with the backing of American offshore power, hoisted an American flag over foreign shores. The goal was not to liberate Libya but to discourage its governments from violating America’s maritime rights.
Similarly as important and almost universally recognized, in both practice and law, as legitimate sovereign privileges, are the rights of diplomats. All these rights have limits, of course. In 1984, when anti-Gaddafi protesters surrounded the Libyan embassy, Britain sent police officers for crowd control. The Libyan officials inside decided to open fire on the crowd, killing WPC Yvonne Fletcher. Libya then used its diplomatic bags to smuggle the submachine gun out of the country. Diplomatic missions and associated officials have obligations to avoid interference with domestic affairs and especially breaches of the peace, and host governments have responsibilities to assist them in that task. When that becomes impossible, diplomatic missions have a right to repel offenses with violence.
Effective diplomacy demands the safety of diplomats. When diplomats feel they cannot leave the embassy, their professional duties suffer for it. In 1866, when bandits attacked the American consul in Newchwang, the USS Wachusett landed bluejackets to apprehend them. In the late 19th century, America landed forces in Samoa, Argentina, and Chile, in part to protect consular officials and properties – and these were acts where there were far more legitimate grievances about America’s role, such as its overt backing of rival partisans in the Chilean case. America landed also, in the early 20th century, to protect consular officials in Honduras, and even further aflung, in Syria and Abyssinia. America landed troops frequently in China throughout the late 19th and early 20th century, and defended legations in Korea frequently. In more modern times, George H.W. Bush deployed military forces to defend and evacuate U.S. diplomatic facilities in Africa, the Balkans, and Latin America.
The U.S. may not need be as audacious in its expeditions now, particularly since in the case of Egypt and Libya, the U.S. diplomatic presence is, however influential, nowhere near as powerful in each country’s internal political situation as America’s legations were in say, Latin America or the Pacific during the early 20th century. Yet the U.S. must remain willing to deploy the Marines as precautionary measures, and it must be willing to defend its diplomatic personnel with lethal force. While questions of punitive expeditions are more complicated, the use of military force in the defense of nigh-universally recognized sovereign rights is a principle in keeping with American interests, history, and its proper comportment under international law and state practice.
The alternative to effectively securing American diplomats through traditional means is not pretty. The rise of private security contractors owe much of their current prominence in part to this fact. After the 1983 Beirut Embassy bombing, private contractors took increasingly large roles in providing facility security, with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security hiring contractors in 1994 to protect State Department personnel in Haiti. Expanding the role of the State Department sounds well and good, but a more robust diplomatic presence requires security, and when military forces are unavailable, private contractors fill that gap, to frequently problematic results.
So, if and when the U.S. Department of State returns in full force to Libya, it may again be bringing a few hundred mercenaries with it – not to overthrow the government, but to keep its lack of will or martial capability from threatening its ability to maintain a presence in the country. The complement, or worse, the alternative, will likely be diplomatic missions – and their clandestine counterparts who rely on diplomatic covers – even less willing to leave the facility, less willing to engage with the local population, and less effective at actually doing the job of professional diplomacy (or intelligence collection and covert operations, as the case may be).
It is far too early to reasonably outline any kind of punitive measures for what has occurred now. In theory, the bulk of the work of securing cities for diplomats will fall to host governments. Yet it is manifestly unclear how or how soon governments such as Libya’s, (particularly given the almost total denial of reality some Libyan spokesmen have evinced by blaming these acts on Gaddafi bittereinders) can adequately secure these facilities, or if they really have the will to prioritize them.
In the past, offenses such as these – even against, say, sailors of naval vessels – prompted a punitive expeditions against non-state groups such as bandits or partisans, followed by the imposition of an indemnity on the government for the U.S.’s troubles. In Libya, nothing so dramatic is likely to occur. Yet the capability to rapidly respond to evacuate or assist State Department officials under threat will remain essential, even if the full expeditionary power of a Joint Task Force or MAGTF is unlikely to be unleashed.
The readiness to defend American diplomatic rights is a cornerstone of American foreign policy. The strength of the State Department is bolstered, not detracted, by deterring power of the limited military detachments which accompany it and stand over the horizon to defend it. The more that deterrent and security is weakened, the less able the State Department can operate safely and effectively without a growing reliance on private security or other measures. Regardless of what policy options should or do play out in Libya, the US Department of State – together with its colleagues in the USMC – ought ensure that anyone contemplating to forcibly enter our legations or partake in an open season on our diplomats do so only with a great and well-founded fear for their lives.
Lastly, and perhaps most striking, is something Joshua Foust reminded me of on Twitter today – since World War II, more Ambassadors have died in the line of duty than general officers. During many years of American history since, it has arguably even been more dangerous to be a member of the Foreign Service than the Armed Forces. The complexity and difficulty of protecting diplomatic personnel, as outlined above, leaves them in a deeply vulnerable situation. Responsible for the constant maintenance and crafting of the vast and inscrutable beast that is U.S. foreign policy, they assume serious amounts of personal risk, knowing that by the nature of their trade they must leave themselves exposed, and that the very nature of their profession will inherently constrain what their country can do to save them in an hour of need. In theory they are protected by inviolable sovereign rights and centuries of diplomatic tradition. In reality, the options for the Marines attached to the legations will always be circumscribed by the foreign policy considerations those they protect serve to advance. With the enormous amount of risk State Department civilians face, it is imperative the military components supporting the State Department ensure they retain the capability to protect those rights if called upon, and deter breaches of those rights so they need not be called upon in the first place – and it is also imperative that policymakers give them an effective mandate to support those missions. They fight so that we might not lose men such as Ambassador Chris Stevens and Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith, and it appears in Benghazi, some lay down their lives to do so.
State formation and
regime consolidation, as any astute
reader of Charles Tilly could tell you, is an ugly business. Just as ugly, though, can be what its
absence brings. Since foreign aircraft, foreign arms, and local manpower toppled
the Gaddafi regime in Libya, a debate simmered between skeptics, who feared the
infiltration of al Qaeda, jihadists, and widespread instability, and optimists,
who saw potential in a new Arab-formed democracy forming in the wake of a
low-cost intervention against a brutal regime. Both sides have sought to wring
evidence for their positions out of a muddled state of affairs. While jihadist
groups appeared to increase their presence in Libya, relatively secular, even
so-called liberal and independent politicians and coalitions dominate the
Libyan government. Though Libya’s patchwork of legal and extralegal armed
groups remains, these myriad militias have not reduced the country into a new
Somalia on the Mediterranean shore.
The Weberian monopoly on force is a hallmark of political science and a historical analysis, but it is also an ideal-type. No state has a total monopoly on force, and many eke out a form of status quo where coercive instruments remain outside the state’s hands. In the U.S., militias were intended to be the last line of defense against the overlong extension of federal power, but when paramilitary groups overstepped an acceptable political threshold, as they did during the Reconstruction era, federal troops would intervene.
Libya’s recent shrine bulldozing crisis similarly reveals a tenuous equilibrium between Libya’s various coercive agents. Groups many suspect adhere to Salafist teachings demolished two shrines last weekend, prompting Interior Minister Fawzi Abdel A'al to resign, and then reverse his resignation. Yet in doing so, he defended his refusal to use security forces to stop extremist groups demolishing shrines, claiming:
"If we deal with this using security we will be forced to use weapons, and these groups have huge amounts of weapons. We can't be blind to this. These groups are large in power and number in Libya. I can't enter a losing battle (with them), to kill people over a grave," he told reporters.
It was up to the country's religious bodies to stop the desecration, he said.
"If all shrines in Libya are destroyed so we can avoid the death of one person (in clashes with security), then that is a price we are ready to pay," the minister added.
What is going on here is
certainly more complicated than simply state failure, but it also underlines
the difficulties for policymakers trying to navigate the interplay of
paramilitary groups and state-formation. Despite vigorous Western intervention,
support for favored NTC militias, and a government at least theoretically
opposed to violent extremist groups, Libya’s security forces remain incapable
or (perhaps worse) unwilling to exercise the political prerogative of a sovereign
government and prevent armed groups from acting unimpeded in Libya. It may be
that the Libyan government will not concern itself with the destruction of
religious property (though the assumption that desecration and death are
alternatives, rather than potential bedfellows, seems quite naive).
In many cases, states or political elites allow violent non-state groups to flourish so long as they pursue narrowed aims that do not threaten the sovereign government’s ideological, power-political or rentier interests. In some cases, sympathy, sanction, or outright support for these groups is a viable means for supplementing a political community’s capacity beyond conventional limits. Rightist paramilitary and terrorist groups performed this function in Latin America, while white supremacist paramilitaries and terrorists served much the same function for the parties, classes and interests opposed to Reconstruction in the U.S.
While the sheer volume of arms and weakness of state security forces in Libya suggest incapacity plays a significant role in this crisis, the Interior Minister’s acknowledgment that some members of the security forces (which arguably amount to the integrated, approved militia groups in Libya) may be sympathetic or active participants in the attacks suggests a lack of will is also at play. After all, if unfettered desecration is preferable to risking the lives of the state’s security forces, and then left to religious institutions to check, that is a tacit political sanction or concession in the evolving negotiations between Libya’s armed entities.
Such stories should make us skeptical, too, about the ability of arms provision to paramilitaries and proxy forces to reliably advance foreign political interests. In Syria, many arguments assert that a more vigorous role in arming the relatively secular or moderate opposition will undermine the position of al Qaeda and jihadist groups. Yet arms provision in Libya, and indeed the consolidation of the most favorable government the West could ask for, failed to create a force organized and coherent enough to actually stamp out local extremists. Aaron Zelin and Andrew Lebovich, in their earlier analysis, make a persuasive case that jihadist groups did not dominate the Libyan rebels. Nor, of course, do jihadist groups need to totally dominate a country’s territory or the composition of its militia groups to pose a significant concern. Yet today the new government supposedly faces groups better armed and organized than their own, or at least well enough such that the state forces cannot effectively suppress them. How could this come to pass?
Asessing combat power, political cohesion, and other factors vital to understanding the sorting-out that occurs of armed groups in a multi-faceted rebellion, requires recognizing qualitative elements. Radical groups are not always the largest or best-armed group initially, but they may be more organizationally coherent thanks to shared ideology. Additionally, unlike militias primarily focused on overthrowing a tyrannical regime, success at that aim does not lead to their dissolution. They may also have superior access to foreign advisors that allow them to tap into a well of experience and superior tactics, techniques, and procedures.
Further, arms remain instruments, and do not reliably alter the political agency of their users. In Syria, the fact that many rebels buy their arms from regime troops, or from Iraqi soldiers reselling U.S.-provided arms, should suggest that any foreign power that floods Syria with arms is likely to see those weapons used for undesired purposes in unexpected places. Not only that, but as Libya demonstrated, merely providing arms to rival groups does not preclude the existence of others.
Many Libyan militias appear to be seeking primarily to extract political and economic rent from access to state revenues and local control. Creating a monopoly on force could actually severely disrupt this process, and what benefits does it offer the militias? Similarly, in Syria, while foreign patrons can arm friendly militias, how can they exclude the wrong militias from being armed by other actors, their own proxies, or as a result of regime caches entering the market? The more likely scenario than undesirable groups fading away is a multiplicity of armed groups existing simultaneously. As Libya should now demonstrate, supporting a rebel group and new government does not guarantee it will be ready, willing, or even able to stamp out the armed undesirables. More extreme groups may choose to focus more on preserving and expanding their combat power and revolutionary agenda, while groups whose political aims mainly sought overthrow of a regime may, with their ideological objectives satisfied and primary threat extinguished, may face fewer incentives to enhance their combat readiness or mobilize politically.
The result, then, is that groups that may be a popular or political minority, and even outside the bounds of a new government’s security infrastructure, maintain a share of combat capability large enough to pursue their aims or at least hinder or deter the new regime’s attempts to extinguish it or curtail its influence. They may do this in spite of relative disfavor in foreign political ties and arms trade, and in spite of a failure to contest or undermine the popularity or non-coercive operations of the new regime. Warlords’ games are not so easily or durably won, which is why states approximating the Weberian ideal type will not play by their rules in the first place, and refuse to tolerate such groups’ existence.
State formation and the maintenance of state power involves tacit deals with potentially dangerous and undoubtedly unsavory actors as often as it does, whether by might or right, the imposition of a monopoly on force. Whether through a corrupt bargain that tolerates or legitimizes racial violence and disenfranchisement, a stable arrangement between a government and powerful narcotics traffickers, or the integration of gruesome paramilitary and its allies into an expanding state, we should be wary about letting Hobbesian anarchy color our metrics for success or failure. We should be even more wary about pursuing policies that seek to tame the complex and ugly business of finding a working distribution of political and violent power in a transitioning political community. Ultimately, the covert remedies so popular today must grapple with many of the problems of nation-building and state formation that supposedly belonged to the failed policies of the past.
I have been abroad for the past five weeks and just got back two nights ago. I have currently worked my way through two weeks of emails and have another three to go, so if you have tried to get in touch over the past month, have some patience with me. I was working a bit while I was abroad, as anyone who watched me in debates on France24 knows, and I want to provide some links to my columns for World Politics Review so that you can reach beyond the paywall. (Now having said that, I encourage you all to actually buy a subscription to WPR. It's not terribly expensive, and -- my column aside -- the content is both fresh and informed.)
1 August 2012: "Fallout from Libya Precedent Felt in Syria Debate"
25 July 2012: "State, USAID Must Learn From Afghanistan Errors"
18 July 2012: "U.S.-Israel Military Ties Face Long-Term Strains"
4 July 2012: "No Crisis in Wartime U.S. Civil-Military Relations"
27 June 2012: "America's Dysfunctional Decade in Afghanistan"
The photojournalist Bryan Denton has been a friend for several years, and this past year has been a career year for him. Those who followed the reporting of C. J. "Chris" Chivers from Libya probably also know of Bryan's photographs. Bryan and I caught up a few weeks ago at the wedding of some friends, and I convinced him, late one night, to answer a few questions for the blog. What follows is some pretty incredible testimony from one of the bravest men in the business.
What a year! I hardly know where to begin, given all that you and your cameras have seen over the past 10 months. Let's begin with something you didn't see -- Egypt. After living in the Middle East for all these years, you missed the kickoff to the Arab Spring!
Ha, I wish I had been able to be there. I was stuck for most of February on a small base in southern Helmand Province, embedded with U.S. Marines on an assignment that had taken some time to get set up so I couldn't get out of it. I was leaving Beirut for this assignment on January 29th, just as Egypt's protests were beginning and I remember having goosebumps as I watched al-Jazeera in the airport with virtually everyone else on my flight to Dubai, in total silence. I knew, after Tunisia, and based on the size of the protests I was seeing on TV, that the region was changing in a way no one had called or could have foreseen. Sitting it out in Helmand was tough, but I came back just in time to be in position for Libya, once the revolution there really got under way, and the borders opened.
Man, Libya was an entirely different kettle of fish from Afghanistan. As someone who has always tried to make myself as small as possible while under fire, I do not envy any 6-foot, 8-inch combat photojournalist trying to cover high-intensity conflict. Talk us through the beginning of that campaign. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced as a photojournalist?
I think in the beginning, myself and most of my colleagues thought that Libya's revolution was going to be more tear gas and rubber bullets than a conventional war, including combined artillery, armor and airpower. Virtually no one I know, myself included, even brought body armor into Libya in late February/early March, and I, despite my time spent in Afghanistan over the past years, was in no way prepared for the level of combat that kicked off in early march. I don't know if anyone was.
Most of us had been in Benghazi covering the aftermath of that city's uprising for about a week when Qaddafi forces attacked the city of Brega on March 2. We'd spent the previous two days documenting the rebels as they were in the very beginning stages of starting to think about some kind of self defense force, as many of them were calling it. Mostly, it was young students washing 14.5mm ammunition that had long been in storage, putting it into links, and then spending their mornings learning to line up in formation. On March 2, I was at one of these training camps when news broke that Qaddafi loyalist forces had attacked Brega, and the camp emptied out as men took to the road. It was as if all of Benghazi had decided to fight that day, with hundreds of cars full of men and boys, mostly unarmed, heading towards Brega. By the end of that day, the rebels had repelled what in retrospect was a small probing force of about 45 trucks, simply through sheer numbers of bodies on the road. Qaddafi had begun using airstrikes though, and I remember going back to Benghazi that day thinking that the revolution in LIbya had now become a military conflict.
I have always been pretty gung-ho, but what followed in the coming days, as the rebels continued to push west, bouyed by what they saw as a victory at Brega, and their destiny, along the coast was a hard introduction to a kind of fear I hadn't felt before while working. They encountered relatively light resistance up through Ras Lanuf and into Bin Jawad on March 5, where there was a day-long celebration by rebels and some residents. I had bought a bottle of Jameson with me that I was planning on cracking open once we arrived in Tripoli, and at that time, I was convinced that was going to be in a week or two tops. The next morning, March 6, we woke up to an entirely different reality.
Qaddafi troops, not in trucks, but in tanks and aided by loyalists in Bin Jawad had begun to push back against the rabble/horde of mainly unarmed rebels. The force had come from Sirte, the garrison town that is now under siege, and they were firing 122mm and 107mm rockets, T-72 tank main gun rounds, mortars, Qaddafi's airforce was dropping unguided iron bombs on groups of rebels massing on the road—which at the time was all the rebels really knew how to do, and Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters were straffing rebel positions. I had four of the most harrowing close calls of my career that day, all within the span of about four or five hours, as did a number of my colleagues. By the end of the day my fight or flight mechanism was completely shot, and I was the closest I've ever been to all out panic — it took a lot to keep my composure.
What compounded the fear most was the realization that many of the things I'd taken for granted while embedded with U.S. troops, like a robust Medevac chain, advanced communications and situational awareness tools, and all the other goodies that I'd grown accustomed to were absent. Our access was total and completely unfettered, which I think is why most of us braved it through those days ... the pictures, if you could muster the courage, were amazingly dramatic, but for the most part, and this became a theme throughout the Libyan conflict, we were working in the blind, and basing decisions with very real deadly consequences on very little information, if any at all.
The conflict turned nasty quickly. But the rebels improved over time. You had previously spent a lot of time with seasoned U.S. troops in Afghanistan and know the difference between well-trained regular units and the kinds of citizen militias that were fighting in Libya. Talk the readership of this blog through what you were able to witness in terms of battlefield learning and innovation.
The learning curve for the rebels was most certainly steep. I think the best way I've heard them described was by Chivers, who referred to them as "accidental combatants," a term I've always thought was pretty prescient. They were engineers, lawyers, students, unemployed youth, and I don't think at the outset, they anticipated such a long grinding conflict that would take so many of their lives, and require so much innovation in the field. There wasn't a lot, if any combat experience within their collective ranks at the beginning, and everything they did — especially in the early days, was learned through a school of pretty hard knocks. No place better illustrated this than Misrata — which was under siege for two solid months. By the time we arrived there in mid April, it was like a mad scientists workshop of urban warfare tactics. They'd taught themselves how to move between buildings by knocking out "rat-holes" dug through multiple walls along the frontline, and had turned downtown Misrata — essentially a circular network of roads that link up at various roundabouts—into a virtual maze by blocking off streets at various points with shipping containers and sand berms. In the beginning, they built these fortifications by putting a brave sole in a bulldozer or forklift, and having him brave blistering machine gun and RPG fire in order to build them in place, when they lost enough people and bulldozers, they started welding steel plates onto the bulldozers. Electricians and steel workers who had worked in the oil industry perviously were now working in make-shift weapons workshops, mounting all kinds of things onto the backs of pickup trucks as rebel units filtered in for refits or repairs, suggesting tweaks here and there. From an objective point of view, watching a civilian population it was awe inspiring to watch. In April, maybe two out of five rebels in Misrata had a weapon, and most of them were fighting from their neighborhoods.
No amount of training can give a man absolute belief in his cause. Most American troops I've spent time with in Afghanistan, where politics and fighting are constantly happening side by side, and often times at odds with one another, fight as much for each other as they do for their country. A lot of the soldiering I've seen, in a variety of places, relies on brotherhood more than rank to hold a unit together. In Misrata, what they may have lacked in training was replaced by this sheer will and belief in their cause and the notion of their city as a cohesive family unit. One thing Americans haven't had in over a hundred years, thankfully, is the experience of fighting over our own physical land. Fighting for something physical, like your life, or your house, rather than something almost existential, like your security changes the dynamic completely.
I remember this one day, in the hospital, a rebel came in badly burned. I was talking to his friend later who said that he'd been been in Birwaya, west of the city, when a Qaddafi forces tank had begun pushing on their position. According to his friend, the man had charged the tank with a grenade and a molotav cocktail, and in the process of trying to climb onto the moving tank to drop the grenade in the hatch, the molotov cocktail had exploded and engulfed him in flame. Perhaps not the smartest of tactic if self preservation is concerned, and there were plenty of similar cases of negligence in handling weapons that come along with an untrained fighting force, but the belief one has to have in their cause to charge a tank with a grenade? You can't buy, train, or equip a soldier with that ...
This has been a very tough year for photojournalists. First, at the end of the last year, Joao Silva was horrifically wounded in southern Afghanistan. Then several journalists -- including your friends Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington -- were killed in Libya this past spring. What effects have these events had on you as a professional? And is there anything readers of the blog should know about these men and the other men and women who put themselves in harm's way to bring us the news here in the United States?
It has been a brutal year for our group, which is a small one. Joao Silva's wounding in Afghanistan, as well as Tyler Hicks' and Lynsey Addario's capture in Libya in March — both of whom I was working with just days before they were captured -- had me very rattled before the loss of Chris and Tim. More than any others, Tyler, Joao and Lynsey have been my mentors in covering conflict through the early years of my career in places like Georgia and Lebanon. I was lucky enough to get my start in this business by working alongside them, looking up to them both as photographers, and as individuals, and as a novice, they've often helped me gauge the safety of situations. What each of those three went through, before Chris and Tim passed, was chilling in that I think for the first time I really understood that this work potentially has serious consequences, no matter how much experience you have. Tim and Chris' deaths didn't really confirm this any more than it needed to be, but I still think about both of them a lot and haven't been able to shake the sadness knowing that both of them somehow ran out of luck, together, in Misrata, at such bright times in their lives.
None of us are immune, and we live and die by the choices we make in the field. I think Chris and Tim both knew this better than most. Both were brave in their reporting, but mostly to me, what I think about, is how thoughtful they both were. Tim I only met in Benghazi, but over two weeks or so working around him and talking over pictures in the evenings, I was in awe of how he could freestyle incredibly sensitive narrative jazz into a visual record based on what he was seeing. In an industry known for its large personalities, he traveled almost directly from the red carpet at the Oscars to the western gate of Ajdabiyeh, and arrived with no pretense or posturing. I, like most I imagine, met him and knew immediately that he was someone genuine and special, and am sad that I didn't get the opportunity to know him better.
Hondros I'd known since 2008, when we had both covered the war in Georgia, and we had hung out in Afghanistan, New York and Egypt several times in the intervening years. Chris took his work quite seriously, and I was always struck by his ability to look at situations in a very un-stylized way and let what was actually happening come through the image. It sounds easy, but it's not, and he was one of the best in the business in my opinion. His last set of photographs from Misrata, of rebels storming a building on Tripoli street, are as terrifying as they are a perfect example of his dedication to his work — especially knowing that he went back out to keep working after taking a break to file them.
Along the same lines, we spoke at length last weekend about risk mitigation in combat -- a subject I also discussed with Chris Chivers recently. Tell us about your philosophy for managing and mitigating risk in your work. What steps do you take to report what you need to report while doing so in as smart and safe a way as possible?
After March 6, which I wrote about above, I knew that covering the war in Libya would require a significant rethink in terms of managing risk if I was going to continue to cover it on a long term basis. I was extremely lucky to have had the chance to work with Chivers on my second trip, which included our Misrata reporting. I had some idea about what I was doing, but Chris (Chivers) can look at a battlefield, through all the light and noise, and see it as a three dimensional and dynamic entity. As we probed the front in Brega, and later, the frontlines in Misrata, and the Western Mountains, we came up with a system that both of us were comfortable with. As soon as we were within range of artillery, we wore our body armor and kevlar if we were outside or driving, and would only travel to the frontlines if there was news or a specific story that would justify the risk. Once there, we would do our reporting, get the material that we needed, and then get out.
Artillery was probably the single greatest threat during much of our time reporting together, and there were instances on the road to Brega early on that had led us to believe that the teams directing Qaddafi's rockets, mortars and artillery were striking pre-registered targets on the map such as intersections, or key installations — many of which were occupied by rebels, so hanging around at these positions just waiting for something to happen was potentially quite dangerous.
What was amazing was that by not simply chasing the noise, as I watched many photographers do — it's a natural reaction for many, including myself — we were able to do what was, in my opinion, some of the better reporting, particularly from Misrata, on the gears and moving parts of the rebellion.
I always end these interviews with something related to food and drink. You and I have together polished off several bottles of Laphroig on the balconies of Beirut. Where are the three best places in the Middle East to sit down with your photojournalist peers and swap stories over a cold beer or glass of Scotch?
A great part of this year and the last has been drinking less to be honest. Afghanistan and Libya are both fairly booze-free zones for me. I'm realizing that I need to start exercising more, and living healthy if I want to keep doing this job. That said, when in Beirut, one can never go wrong going for a cocktail at Kayan in Gemayze, or on my balcony as you mentioned, particularly if there's something on my BBQ. I was just in Sidi Bou Said in Tunisia as well, and that place nearly gives Beirut a run for it's money.
For those of you in New York City, an exhibit of Bryan's photos will be running from 20 October until 19 Novemberat the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. The rest of you can follow Bryan on Twitter at@bdentonphoto.
I have been on vacation for the past week, largely away from both the internet and television in rural Tennessee, and I missed most coverage of the rebel advance into Tripoli. I must say, I was shocked when I read the news. I had expected the fall of Tripoli to drag out for weeks. I had reasoned that both parties to the conflict were continuing to fight a more-or-less zero-sum game and that the loyalists around Tripoli could be expected to mount a fierce and organized defense. I had also been privy to all kinds of pessimistic assessments of the combat abilities of the rebel fighting forces and thought they would have a much tougher time advancing on prepared defenses than they ended up having. In the end, I perhaps overestimated the competence of the loyalist forces (among whom we have not had the luxury of embedded reporters to assess their quality). I might have also underestimated the effectiveness of discrete allied advisory teams and the tactical application of air power. If you are someone who saw this coming, though, feel free to pipe up in the comments and tell me what else I missed.
Given my poor record of prognostication this year -- which includes my opinion, expressed in January, that Hosni Mubarak would retain the loyalty of his military (!) -- you can be forgiven for doubting any other predictions I have for 2011. I'll make, instead, a few observations.
1. It has been said before and ad nauseum but bears repeating: the war in Libya does not stop with the fall of the Qadhdhafi regime. The war in Libya stops when Libya's new rulers a) train and field enough security forces of their own to maintain public order and then b) create institutions to redistribute the resources of the state and address popular grievances. So let's hold off on the celebratory handshakes, eh?
2. Some, knowing #1, are already suggesting NATO provide ground forces to serve as peacekeepers and advisors. I am not sure how wise this would be. Given how few U.S. interests are at stake in Libya, it makes more sense -- to me, at least -- for other nations and coalitions to take the lead in partnering with Libya's new government. I am thinking, especially, of the Mediterranean countries. (Not that Italy did such a hot job creating enduring public institutions the last time they were around.) At the least, I think the calls for NATO peacekeeping forces (or even advisors) is premature. Serious questions to which I do not know the answer: have the rebels even requested such forces? What would the mission of these forces be? What kind of mandate, if any, would they enjoy from the United Nations?
3. The single most important issue for me, which I was screaming about several days ago when the defenses of Tripoli began to collapse, concerns the status of Libyan munitions -- especially Libya's anti-aircraft weaponry. I hope the United States and its allies have a good plan to buy back or otherwise seize all those man-portable air defense systems that have walked off the Libyan battlefield over the past few months...
4. Many members of the Obama Administration, especially the veterans of the Kosovo Campaign, were more sanguine about the open-ended application of U.S. military power in Libya than I was. I am glad the Qadhdhafi regime has fallen, but I worry we have reinforced a precedent where we do not feel the need to carefully think through our strategic goals (to include our desired end states) and assumptions before going to war. Because giving the U.S. military unclear guidance to prosecute open-ended military interventions is a recipe for a serious crisis in civil-military relations, we might not want to do that next time.
I'll conclude with linking to several smart and relevant articles that you have probably already seen. The first is a Steve Negus post on Arabist concerning the question of whether the rebels are ready to now rule Libya. The second was a brief on post-Qadhdhafi planning considerations by Daniel Serwer.
It's good to be back.
Each year, around this time in the (lunar) calendar, Western newspapers are usually filled with stories about the latest exciting Ramadan soap opera everyone is watching. Nothing happens during Ramadan, the story goes, so most reporting on the Arabic-speaking world is of the human interest variety.
It's worth pausing to consider, then, how remarkable this year has been and continues to be. I woke up this morning to images of Hosni Mubarak in a cage, on trial in Egypt. This is a stunning image for me to see, so I can only imagine the effect it has on 83m Egyptians and about 250m other people in the region.
Elsewhere in the Arabic-speaking world, meanwhile, violent civil wars and upheavals continue to press for the fall of the Qadhdhafi regime in Libya, the al-Asad regime in Syria, and the Saleh regime in Yemen. If I had to place my bets, I would bet all will ultimately and bloodily be successful.
Remarkable. Ramadan mubarak indeed.
Tripoli and other Qadhdhafi-held areas of Libya are now suffering from crippling shortages of both food and fuel. I want to prepare you all for the very real possibility that the United Nations or other multi- or international organizations will have to provide humanitarian relief to the people of Tripoli in the near future -- because the international community earlier intervened on behalf of Libyan rebels and has now enabled those rebels to march on those areas loyal to Qadhdhafi. If you're confused by war waged via the logic of humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect ... you're not alone.
UPDATE: From a reader...
FYI, WFP has been sending in thousands of metric tons of food to Gaddafi controlled areas for well over a month, purchase with funding from USAID, among others.
Ostensibly this food is being distributed by the Libyan Red Crescent to various bakeries from distribution to the public, but trust me when I say they have absolutely know way to verify this.
I've been participating in this "humanitarian intervention" since the end of February, and I really don't have a fucking clue what we're doing here.