The civil war in Libya is now a new war: the Libyan War. This new war began when the West and/or the U.N. joined the war and escalated it. NATO may be coming aboard too.
The U.N., that supposed instrument of international peace and security, has escalated a civil war into an international war. If the principle it has invoked in doing so stands, which is a supposed humanitarian one, then we face perpetual war, for there are and will be hundreds of civil conflicts within nation-states that are no different than the one in Libya.
Since the nation-state is organized along territorial lines, any secession movement or any movement to disavow a standing government leads to civil disagreement, disputes, and conflicts.
I haven't yet seen anyone who could forecast the course of a war in much detail. I know I cannot. It's not impossible to say some general things accurately. It was probably reasonably clear that the Allies would beat Germany once the U.S. came into it in World War II, for example. The entry of the Chinese into the Korean War was not expected by MacArthur. Bush and his gang didn't foresee the Iraq entanglement at all. Afghanistan is one large pit of improvisations, blunders and entanglements, not to mention civilian killings and casualties. It was easy to forecast an American "win" in Granada in 1983. The Vietnam War saw an incredible array of wrong forecasts and outright lies. Yes, there are always some insightful people who see what lies ahead, but it's very hard to know at the time that their judgments are better than those of the people who are making the wrong forecasts.
With that as an introduction, here are some thoughts on Libya that are crossing my mind today for what they are worth.
First, the war is likely to grow in scope. Wars do that. It is likely to grow in military scope and it is likely to grow in its political and economic fallout as well. There are going to be ramifications that are now unforeseen and unintended.
Second, I think that the West is lying when it says it didn't target Gaddafi personally. A missile landed on his compound, didn't it? They could say it's a command center, but it all comes down to the same thing. They'd be happy to see him dead. They'll keep trying.
Third, air power doesn't win wars. That's my takeaway from all I've ever seen or read about it. The exception may be the A-bombs dropped on Japan, but no one is about to drop H-bombs today without looking like the bad guy and losing all moral authority. So, when some general or some politician starts talking about "winning" in Libya, or needing more air strikes, I discount it. For example, Britain's Foreign Secretary, William Hague, is quoted as saying that the attacks won't stop until Gaddafi observes a real cease fire. He assumes that air power can make Gaddafi stop his ground attacks. Maybe, but there's a high likelihood that they cannot and won't. I know the technology has changed and the air attacks are more targeted today than in past wars, but the technology on the ground also advances to avoid being targeted. With Iraq and Afghanistan as guidelines, it looks as if it's going to take a helluva lot of destruction going on for a long time to make Gaddafi capitulate, and while that happens the civilian population is going to be getting killed and suffering. Look what America did to Iraq and how many innocents Clinton killed.
Fourth, there is going to be increased blowback and retaliation by both Gaddafi and any other Arab elements elsewhere that interpret this attack as an attack on Arab lands or Arab religions or Arab peoples in general. They will fight back with whatever weapons they have, including terrorism in Europe and the U.S. When this occurs, this attack on Libya is going to cause the authorities in the West to ramp up their own anti-terror efforts in their countries and turn them even more into police states.
Fifth, countries all over the world that see how Libya is being dismantled at the will of the West and the U.N. are going to look for ways to arm themselves better than in the past, even to getting nuclear weapons as a deterrent to such domination. This war will intensify the procurement of arms and weapons of mass destruction.
Sixth, anyone can see that this has not been done for humanitarian reasons, but to take sides. Britain has reverted to its colonialist mindset and so have France and Italy. Other countries know that this is about controlling the oil and having pliant regimes in places where there is oil. The moral stature or moral leadership of the West is going to go down because of this. This is not to say that those who abstained in the U.N. vote are looking good. China or Russia could have vetoed the resolution if they had had any guts, but they didn't.
Seventh, there are going to be and already are some voices of relative moderation among U.S. politicians. Obama is trying to walk a line between the most bloodthirsty hawks and the more reluctant hawks (and occasional dove). He acts as if he had to do this. So does Hillary. They are only saying that they are feeling the resource pinch of making another war to preserve the Empire. Their regrets are the regrets of people who discover that running an Empire is not a free lunch. They face constraints like everyone else does. They cannot do everything they'd like to do. Everything costs. They are going to have to give up something in order to make war in Libya. The costs of controlling events and other lands are non-trivial. Their public expressions of regret are not humanitarian in nature. They are simply finding the job tougher than they had supposed.
Eighth, the structure of law is further undermined by this war. There is no declaration of war by Congress. Instead the war is generated by a vote through the U.N. This further trashes the U.S. Constitution, as if it needed any more trashing. It elevates power above law, or transmutes power into law. Any real law is demoted or disappears altogether.
Ninth, those in the West and in the Arab League who joined this civil war, in effect starting a new war of their own that I call the Libyan War, are already dividing one from another. Each has its own political and economic objectives. The objectives of this war are already clouded. No one in the West really knows why it is being conducted or can state clearly what circumstances will bring the war to a close. When there is no declaration of war or only a vaguely-worded U.N. statement that fails to present clear objectives, this is one of the outcomes.
Tenth, I have the suspicion or expectation that the air attacks will induce Gaddafi to adopt tactics on the ground that are even more deadly to anyone who stands in his way. If he is killed, some new colonel is likely to step up in his place. Libya could be at war for quite some time.
This all suggests to me that the West will introduce ground forces into Libya.
The West, under the umbrella of the American Empire, wants to control the oil. This makes them, particularly the U.S., face constant trouble spots of their own making. If they sat back passively and bought oil on the world market, this would not happen. The oil suppliers have to sell as much as the buyers have to buy.
This goal — oil control — is a gigantic error. It is done to protect oil companies, oil concessions, and investment in oil facilities. But why should these have the protection of the government, paid for by taxpayers? Every one of us depends critically on many things (water, food, clothing) but we do not attempt to control the suppliers. Instead we use inventories and alternative suppliers to reduce the risks of outages. Instead we develop peaceful commercial relations. Instead we build up a history of trust.
The West also wants control so as to assure supplies to the West's military. For what purpose? So that it can be on call all over the world? If the U.S. had an appropriate defensive policy, the need for oil to oil the military machine would diminish considerably.
The West also wants control so that oil interruption cannot be used as a weapon against Western policies that oil suppliers dislike. This is just another way of saying that the West wants its policies to go through and will go to great lengths to brook no interference from those who may object. Is such dominance an appropriate policy for the U.S. government? What does that buy us at home except higher taxes, inflation, instability, constant warfare, and loss of freedoms?
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York. He is the author of the free e-book Essays on American Empire: Liberty vs. Domination and the free e-book The U.S. Constitution and Money: Corruption and Decline.