With NATO's Operation Odyssey Dawn launch, strategic dimensions come into focus
By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, Global Information System
The major Western players — the U.S., the UK, and France — have begun, as they escalate their militarily-coordinated air and missile attacks on the forces of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, to compete over who they need to support for leadership in a post-Gadhafi state. The competition for influence over the next Libyan Administration, and the oil and gas production coming mainly out of Eastern Libya, also highlights shifts within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and other international institutions, such as the African Union (AU) and the Arab League.
Significantly, although the key Western players are coming to essentially the same conclusions as to the next Libyan leadership, the process of finding who to back has highlighted the great strategic divisions and distrust which are emerging between the three NATO states, highlighting the differences between them even as they coordinate well at an operational level in the enforcement of the United Nations Security Council-mandated “no-fly zone” over Libya.
Some of the basics emerging as the Libyan fighting continues are:
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The anti-Gadhafi National Libyan Council (NLC), under former Gadhafi Justice Minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil, is seen as representative only of Cyrenaican interests, and still does not address the overall Libyan tribes’ needs to find representation which transcends the interests of a single, or few, tribes or a single region. As a result, it is shaping up that the NLC and its leader could remain relevant only as a regional body, ultimately not becoming a “national” entity or government.
The U.S., UK, and France are indeed all looking to the 1951 Libyan Constitution and to the provision that a member of the Senussiyyah sect, and Senussi family, be elected as a national leader, a move which would transcend the possibility of a single tribe, or tribal leader, taking power, as Gadhafi did with his 1969 coup, which empowered the Qadadhfa tribe. There are two Senussi family members who have been considered: the first is Seyyid Idris bin Abdullah al-Senussi, based in Rome, who has been acknowledged for two decades as the secular leader of the movement (the Senussi movement is a moderate Islamic sect); and the second is the self-styled “Crown Prince” of Libya, Muhammad al-Senussi, who had been based in London, and who has now moved to Cairo. Prince Muhammad was the son of the former Crown Prince, who had abdicated his claim to the throne after the 1969 coup against King Idris I by Gadhafi. In any event, the Libyan Constitution calls for the election by the tribal leaders of a leader from the Senussi family; there is no succession by primogeniture. Moreover, Gadhafi also recognized that Seyyid Idris was his main adversary, and lobbied the Hosni Mubarak Government in Egypt to have Egypt ban Idris from entering Egypt, from where he could effectively mount a campaign against Gadhafi. The Libya court system also in 2010 recognized that Idris and his part of the Senussi family were the heirs to the property of the late King Idris.
Senior U.S. Government officials at the State Department and Congress in the run-up to the start of Operation Odyssey Dawn, the multinational air denial campaign over Libya which began on March 19, 2011, met with Seyyid Idris in Washington, DC (his second visit to Washington in the space of a few weeks), and French and British officials were now discussing Idris’ prospects as leader of the anti-Gadhafi faction of Libyan politics. French and Saudi officials were known also to have initiated moves to contact Idris.
The French Air Force was the first to initiate air strikes against Gadhafi air and air defense systems on March 19, identifying just how committed the French Government has become to moving toward support of a new Libyan leadership. Earlier, France had recognized the NLC as representative of the Libyan people, and French officials have now been working to make contact with the Senussi leadership and, to some extent, have been coordinating with the UK Government of Prime Minister David Cameron. The French Government of President Nicholas Sarkozy is keen to transition away from Gadhafi to secure French oil and gas supplies from North Africa and to move toward a more stable Mediterranean trading basin, linking in with France and the EU. Prime Minister Cameron, in the UK, shares this sentiment, but also clearly wishes to highlight the questionable behavior of the former UK governments of Labour leaders Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, which compromised massively with Gadhafi, in moves which involved large sums of cash moving to UK political, academic, and other “influence” figures.
U.S. President Barack Obama has essentially been forced into a corner on the question of supporting the Security Council-authorized military action in Libya. Going against all military strategic logic, Obama has been openly saying — telling Gadhafi — that U.S. military operations would not include ground forces. While this has been an important message from Obama to his political base in the U.S., which opposes any additional U.S. military adventures abroad, it is also a very strong message which he hopes Gadhafi will understand. Gadhafi has been issuing veiled warnings in his own statements, aimed at letting Obama know that he expects the Obama White House to honor its friendship with him, friendship which has been sealed through extensive payments over recent years to Obama allies and — reportedly — close family. As a result of this, Obama has already faced explicit attacks from his close friend and longtime political supporter, Louis Farrakhan, a U.S. “black Muslim” leader, who has taken large sums from Gadhafi, either directly or indirectly. Farrakhan on March 20 issued a public attack on Obama for approving the U.S. involvement in the “no-fly zone” activities, asking “who do you think you are?” to approve the strikes. The Obama team in Washington is by no means the only group in the U.S. capital to have benefited financially from Gadhafi. The settlement of the Lockerbie (Pan Am 103) terrorist incident put almost a billion dollars into the hands of lawyers in the U.S. and UK to spread around for a settlement favorable to Gadhafi. As a result, there are now a number of officials concerned that their current wealth might be subject to scrutiny if Gadhafi should decide to reveal how his money has gone around the Washington and London policy circuits. As a result, President Obama has held his hand as much as he has dared in authorizing U.S. military action against Gadhafi.
The African Union (AU) has attempted to avoid taking a definitive stand on Gadhafi’s explicit actions against his own population in recent months — while taking strong stands on issues such as the contest for power and issues of “democracy” in Cote d’Ivoire, for example — largely because of the amount of funding which Gadhafi has made privately available to many African leaders in recent years. Indeed, the Organisation for African Unity (OAU), which had been functioning well, was supplanted by the AU specifically at Gadhafi’s insistence so that he could gain political dominance on the Continent. The AU has therefore lost enormous credibility in the current situation, but in a post-Gadhafi world the organization can be expected to work gradually toward a more meaningful role. To an extent, however, the distortion in the AU — and in the approaches of other leaders around the world — will reflect the distortions which Gadhafi’s private funds have created.
Just as the AU has been essentially silent on the Libya situation — except for a statement by the AU Peace and Security Committee calling for the protection of civilians — the Arab League’s position on Gadhafi has reflected the fact that Gadhafi has worked against so many of the League’s leadership, particularly Saudi Arabian King Abdullah, who Gadhafi had once attempted to have killed. Nonetheless, the decision by the Arab League Secretary-General, Egyptian Amr Moussa, to question the UN-backed “no-fly zone” approach post-facto reflects his own Egyptian political aspirations, and his general antipathy to the U.S..
The anti-Gadhafi forces, mainly centered on Cyrenaica in Eastern Libya, had, by March 21, failed to take real advantage of the resources available to them to develop a credible defense capability, despite the fact that many military units, commanders, and resources have been captured from the Gadhafi Administration since late February 2011. The relative success thus far by the anti-Gadhafi forces — the Constitutionalists who have begun to restore the country to the original Senussi Constitution — has been based on fighting spirit rather than effective planning, and on the lack of real military capabilities of the well-equipped Gadhafi forces. The UN-supported international operations have given the Constitutionalists a further breathing space to re-group, and it is now clear that the international forces (particularly France and the UK) cannot now afford to let them fail. This will imply deep support in terms of humanitarian aid, equipment, and possibly trainers/advisors for the Constitutionalist forces.
Russia and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) opposed the UN Security Council resolution to allow the prosecution of the no-fly zone in Libya, with valid objections based on the fact that the resolution implied interference in the internal affairs of a member nation. The objection of Turkey on March 21 to the operations under a NATO banner are based, however, on the closeness of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Gadhafi, who in 2010 gave the Turkish Prime Minister a $250,000 “prize”, the Gadhafi International Prize for Human Rights. However, the Turkish Government had earlier mooted that Turkey should dispatch combined air, naval, and ground forces to Libya to resolve the internal conflict there, and be rewarded immediately with membership in the European Union (EU). The French President, then visiting Turkey, rejected the idea outright, and the Turkish Government then became hostile to any other intervention plans. Nonetheless, the Turkish position now aligns it with two of its most important strategic allies, Russia and the PRC, and the Turkish opposition to a NATO involvement, per se, in the “no-fly zone” in Libya will move the Erdogan Government further away from the European Union, the U.S., and NATO. The question then would be whether the rift also portends the start of the breakdown in NATO itself, especially given the fact that the excellent military cooperation between the U.S., UK, and France on the current military operation comes at a time of growing political distrust between key European NATO states and the U.S..
The estimates as of March 21 showed that Gadhafi’s tenure, even as ruler of a small part of Libya, was unlikely to last long. The reunification of Libya may take longer. It seems likely that the three major states — Fezzan, Tripolitania, and Cyrenaica — will rebuild their regional governments along lines suitable to each region, but endorsing a variation of the 1951 Senussi Constitution, which guarantees that national government will be under an elected leader who would act as guardian of the Constitution and Armed Forces.