Speech, Religion, and Politics: Where is Our Red Line?

By Piper Bayard

My intelligence operative writing partner, Jay Holmes*, is not at liberty to issue a statement on the current “insult to Islam” situation, but thanks to Freedom of Speech, I am under no such restrictions.

The Muhammed Movie Trailer has stirred up quite a lot of passions in America and around the world. That’s because religion, like politics, is visceral and rational discussions of either are rare. Blame is flying in a chaotic whirlwind with nowhere stable to land. Let’s take a moment to calm our roiling viscera and look at some facts.

America has no established religion. America has Freedom of Speech. That’s what allows people of many religions to co-exist. Differing religions that produce violent conflict in other parts of the world co-exist peacefully here because Americans chose at the nation’s founding to value Freedom of Speech above the individual ability to do violence in the face of offense. It is part of the Social Contract, and it is based on the notion that human life and peace are more important and productive than any verbal insults.

Currently, Muslims are attacking our US embassies and consulates around the world because an Egyptian Coptic Christian living in America made a parody film of Muhammad and posted it on YouTube. The violence claimed the lives of four Americans, including the US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.

US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, image from US Dept. of State

Some Americans place the blame for those deaths squarely on the filmmaker and his backers. “He should have known Muslims would riot and kill people.” I would disagree for two primary reasons.

The Supreme Court has always had the right to regulate the time and place of speech. However, that is generally applied where speech is calculated to incite violence by Americans toward other Americans. A film parodying Muhammad that is rife with intentional religious insults is far more similar to the hateful speech of the Westboro Baptists, and the Westboro Baptist message of death to America and our soldiers has been deemed protected under the First Amendment.

The Westboro Baptists are every bit as offensive to Americans, to soldiers, and to actual Christians as the parody film of Muhammad is to Muslims. As a general rule though, Americans can count on each other to not riot and kill people, even in the face of grave and sacred insult. That is Freedom of Speech in practice. To hold the filmmaker responsible is to hold Muslims to a lower standard of civility and behavior than the average American.

This condones the idea that Muslims cannot reasonably be trusted to behave in a mature and civilized fashion. If I were a Muslim, I would be insulted by that notion. Also, by the same reasoning, shouldn’t the grieving soldiers’ families be excused if they decide to kill some Westboro Baptists? Is that the law we want in our land?

Speaking of the filmmaker, I’ve heard numerous theories about who was backing him. Was the Coptic Cigar just a Coptic Cigar? Were right-wing Republicans intending to highlight Obama’s weakness in foreign policy? Was this a plot by Israel? Was it sponsored by Iran as a way of inciting Muslims to violence to mask other, more insidious agendas on the part of that Shi’ite country?

Let’s look at Israel first. Israel certainly has plenty of schemes to go around, as do all countries, but this wouldn’t be a very smart plot for Israel. It had nothing to gain by simultaneously pissing off the entire Muslim world around it above and beyond what its mere existence already does. This chaos is a much more fruitful opportunity for so many other players.

So let’s turn to Libya. The vast majority of the Libyan people want America in their country. They are highly educated for the region with a literacy rate of over 70%, which is better than that of many American cities. With increased education comes awareness of the rest of the world and the ability to conceive of and participate in a nation rather than just a tribe. In other words, Libya has a chance at molding itself into nation of peace and prosperity.

Image from BuzzFeed: 15 Photos of Libyans Apologizing to Americans

There are many factions in Libya, some of them foreigners from other Middle Eastern countries, who want to see the new Libya fail. Those countries and organizations are always on the watch for some excuse to stir up hatred against the US and break our diplomatic ties.

Unorganized, spontaneous mobs in the Middle East generally throw rocks or shoot up the place a bit. They do not have mortars and rockets and do not perform organized attacks on US embassies and consulates. The nature of the attack on our US consulate in Benghazi would indicate that a foreign predatory country or organization like Al-Qaeda is behind it, and that Libya is as much a victim of that attack as the US is.

On Sunday, the US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told Jake Tapper on ABC’s “This Week” that the Libyan protest was completely spontaneous and a copycat of Egyptian protests. However, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich), former FBI agent and House Intelligence Committee Chair, tactfully pointed out that there were too many coincidences to conclude the Benghazi attack hadn’t been planned in advance. Arizona Sen. John McCain, top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, added that, “Most people don’t bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons to a demonstration.” I can only say that Rice will play this however the White House tells her to, and that this is the same UN that put Gadhafi in charge of Human Rights.

Iran, Yemen, and Egypt are another story. Unlike Libya, those countries are capitalizing on this moment.

Protests in Iran, image from news.kuwaittimes.net

The Iranian government is using this poorly-made parody film to incite Shi’ites around the world to violence, something their mullahs do at the drop of a Koran. Iran has openly declared in the past that it wants to turn all Muslim nations into its satellite states. It’s hardly a stretch to see Iran behind the attack in Libya, either as a well-laid plot or simply an opportunistic taking.

Another gem is Yemen. The Yemeni government didn’t simply fail to protect the US embassy. Yemeni security police were seen encouraging the few hundred protestors to pass through their check points to get to the embassy. These were the same police who were supposed to be protecting the embassy. In fact in some cases, they even joined the protestors.

These Yemeni security forces are still controlled by ex-Yemeni President Ali Saleh’s family. The Saleh faction wants Al-Qaeda defeated, but it also wants to generate anti-Western hysteria to help stall any democratic reforms in Yemen. It’s worth noting that over two million people did not protest in Sana’a in spite of the efforts of the Saleh-controlled security police.

Then there is Egypt. The Egyptian government, run by the duly elected Muslim Brotherhood, was too busy cashing our billions in aid money and begging Europe for more to bother to use its massive security forces to fulfill its diplomatic obligation to protect our embassy on their soil. In between panhandling in Europe and chumming with the wanted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is verbally condemning the violence. However, he also threatening America, saying that the Islamic prophet is “the red line.”

Egypt is demanding that America ignore her own laws and values of Freedom of Speech and punish the filmmaker who made this parody film. Questions hang in the air . . .

Will President Obama make it clear that America is a country that stands behind its Constitution and the Freedom of Speech guaranteed in it, even when people are insulted by that speech? Or will Obama compromise our First Amendment to appease the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and punish the filmmaker for his legal activities? Will America continue to aid and do business with countries that refuse to honor their duty to protect our embassies?

Where is America’s “red line”? I wish I knew.

In the meantime, I appreciate this rational appeal from Syed Mahmood, “A Muslim’s Reaction to Muhammad Movie Trailer.”

All the best to all of you for remaining rational in the face of visceral reactions.

© 2012 Piper Bayard. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact us at the above links to request permission.

Good Riddance to Qaddafi

By Jay Holmes

On October 20, 2011, the Libyan National Transition Council reported that Libya ended forty-two years of suffering under the heartless, egomaniacal Moammar Qaddafi.

The world was treated to a brief video showing a wounded, captured Qaddafi, pleading for the sort of mercy that he had so consistently denied his people. Fortunately, a young Libyan man in a Yankees cap came to his senses and ended the drama for the mercy of all concerned.

Certain human rights groups are supposedly questioning Qaddafi’s death in captivity. In theory, it’s a legitimate question, but to be relevant, questions have to be prioritized. If my house is on fire, before I worry about getting the drapes wet, I have to answer the question of putting out the fire.

Before I spend any restless nights wondering about the moral implications of Qaddafi being shot while in captivity, I would need first to have other questions answered. I would need explanations about the thousands of innocents who Qaddafi and his henchmen murdered during the last four decades. Also, in the present, I’m concerned with how efficiently we can secure all of the man-portable anti-aircraft missiles that are at large in Libya today, and how quickly can we dispose of Libya’s extensive stores of mustard gas.

Call me a judgmental bastard if you like. Except for the fact that my parents had been married over a decade before I was born, I’d say it’s fairly accurate. The notion that all men are created equal makes good sense to me. The idea that all men and women remain equal, no matter what they do after they are created, strikes me as extremely foolish.

Due to multiple urgent matters, I have not slept much this week. But not all of my sleep was surrendered in vain, and I have only lost a little sleep. How many have lost their lives or watched their children die? I can never know with certainty how many people Qaddafi and his thugs murdered, but two of their young faces came to me in my nap this morning and reminded this old man to get back up and do something besides wasting the world oxygen supply.

The battle with Qaddafi is over. The battle for the future of the people of Libya continues. Old enemies, Al-Qaeda and Iran, find themselves sharing the same fantasy this week. They would love to see an “Islamic” state in Libya led by some criminal posing as a religious leader. For them, the ideal leader in Libya would reject Modernism. Modernism, as in a philosophy or system that incorporates post-8th century thinking and discoveries.

For the comfortable Mullahs in Iran, their Hezbollah messenger boys, and the garden variety “Islamic” terrorist gangs that are all vying for attention today, dangerous new ideas such as religious freedom, universal suffrage, the right to (or even the need for) fair trial, and freedom of speech need to be kept out of Libya and everywhere else. Fortunately for the people of Libya and the rest of the world, not everyone in Libya agrees with that “fundamentalist” view. It appears (at least to me) that most Libyans recognize that the only thing “fundamental” about fundamentalism is that it is fundamentally asinine.

Does that matter? We don’t know yet. For the opinions of the majority to matter in Libya, the Libyans will need to create for themselves some sort of functioning government that takes into account the views of the masses. If they do it (and they may), it will be the first time that the voice of the Libyan people has mattered inside of Libya. I hope they pull it off. I think they have a reasonable chance to get it done.

So other than my very expensive habit of finding idealistic beliefs with which to view the world, why should I think that Libya will do anything other than create a new tyranny for itself? My hope is not based solely on my wide-eyed idealism.

The people of Libya are far more educated than they were when Qaddafi shoved a weak king out of the throne. There is much that we can blame Qaddafi for, and little that we can give him credit for, but we can, in fact, credit him with building a better education system in Libya. Reading broadly is good for kids, but it’s bad for the tyrants that rule the kids who read. Good education and tyranny just don’t play well together. In a sense, Qaddafi killed himself by buying too many books for children and teens.

The concept of death by book purchase appeals to me. The next time you’re at a school book sale, don’t think of it as cash lost, think of it as happy kids and dead dictators. Of course, the trick is that the books can’t just be bought, they have to be read. Those enterprising young Libyan kids read them.

Libya is a cosmopolitan place. The majority of Libyans have an idea of what the world outside of Libya looks like. They know enough about the world outside of the mid-east to know that life need not be all about poverty, oppression, and unending misery.

In a nation of starving masses, building a democracy is more difficult. Fortunately, there are no starving masses in Libya. Libya has already repaired and reopened its natural gas delivery line to Italy. That’s good news for those Italians who were hoping to not spend Christmas Eve sleeping in a goose down sleeping bag. And when Gas flows to Italy and the European Union, euros flow back to Libya.

Gasoline-hungry Europeans are looking toward the post-Qaddafi Libya with hopeful eyes. While I have yet to hear a reliable report on the precise measure of damage done to Libya’s petroleum production and export infrastructure, it is not as bad as what many had feared. Given the price of petroleum around the world, and the willingness of oil companies to show up and make a profit, I anticipate that Libya’s oil production infrastructure will be repaired in record-breaking time.

Naturally, oil companies will pretend that they are fighting a terrible but noble engineering war when faced with the challenge of extracting and marketing petroleum from Libya. I’m looking forward to those cutesy, heart warming, pro ecology ads that they will produce to explain to us why we should demand that they receive Presidential Medals of Freedom, lots of tax breaks, and sainthood for selling us oil. The ads will, no doubt, lovingly explain why we should all be so grateful for the gasoline price increases that will accompany the increased gasoline production.

The good news about the “petro-corporate” invasion taking place this week in Libya (thanks to your car and my car) is that it will leave Libya with cash to spend. If it goes to support a filthy rich oligarchy or another family of jackals like the Qaddafi slime, then it won’t do much to help found a working government in Libya. If, on the other hand, enough of it is used to buy off all the major and minor Libyan tribes with agreements for reasonable development projects in irrigation, agriculture, transportation, housing, health care and education, then that black gold could help buy Libya a decent government. Oil money need not always do Satan’s work. Sometimes, it can help a nation, and the amount of oil in Libyan oil fields can translate to lots of help.

Time will tell. Now, support Libya by buying yourself a bumper sticker that reads, “Drive your car for peace.”

Any questions about Qaddafi or the present situation in Libya?

When the Safe Bet Isn’t the Best Bet

By Jay Holmes

After six months of listening to so many dire predictions of “stalemate,” events in Libya have entered a period of rapid change. The rebel council now controls most of the coastal cities. Uncle Momo’s second wife, his daughter, and two sons are in Algeria. Momo is clearly on the run.

We humans are predictable on some issues. Change, even when it involves the fall of an international terrorist, is scary, and it’s easy to find the dark lining to any silver cloud. Political commentators dread having to say something like, “Hell if I know.” White House spokesmen (all of them) do their best to create an image of an omniscient, god-like President with everything from his sock drawer to distant galaxies well under control.

When news consumers watch a news program they usually want something more assuring than, “This is Joe Hairstyle reporting live from a hash party at the Rixos Hotel. We’re having a heck of a time here, and we have no idea how any of this will end up. We’re asking our listeners at home to accurately predict the future and fax us a brief outline. Please FedEx us some decent scotch. The first viewer at home who faxes us the right information will receive an extra, extra small ‘I Love Meganetwork’ yellow T shirt. And now back to you Susie….” That just wouldn’t work. In spite of any hopeful view that Joe Hairstyle might secretly harbor concerning the future of Libya, he has to stay with “safe bets” to keep his bosses and the advertisers happy.

The safe bets on Libya are easy enough to formulate. For one thing, when a journalist spends a few days wandering by piles of freshly killed people and spends his nights listening to constant gunfire, punctuated by the occasional NATO bomb, it can become difficult to imagine anything positive coming out of a very grim reality. A glance at the history tells him (or her, but don’t make me explain that again) that “happiness” would possibly be an unrecognizable stranger in Libya.

Libya is in the Sahara. Libyans live next door to the Sudan, Chad, Niger, Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt. Their history is unhappy, and they appear to be “Islamic” in some fashion. The last 1300 years of history have left most of us not expecting anything like a reasonable neighbor from Islamic nations. When we add all of that up, it’s easy to devise negative predictions for Libya. All of those negative predictions might be right, but other possibilities are conceivable.

There is another side to Libya. Yes, Libya along with other Islamic nations, and along with the United States, Canada, France, and the UK, has spawned radicals that joined Al-Qaeda. But the vast majority of unemployed young males in Libya did not take the opportunity to join Al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group. Al-Qaeda is there, and so are lots of other folks. So far, the sum of the available information indicates that Libya, as a society, is more similar to Miami than it is to Pakistan or Afghanistan, and that it will not embrace any form of radicalism.

The devil, even the vile Momo devil, should be given his due. Between his spasms of exhibitionist hysterics and insane, ridiculous pronouncements, Uncle Momo and his loyal servants did succeed in vastly improving health care and education. Momo forgot what his mother told him. Be careful what you wish for. Your wish may come true. It’s easier now to bump into an illiterate in Detroit than it is in Libya.

Education changes people, and often it changes them for the better. Even stilted, highly controlled education makes people aware of the horizon beyond their own personal misery. In professional education in Libya, the emphasis was on improving science and medicine. Law schools and political science professors might have been required to spew nonsense to their students, but it does not appear that science departments were required to do the same.

In addition to Libya’s vastly improved domestic education system, thousands of Libyans have attended schools abroad. Qaddafi wanted to build a technologically independent nation that did not need to beg Moscow, Washington, or anyone else for it’s weapons of mass destruction, it’s oil drills, or it’s air-conditioning, so he embraced education. His motives may have been partially cynical, but the results have been a more educated, more urbanized, and more cosmopolitan Libya. This is not your grandpa’s Bedouin tribe wandering through the Sahara.

Thirty years ago that might not have mattered much. The fact that Czechs, Poles, Frenchmen, Belgians, Norwegians, Danes, and the Dutch were all experiencing improving health care, better education, and fairly progressive societies did not prevent them from being overrun by the Nazis. All of those benefits did not prevent the Soviets from enslaving Eastern Europe after the Nazis were defeated. But there is no Nazi or Stalinist lookalike nation ready to step in and force Libya to accept its agenda. There are plenty of nations with outlooks that resemble that of Hitler, Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot but they are not in a position to force their will on Libya.

Lots of terrible things might happen in Libya, but good intelligence work isn’t just about finding the negative possibilities or reporting what we think the leaders want to hear. The president wakes up knowing that Libya is a mess and doesn’t need the CIA or the NSA to tell him that. Good intelligence work delivers concise, accurate, and occasionally actionable information to the nation’s decision makers.

Effective Diplomacy is not about sitting at a pool somewhere sipping margaritas and waiting for an ideal ally to fall from the sky bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and petroleum. Effective diplomacy requires that we accurately assess the possibilities and move efficiently to influence and accept influence from potential allies while forging mutually beneficial relationships.

Effective statesmanship is not about accepting the worst possible outcomes and fretting over the future. Statesmanship is about identifying and accepting problems, creating opportunities to overcome them, and creating a better future than the future that would otherwise occur.

What would a cable TV news network have said of those frightened and mostly untrained rag tag rebels when they lacked the good sense to step out of the way of the mighty British Army at Lexington and Concord in 1776? We likely would have been treated to explanations of why the obviously dangerous and unruly New England farmers would never be able to force the British Army out of America. It would have been a reasonable prediction. It would have been the safe bet. For five years it would have looked like the right bet. In the end, it would have been the wrong bet.

Many terrible consequences might come out of the rebellion in Libya. A few likely will. But the good may come to outweigh the bad. I refuse to bet against the Libyan people. When the last of the bodies have been buried, they will continue along the difficult path of creating a better nation out of the destruction and chaos that we see there now.

Sure, I could be wrong. But somebody will be right, and for the sake of the Libyan people and for the world, I hope that I am right, and that their courage and sacrifice is rewarded with a better life.

Can you think of other times when the safe bet was the wrong bet?

 

Update on Libya and a Tearful Good-bye

By Jay Holmes

This week, Zimbabwean Dictator Robert Mugabe, a long time friend of Qaddafi’s, stated to the international press that Moammar  Qaddafi is now his guest in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwean opposition leaders claim that they have verified Momo’s presence. Mugabe’s people claim that Moammar flew out of his enclave at Sirte, but it’s just as likely that he flew out of an airstrip on the Algerian border.

The fact is that it is unlikely that anything other than shrapnel is flying out of Sirte without NATO’s acquiescence. It has not been confirmed by NATO authorities that Qaddafi or any of his principal family members are in Zimbabwe. If he is, I can only extend my condolences to the people of Zimbabwe for having to suffer yet another undeserved indignity. However, it is entirely possible that this is simply a rumor spread by Mugabe in an attempt to slacken the search for his buddy, Qaddafi, in Libya.

In honor of great work on the part of NATO and the Libyan rebels, I would like to repost this open letter I wrote to Qaddafi as a parting shot gift.

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My Open Dear John Letter to Qaddafi

By Holmes**

My Dearest Momo,

Perhaps you are surprised that I would write you now, but after all these years, I hate to see us break up this way. The lack of closure is emotionally draining for both of us. After all, my relationship with you has lasted even longer than my marriage thus far.

I was so young and impetuous when we first met. I know that some of the things that I have said and done may have hurt your feelings. Please accept that my friends and I always acted with sincerity and the best of intentions. I hope you can understand that some of the things you did were really hurtful to me and to many of my close friends, as well.

I am sitting here listening to Carol King sing Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, and it brings me so many fond memories of our long and often exciting friendship. All those years. . . . So many cute hats, none of which ever fit you. . . . Those charming outfits. . . . That lovely fireworks display on a romantic spring night in 1986. . . . These  memories all come flooding back to me as I sit here and laugh cry.

Seeing you in such painful difficulties these days has made me re-evaluate our long connection. I want this to all end for us on the best possible note. Although I know you have not always loved me, I am sure you have never questioned my sincerity or passion. It’s all been very real for me.

Based on my deeper understanding of our heart-felt connection, I am offering you a gift. . . . A gift from my heart. . . . In fact, in your honor, I have decided to offer this special gift to any deserving person in the world. . . . the Seventy-Two Virgins Golden Retirement Plan. In fact, out of my deep respect for you, I will ask potential retirees in the future to plan in advance by donating a small portion of their plunder to my special fund, so that I may be able to help as many needy souls as possible.

Because of all the years of joy you have brought me, I am offering this gift to you free of any of your normal financial arrangements. Unlike your other so-called friends, Gordon Brown and Silvio Berlusconi, I won’t take a penny from you. Yes Momo, I know about that gas pipeline you built to Silvio’s house, and look at how he has repaid you! But I forgive you. And I want you to know that my friendship with Markus Wolf* in no way detracted from all we have been to each other. “Mischa” never meant a thing to me.

My dear friend, stop struggling and give yourself the rest you deserve. Those seventy-two virgins will keep you happy for eternity. I know how picky you are about your meals so I have also arranged for a lovely, doting Ukrainian nurse to be your celestial mommy. Just stop for a moment and think of your future, Momo. Imagine being young again, imagine being attractive this time, imagine four exhausted recent virgins by your side, and your mommy’s voice entering that lovely silk tent. . . .”Ooo, Momo darling. . . . come to lunch Dear. Mommy made you your favorite lamb goulash. . . .”

Please come and visit soon so that we can implement your overdue, well-deserved gift. I want to finally repay you for our long years of friendship. Come what may, never forget that we had Paris in the spring, Rome in the fall, and those wonderful picnics on the Algerian border. Thank you for a lifetime of wonderful memories.

Sincerely,

Holmes, CEO, Celestial After-Care, Inc.

*Markus Wolf was the despised director of the foreign intelligence branch of the East German Stasi (secret police).

**Note by Piper Bayard:

Holmes, a man with experience in intelligence and covert operations, has a long and involved past with Moammar Qaddafi (“Uncle Momo”) so these events in Libya are especially moving for him. During the Cold War, Qaddafi allowed the Soviets, the East Germans, and the other Warsaw Pact countries to use Libya as a giant terrorist training camp. Sometimes there were upwards of 30 camps operating at the same time for the purpose of training terrorist groups to attack Israel and Western nations. Qaddafi even cooperated with the Irish Republican Army for a while, until the IRA decided he was too filthy even for them.

Holmes and many of his friends spent decades intimately involved in fighting the Soviets, the East Germans, and the various terrorist organizations they sponsored. The stories of their sacrifices will never be told, but they were numerous and deeply personal.

In 1986, Qaddafi was blown away (pun intended) that his vaunted, high-tech Soviet Air Defense System proved useless against a rather limited air attack by less than two dozen aircraft from the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy. Rumors circulated that clandestine operations had simultaneously been carried out against military assets in Libya. In addition, Qaddafi’s Syrian allies had sent their best naval unit to the Gulf of Sidra with the intention of guaranteeing damage to the U.S. 6th fleet. That Syrian ship exploded shortly after casting off from its dock in Libya. Both Syria and Libya were left unenthusiastic about the prospects of any future engagements with the U.S. 6th fleet, despite the best cheerleading the Soviets could bring to bear.

 

Hope for the Libyan Rebels

By Jay Holmes

Since we last discussed Moammar Qaddafi and his unhappy subjects, events in Libya have proceeded without many surprises. It has been obvious from the onset of the Libyan Civil War that the rebels’ ability to dethrone Uncle Momo and his pet hyenas would depend on outside intervention.

The majority of outside assistance to the rebels has come from the U.K., France, Canada, Italy and the United States. While a variety of Western nations have been loud in denouncing Uncle Momo, few have been willing to invest much military hardware and manpower to help the rebels.

There are two forces driving the reluctance of Arab League members and some Western governments. The first factor is the simple fact that if someone else is willing to pay the bill, most countries won’t be motivated to help. The second factor is the lack of confidence in the Libyan rebel coalition government.

Removing Qaddafi has never been the challenging aspect of intervening in Libya. With limited commitments in manpower, hardware and ordnance, the coalition of Western forces has been able to reach its original goal with ease. It has kept Qaddafi’s vastly superior forces from defeating and slaughtering the Libyan rebels.

The rebels have, of course, always wanted the Western coalition to do more to help them defeat Qaddafi. In the last couple of months, the Western coalition has stepped up air operations and broadened its range of targets. By using air power to eliminate Qaddafi’s air force, many of his armored vehicles, and his key communications, command and control locations, the coalition has created the conditions that have allowed the rebels to capture key cities. The Western coalition has kept Tripoli isolated from air and sea access, and at the time of this writing, the rebels are close to cutting off Tripoli from land routes.

During the rebels’ slow push toward Tripoli, a few particularly interesting events have occurred. On July 28, former Qaddafi favorite and later rebel commander, General Abdul Fattah Younes, was summoned to appear before four rebel council judges in Benghazi. That evening, leader Mustapha Jalil announced that Younes had been “released on his own recognizance,” and that he and two other rebel officers were later attacked and murdered by unknown assailants.

As the head of Qaddafi’s infamous Interior Ministry Brigade, Younis oversaw the brutal torture and murder of dissidents in Libya. If we are to find a suspect based on motive, then we can assume that about three-quarters of the people in Libya, along with plenty of folks outside of Libya, are the prime suspects. Count me in that group.

The two things that would have stopped me from killing Younes, had the opportunity arisen, would have been the fact that killing him was going to cause trouble for the anti-Qaddafi rebels, and the fact that someone else would kill him for me soon enough. Someone did. I was at home with my wife the night that Younes received his 72 virgin bonus.

Younes was a member of the large Obedi tribe, and after his killing, a mob of armed Obedis showed up in Benghazi wanting to start a revolution within a revolution. Fortunately, they were routed within a few hours.

On August 8, rebel leader Mustapha Jalil announced that the rebel cabinet had been dissolved, and that new cabinet members would be selected by the rebel council. The move was seen as an attempt to placate the Obedi tribe and their supporters. The move left the rebels in a state of temporary flux, but it appears to have worked. The threatened split within the coalition did not occur.

The fact that the large Obedi tribe did not organize itself and drop out of the rebel coalition is important. It stands as evidence that a post-Qaddafi Libya will not be completely controlled by tribal loyalties. Qaddafi has, of course, maintained that, without his benevolent guidance, Libya would fall into tribal warfare and would end up becoming a radical Islamic, anti-West terrorist state. If nothing else, we can always count on Uncle Momo to add a little humorous absurdity to any political conversation. The notion of the great terrorist pioneer Uncle Momo trying to convince Western nations to protect him in order to prevent terrorism gives us one of the few laughs we have had concerning Libya in the last four decades. Thanks, Momo.

One other recent, great Qaddafi family comedy act performance was provided by Uncle Momo’s son, Saif Al-Islam Qaddafi. You remember Saif. He is the hard-drinking, free-spending London playboy who was going to lead Libya into a new modern age of democracy. Since the start of the rebellion in Libya, Saif has repeatedly warned us that, without the services of the beloved Qaddafi family, Al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists would take over in Libya.

Saif (a.k.a. Hugh Heffner, Jr.) has recently taken stock of his life (bombs frequently falling in your neighborhood will do that to you). After careful consideration, he has remembered that he has actually always been a radical, anti-Western Islamic fundamentalist, and that he never really liked the London club scene. In a recent interview conducted by his own journalists, Saif appeared in traditional Bedouin garb, and while fingering his Islamic prayer beads, he explained that Islamic fundamentalist groups were forming an alliance with the Qaddafis and would soon be rescuing Libya from rebel threats.

The sight of Saif the Latter Day Islamic is one of the more amusing images of the Libyan rebellion. Thanks, Saif. I had bet two friends that you would eventually put your hand-tailored silk suits away and provide us with a hilarious portrait of yourself in one fashion or another. I had suspected that you would dress up in an outlandish military uniform decked out with more brass and metals than Herman Goering and Napoleon Bonaparte combined. You outdid yourself Saif. It’s in your blood. I now get a free dinner at my favorite restaurant in London whenever I am next in the UK.

For the folks closer to the stage (innocent Libyans), the last few months have not been quite as humorous. The Qaddafi thugs have maintained a tight control on Tripoli proper and have been quick to squelch any dissent. In recent days, signs of a falling regime have become more evident. In suburbs of Tripoli and nearby towns where journalists could not find an anti-Qaddafi resident a few short weeks ago, the locals are now claiming that their neighborhoods are “100% against Qaddafi.” For people close to Tripoli to risk speaking against Qaddafi, they would need to be very convinced that he is on his way out.

As we predicted, South Africa did offer Qaddafi safe asylum, but even when South African President Jacob Zuma traveled to Libya to present an African Union peace plan to Qaddafi, Qaddafi declined to leave Libya.

Since Qaddafi declined Zuma’s offer, the International Court of Justice has issued warrants for Momo and his family members. Later, Russian Czar Vladimir Putin offered to mediate, but only the Russians (a few of them) took that offer seriously. Qaddafi did not. He assumes that Putin is a lot like him and should never be trusted. The clown prince of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, had supposedly also offered asylum to his dear friend Qaddafi, but Hugo’s cancer treatment may have interrupted any momentum for a Qaddafi departure to Venezuela.

It seems that Qaddafi is determined to fight to the death. With increasing assistance from the West in the form of air strikes and covert operations, it appears that the rebels are preparing to help Uncle Momo take that long-deserved vacation in the sky. If the Western coalition continues it’s current level of operations against Qaddafi’s diminishing forces, and the rebels can continue to cooperate amongst themselves, we may see him gone within sixty days.

The popular bet is that a post-Qaddafi Libya will be chaotic, and that Libya may slip into some sort of Islamic feudalism. I am going to vote against the popular view and predict that Libya is ready to form a functioning nation state. It will not be without corruption and problems, but it will be better than anything it has had previously.

Libya and Middle East Update, May 1, 2011

By Jay Holmes

I thought it was time for a renewed analysis of some of the Middle East and North African hot spots. Let’s look at a few of the ongoing domestic struggles, starting with Libya.

Libya:

On Saturday night, a NATO air strike hit a command center/Gadhafi family compound, and one of Momo’s dozen sons, Saif al Arab, was killed. Saif al Arab is one of the family’s least powerful siblings. Momo’s spokesmen claim that Momo was at the bombed home, but that he was unharmed.

The relative positions of the rebels and forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi haven’t changed much during the last month. NATO indicated that it will increase its strikes to include command and control centers (like the Saturday night strike), but it still declines to further arm the rebel forces with more powerful weapons. President Obama authorized the use of US drones to enable NATO to assist the rebels in Misrata against the besieging forces without unintentionally killing more rebels than Gadhafi forces.

The African Union visited Benghazi to try to negotiate a cease-fire, but the rebels gave them a cold shoulder. The rebels have made it clear that they have little confidence in the African Union. Also, if the Arab league is lending much support to the rebels, they are doing it quietly.

The rebels have shown a small increase in ability on the battle field, and they were able to take a border crossing post on the Tunisian border. This might open an avenue of supply to rebels in Western Libya. The rebels maintain a tenuous grip on Adjibaya, but have been unable to retake the valuable oil port in Brega.

Against the rebels’ small improvement in military performance, they are showing signs of strain in their leadership, the Libyan National Council. Their military chief of staff, General Abdel Younis, has repeatedly criticized NATO for its minimalist approach to assisting them.

Younis was Gadhafi’s interior minister until the rebellion began to take traction, and both the Libyan National Council and NATO respect his professional skills, but neither has any confidence in his ethics. As to his loyalty, Younis is undoubtedly loyal to Younis.

The UK, France, and Italy announced they will send military advisors to assist the rebels in their operations and in their communications with NATO. If nothing else, the advisors might be able to establish a clearer picture of who the rebels are, and, more importantly, who they will be if, and when, Gadhafi & Sons, Inc. are deposed. Keep in mind that the ousting of one dictator does not guarantee that another will not take his place.

The rebel forces claim that Gadhafi’s loyalists have organized systematic “rape patrols,” that these patrols have been issued Viagra, and that they have been responsible for raping children as young as eleven years of age in Misrata. International aid workers who are working in Bengahzi with refugees evacuated from Misrata say that these claims are consistent with a variety of refugees’ reports, and that the children have the signs and symptoms of rape victims. Whether or not Gadhafi, himself, ordered the rape patrols is unknown. It may be the work of tribal factions within Gadhafi’s army.

The rhetoric from Gadhafi spokesmen has shifted from confident threats of annihilating all rebels and their families to a campaign of seeking cease fires and negotiations. Neither the rebels nor NATO show any indication of believing anything Gadhafi and his pals say.

Major news outlets such as BBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post have all published articles explaining that the CIA has numerous agents operating in Libya to liaison with the rebels and to provide targeting data in loyalist areas. The news outlets all cite that charming and famous US official, Mr. Anonymous Government Official, as the source of their not particularly fascinating information. The CIA remains mute with the press, as they should.

Syria:

The Syrian people continue to protest against the government of Bashar Assad. Assad inherited an incompetent, despotic government from his ruthless father, Hafez Assad, in 2000 when Hafez died. Based on his Western medical training and his more cosmopolitan experience, many Syrians had hoped for reform under Bashar, but he has not taken the opportunity to reduce human rights violations in Syria. The Syrian working class and unemployed citizens might be at the point where denouncing the USA and Israel and serving as Iran’s lackey aren’t quite enough of an output from their expensive and annoying government.

On March 23: Reporters in Syria claimed that around 100 anti-government protestors were killed in the southern town of Daraa, Syria.

On March 30: Assad broadcast a public speech and announced that the protesters were part of a conspiracy. Yes, Bashar, the conspiracy rotates around the protestors’ notion that you would look better dead.

On April 10: Four protesters were killed in Banias, Syria. Nine Syrian soldiers were killed in an ambush the same day, but it is unclear who the ambushers were.

On April 14: Assad’s new Prime Minister, Abdel Safar, announced he will creating a cabinet to lead reforms.

On April 15: The protests continue. Apparently, nobody believes Adel Safar, including Adel Safar.

On April 21: Assad declares an end to the 48-year “temporary” state of emergency and abolishes the extra-legal security apparatus courts. The Syrians remain unimpressed.

On April 22: Courts? Who needs a court? Syrian security forces gun down an additional 80 protesters.

On April 23: Assad’s thugs gun down 25 people at a funeral. Apparently, funerals are a capital offense in the new reformed Syria.

On April 24: Thirteen protesters were shot and killed in Jableh, Syria.

On April 25 thru 28: Protesters report 42 killed in Daraa, Syria.

On April 27: Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain summon their Syrian ambassadors to formally protest the crackdown against protesters in Syria. Two hundred, thirty-three members of the Syrian Ba’ath party resign in protest against Assad.

On April 30: The Syrian army used tanks and troops to seize control of a mosque which was a center of anti-government protests in Daraa, Syria. Witnesses report that six protesters were killed.

Critics of the US administration offer the opinion that President Obama should have gotten tougher on Syria “a long time ago.” The US is embroiled in Iraq, Afghanistan, and, to a lesser degree, Libya, while conducting humanitarian aid in Japan, and maintaining a strong presence in the northern Indian Ocean against threats from Iran. Ex US UN ambassador John Bolton and other Obama critics fail to specify precisely what measures the US should be taking against Syria this week.

Iran remains a strong supporter of their Syrian houseboy, Bashar Assad, but Iran has their own problems this week.

Iran:

In Iran, the vast state security apparatus operating on the theory that you can never conduct too many hangings and stonings continues to suppress smoldering protests.

At no surprise to anyone but the trained monkey, Iranian President Ahmadinejad, the Iranian dictator Ayatollah Khameni has grown weary of his pet monkey’s increasing influence in Iranian affairs. The notion that a mere president should pretend to direct the government of Iran is more than Khameni can tolerate. Ahmadinejad may find himself “resigned” due to health problems or to take over some urgent new project like conducting a donkey census for Iran.

If Ahmadinejad “steps down” (or falls down repeatedly and hurts himself) it won’t mean much in Iran. We will simply see a new pet monkey pretending to be President of Iran while Khameni continues to give the orders.

The distraction for the Iranian police state does at least mean that they will be momentarily slightly less troublesome for the rest of the planet while they plot amongst themselves. Plot away, guys. Have fun.

NATO is not the Neutral Atlantic Treaty Organization

By Jay Holmes

NATO, the dream child of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Winston Churchill, came into existence after WWII for the express purpose of forming an alliance for the mutual defense of its members. The original motive was to defend against any invasion from the USSR. After the fall of the USSR and its reorganization into the spookocracy that is modern Russia, NATO continues to defend the interests of its members. While in theory NATO performs a number of diplomatic services, it is, in reality, a military organization. NATO was never designed to be neutral. It exists on behalf of its members. NATO is the Department of Whoops! Neutrality Isn’t Working.

This week a very “special” person, Libya Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim has made the claim that NATO is “siding with the rebels”. (Please insert the sounds of a large, shocked theater audience here.) Apparently, Khaled Kaim, a.k.a. Stupid, thinks that dressing like a European or North American politician means there is actually a 30% chance that anyone outside of his mother’s knitting circle will take him seriously whenever he steps up to a microphone.

War is a sad business. Regardless of where they live on the Libyan map, it is a tragedy that children are suffering and dying in this conflict—a conflict that Khaled and his bloodsucking pals worked hard to help create. It takes a truly “special” individual to provide humor in the midst of the tragedy in Libya.

Congratulations Khaled, you have accomplished your purpose in life. You made me laugh. You may now die in peace at the time of your choosing or whenever you should decide to step into the kill zone of the next unfair and politically prejudiced NATO bomb. I’m sure that NATO would be willing to help you out by sending an extra one for you if you like. In response to your concerns, I will ask NATO to please print a warning label with an appropriate disclaimer of impartiality on each bomb just to clarify things for anyone not yet clear on the concept of “bomb.”

Apparently, NATO used some of its usual devious tactics to confuse poor Khaled. The US and UK must have equipped those 124 Tomahawk cruise missiles with special Hollywood Model Silencers on their 1000 pound warheads. I can only guess that those silencers looked like giant water bottles. What a dirty trick! Khaled and his pals never even heard the missiles explode. NATO is so sneaky sometimes. Who would have guessed that anyone in the world was taking the side of Saint Moammar Gadhafi’s opponents? I can’t quite get over the shock of this recently uncovered plot.

Thanks for helping us out Khaled. I am nominating you for an Honorary Doctorate in Philosophy from the International Academy for Antisocial Pathologies. If you are selected for the honor, your diploma will be delivered by our special Drone Delivery Service.

Who are the Libyan Rebels? Part II

By Piper Bayard

The rebels in Libya are not a single unified group that shares the same complex agenda. In fact, the only clear, common agenda that they have thus far demonstrated is a desire to boot Papa Gadhafi and all his little Gadhafis from power. On Thursday, in Part I of the answer to the overriding question, “So who are these people, anyway?” we looked at the Libyan National Council, which is the closest thing to leadership that the rebels have presented to the West. Today, we’ll give a glance at the other “teams in the league.”

Contenders in Libya

Al-Qaeda continues to attempt to take control of the rebellion in Libya, but they have thus far had little success. My view is that their current strategy is to try to enhance their ties to the Libyan Islamic Front, but serious differences between the two groups and past betrayals by Al-Qaeda complicate that relationship. That doesn’t mean that they won’t work together to seize power from the more urbane, educated, cosmopolitan Libyans that are seeking to form a government.

Iran has high hopes and expectations concerning its own ability to influence events in Libya, but to its surprise, Cyrenaica (eastern Libya) and Tripolitania (western Libya) are not carbon copies of Sadr city in Iraq or the Gaza Strip. If you ever feel frustrated at the tendency of Westerners to view all Islamic nations and their inhabitants as being the same, it should comfort you to know that Islamic populations make the same mistake even more frequently when they view each other and the world outside of Islam.

Iran will not gain influence in Libya unless it does so after a home-grown Islamic radical group comes into power. The Iranian junta can broadcast whatever propaganda it wishes concerning Libya, but it has even less credibility with North Africans than it does with its own citizens. The regime in Tehran is not quite as secure and self-assured as it was a few months ago, and its most urgent need for action is much closer to home than Libya.

Some may be wondering where Western oil companies stand with the various factions in Libya. Who would they like to back? That’s the easiest question to answer today. Unlike mere mortals, Western oil companies will not be forced to limit their futures by choosing sides. They will, instead, take the simple approach of hiring a vast, well-dressed array of professional ass-kissers to attempt to smooch every potentially important buttocks in and near Libya. And with each kiss, they will sign a guarantee that that particular behind is their favorite of all. When you have as many billions as BP or Exxon does there’s no point in choosing sides. You can simply attempt to purchase every key member of every side. The only political question that matters to oil companies is, “How much oil can we pump today?” With gasoline prices in the USA hovering at $4.00/gallon, money is no obstacle for them.

Now, let’s consider a few more of the people directly involved in the rebellion in Libya. The six and a half million people who live in Libya are a diverse group. Unlike many rebellions, the people in Libya are a significant, active force in the Libyan “revolution.” The fact that unemployment in Libya is over 30% may very well be a driving force in the unrest, but the Libyans are not singular in their politics, in their religious zeal, or in their view of the West.

One very interesting tidbit that occurred this week in Libya bares examination. When NATO failed to deliver timely air attacks against Gadhafi’s forces in the Misrata area, a variety of rebels from different areas were anxious to blame Turkey for constraining its NATO allies. This is significant. A variety of Libyans are choosing to blame not NATO as a whole, but Turkey in particular, a country currently lead by a theocratic Islamic party.

This is not a response that Al-Qaeda or its allies would have engineered. Although the desperate and frustrated Libyan rebels are still blaming outsiders for the events within Libya, it’s a pretty strong clue that Al-Qaeda and its clones have not gained control of the average Libyan.

What the Libyan people will tolerate as an outcome to their rebellion is not yet altogether clear. I find myself more hopeful about the future of Libya than many Western “experts.” While I recognize the fervor and well-practiced ruthlessness that Al-Qaeda and other Islamic radical peddlers bring to the fight in Libya, I remain less convinced of their ability to subvert the people of Libya. It is my hope that too many Libyans are a tad too educated and worldly to be easily sold the Islamic Fundamentalist stone-age model of government.

The future of Libya remains uncertain. While that might sound frightening to some, to the US administration and Western governments in general, it should sound like a marvelous opportunity to encourage progress in Libya. Not “progress” as defined solely by oil companies or strictly Western values, but progress that will leave Libyans, their neighbors, and Westerners with a better shared future.

One hopes that Western leaders are hearing better briefings than I can supply, and that they will all act wisely. The West has the greatest financial, military, and diplomatic resources available for influencing events in Libya. How well those resources are used will in large part determine the West’s future relationship with that country.

Who are the Libyan Rebels? Part I

By Jay Holmes

Since the middle of February, when the fledgling protest movement coalesced into an active rebellion in Libya, many Western observers have been asking, “Who are the Libyan rebels?” Many Libyans, North Africans, and Middle Easterners are wondering the same thing.

A variety of prognosticators have offered up plenty of answers, but most of the answers they are peddling appear to be products of wishful thinking, or they are tainted by agendas. One way to recognize the degree of wishful thinking or propaganda in any given answer is to recognize the observer’s degree of certainty and confidence in his definition of the Libyan rebels. The most confident presenters with the simplest answers must be the least realistic analysts because there is, as yet, very little certainty available to any realist observing the events.

If and when a new government takes over in Libya, we will be able to observe its actions and compare them with the preceding rhetoric. In the meantime, all we can logically do is take a dispassionate view of the facts that are available and make an educated guess.

First, we should acknowledge that “the rebels” are not a single unified group that shares the same complex agenda. The only clear, common agenda that the rebels have thus far demonstrated is a desire to remove Uncle Momo and his various monkey spawn from power. So far, the closest thing to a leadership group that the rebels have presented to the West is the “National Council.” However, there are several other “teams in the league.” In Part I of this two-part installment, we will look at the Libyan National Council, and in Part II to be published this Sunday, we will give a glance at the other contenders.

Libyan National Council

The Libyan National Council is completely aware of the West’s questions concerning its agenda, and that likely influenced its choice of Mustafa Abdel Jalil as its leader. Jalil is a judge from eastern Libya and was Gadhafi’s Justice Minister. He had frequently publicly disagreed with Gadhafi during his tenure, but tribal affiliations made it convenient to keep him in office.

When Gadhafi announced that protesters would be “crushed,” Jalil resigned from the Libyan government. It seems clear that Jalil had contact with other members of the fledgling council prior to the February protests. His selection as head of the committee is likely based on the committee’s belief that he represents the best chance at gaining acceptance by the most Libyans from all of the various tribes and urbanized areas of the country. He was a member of the government that the rebels seek to destroy, but he has credentials as a dissenter.

The other two most visible members of the Libyan National Council are Ali al Eisawi and Mahmoud Jabril. Both of them are well-traveled and well-educated, and they were both involved in the opposition to Gadhafi prior to the February uprising. They both present a believable voice of reason to Libyans and to concerned Westerners. None of these three individuals are tainted by any known affiliation with Al-Qaeda, the home-grown Libyan Islamic Front, or radical factions within the Islamic brotherhood.

At present, there appear to be 31 members of the ruling committee of the National Council. They seem to be attempting to gain the broadest possible support from the widest variety of tribes and factions within Libya. On that note, the Council does include at least one Islamic Jihadist with direct ties to Al-Qaeda.

There is also Gadhafi’s recently “ex” Minister of Interior, Colonel Abdel-Fatah Younis. Younis’ defection may be motivated by his perception that the Uncle Momo Show was being canceled, and by his personal ties to eastern Libya. He offers the explanation that he quit the regime because he disapproved of the regime’s attacks on the protesters. However, he has been the chief organizer of crackdowns on opposition groups in Libya in the past. If Colonel Younis has something like a conscience, it would appear to be newly acquired. Where and why he got it is any ones guess. What he currently offers the National Council is vast experience at surviving opposition.

 

Publicly, the National Council states that it does not want any one individual to take control in Libya, that it wants democratic reforms, and that it is adamantly opposed to theocratic government. Though we have no way of administering lie detector tests to the National Council leadership, when we compare what we knew about its key members’ actions and reputations prior to February of this year with their current behavior and rhetoric, they do seem to be consistent in their position.

The Libyan National Council claims to want a constitution that guarantees secular democracy and human rights. It claims to envision peaceful relations with the West and with their neighbors in North Africa. It has been silent on any position toward Israel, but it has much to lose and nothing to gain by announcing any intention toward that country.  The Council would not want to further incite Al-Qaeda type radicals within Libya by announcing neutrality toward Israel, nor would they want to alienate the West by openly opposing Israel when they have yet to insure their own survival. While the Council and Israel will both remain silent about Israel (for now), Israel is likely doing its best to quietly establish a dialogue with these potential leaders of Libya. It is also likely that the National Council is quietly presenting more detailed positions to Western governments and to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates, but, for the short-term, they will need to keep those details quiet to enhance their own chances for survival.

The degree that the Libyan National Council is in charge and the percentage of the rebels who would claim to be represented by them are unknown, but there are signs this week that the Council is becoming more organized with each passing day. Nevertheless, as I mentioned, there are other teams in the league, and we will take a look at them in Part II this Sunday.

Who is Watching in Libya, What are They Learning, and What Does That Mean To Us?

By Jay Holmes

China, Syria, and Iran are watching the military operations being conducted by NATO forces in Libya with great attention.

China sent the 4,000 ton frigate, Xuzhou, into Libyan waters, supposedly to assist in evacuations of Chinese citizens from Libya. However, its real mission was likely an ad-hock attempt at quietly conducting SIGINT (SIGnals INTelligence) and ELINT (ELectronic INTelligence) operations against the Western powers involved in air operations in Libya. China will invest massive human resources into the analysis of any information it gathers, but it will use that information for long term planning and development rather than in any political decision making.

China expects no conflict with Western nations in the near future, and there is no reason to panic about China’s SIGINT efforts. Great Britain, Japan, and the United States conduct SIGINT and ELINT operations against China from international waters and air space every day of the week. In the last half century, China has come to understand that these operations do not foretell a pending invasion by Western powers. At the same time, we realize that any attempt by China to take possession of Hawaii will be conducted with real estate agents and stock brokers rather than frigates.

In the case of Syria, what they will learn is simple. They are (re)learning what their defeat would look like if NATO ever decided to invade Syria. The air power and missile barrage brought to bear in Libya are very minimal as compared to what a NATO launched attack could be. In Damascus, even the most politically connected, untalented general will have realized that moving or supplying Syrian forces anywhere in Syria will be nearly impossible with NATO air forces present.

The Syrian Air Force is far larger, better equipped, and better trained than the Libyan Air Force. But Syria is aware that the air power NATO is using in Libya is a token force by the standards of alliance, and that in any major conflict with NATO, the missile attack on Syria would be approximately four times larger and would destroy much of Syria’s air force within the first hour of war.

What Syria observes from the Libyan conflict will cause no major change in its strategy. It will simply continue with its sensible course of not provoking the West to invade, which, given the West’s generally defensive strategic stance, will not be difficult. The lessons learned from Libya will simply confirm the validity of that current strategic stance.

What Syria has newly learned from watching Libya is that it should avoid public threats to conduct genocide against its own citizens as protests are arising in Syria. That is a lesson that Gadhafi and his overconfident gangsters learned too late.

In the case of Iran, the Iranians will analyze information gained by observing the Libyan conflict with great interest. Unlike Syria and China, Iran does not assume there will be no conflict between itself and Western nations.

The two things about the tactical aspects of NATO operations that most interest Iran are the command and control methods of NATO air forces, and the effectiveness of the upgraded Tomahawk missiles employed against Libya. The strategic question of even greater interest to Iran concerns the fact that Western powers mobilized military force against Libya without waiting for the Western political tortoise race to conclude.

While the effectiveness of the air power of NATO nations and of the Tomahawk missiles will cause no great shock in Tehran, the fact that an attack took place in spite of the lack of complete agreement by Western powers is bad news for the ayatollahs and their generals. Iran may find itself recalculating the exact position of the “line in the sand” in their neighborhood.

In the twisted minds of the junta in Tehran, a military conflict with the West may seem like a glorious opportunity to be relished, rather than a threat to be feared. They see that as an improving opportunity over time as Iran improves its military capacity and accomplishes its goal of obtaining a nuclear weapon.

It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall in the weekly ayatollah update meetings in northern Iran this week. I would absolutely love to hear the well-educated Iranian generals trying to explain the implications of the conflict in Libya to the mostly-functionally-illiterate Supreme Council. Nothing in their years of memorizing the Koran and debating its obscure aspects have prepared the mullahs for leading a near nuclear power like Iran.

The Revolutionary Guard leaders are, no doubt, well-practiced in the art of smoothing over the most awkward of conversations between the megalomaniac ayatollahs and the frightened generals. After all, disagreeing with an ayatollah can cause spontaneous separation of the head from the neck.

I wonder how they draw lots to pick the poor fools that have to deliver the report to the all powerful and none-too-wise mullahs? Perhaps the medals that we see on the chests of Iranian admirals and generals were awarded for surviving some number of meetings with their political leadership. As long as Iran is unequipped by nuclear weapons I can enjoy laughing at their internal leadership situation. A nuclear weapon in the hands of the ignorant ayatollahs would not be quite so laughable.