Special Edition Libya: A Coalition of the Hesitant

By Jay Holmes

As the Coalition of the Hesitant continues to exercise a “we fly, you no fly” zone over Libya today, several ironies and opportunities seem apparent to me.

Before the ink was dry on the German surrender document that ended the European phase of WWII in 1945, Western European nations started realizing that they wanted less American leadership in European affairs. The US-financed Marshall Plan that brought economic salvation to Western Europe was welcomed, but being in the position of  the recipient clarified for many Europeans the need for strong leadership in Western Europe.

France and De Gaulle tried to fill that need by distancing themselves from the NATO command structure, and by developing nuclear weapons independently of the US. England, having enjoyed a closer relationship with the US, pursued a stronger and more inclusive NATO, and most NATO member states followed that example. For one thing, the cost benefits of unified defense were undeniable, and as the Soviets grew a massive military presence in Eastern Europe, no single Western European nation was in a position to defend itself from a Soviet invasion.

In the decades since, the European desire to exercise its own foreign policy has grown increasingly strong. The lack of a massive Soviet military presence in Eastern Germany since the collapse of the Soviet Union has left Europeans understandably more willing to voice their desire for equality (or, in their view, “inherent superiority”) in world statesmanship. European governments are vigorously resisting a major opportunity for European states to exercise their leadership this week. Apparently, no Western European state is yet willing to take over political or military leadership for the coalition of forces currently arrayed against Uncle Momo Gadhafi.

Many American taxpayers are rooting for some “European Superior Statesmanship” this week. Count me in that group. From my viewpoint, it would be a triumph for world peace if Europe steps up and takes charge of the coalition that exercises the “we fly, you no fly” zone. My desire to see this happen is without my usual sarcasm and free of any negative feelings for European governments. My personal estimate is that between Sarkozy and Cameron, Europe has what it needs to lead events successfully. Though an ideal outcome may not occur in Libya, Europe has much to gain by taking control of the situation. If Europe fails to exercise leadership in the current crisis on its southern doorstep, Mideastern and African nations will be unable to ignore the message and to interpret that “message” to their own liking. Leaving someone else to blame also leaves someone else in charge.

Another opportunity that seems obvious is the opportunity for direct diplomacy with Gadhafi today. One crucial difference between Mubarak and Gadhafi is that Uncle Momo lacks an easy way out. I suggest we offer him one. Gadhafi’s absence from power in Libya would be a possible benefit to Libyans, but his carcass, itself, has no inherent value to anyone. He likely would not easily accept an extended vacation to Venezuela, or perhaps a villa in South Africa, but at some point, he might accept it as a better alternative to incineration. We have nothing to lose by making an offer. If Western European leaders wish, they could simultaneously begin to shape some simple rules for the rebels in exchange for their continued survival at the grace of Western powers. A two-page guide to the future formation of a Libyan constitution could greatly decrease Al Qaeda’s opportunity to take control in Libya.

The current “non war” in Libya need not end in chaos for Libya. A modest investment of political courage by European governments will not likely lead us all to the Garden of Eden, but it could easily avoid a decline into hell for Libya and its neighbors.

Ignore the pundits of doom. Failure is NOT preordained. As that crazy English army officer T.E. Lawrence said to his Bedouin friends, “Nothing is written.”  The price has, by and large, already been paid. Let the benefits be harvested for the betterment of Libyans and Westerners. Success is available and can be purchased with bold statesmanship.

T.E. Lawrence — “Nothing is written.”

Special Edition Libya: They Said Whaaaat?

By Jay Holmes

In the past few days, we have seen Western powers overcome their own reluctance to commit to military action against Gadhafi. The vast news coverage of the ongoing diplomacy amongst Western nations has left us with some interesting quotes and sound bites worth considering.

UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, while speaking to the press on Tuesday, March 15 presumed to speak for Arabs, saying their sentiment is, “If you don’t show your support for the Libyan people and for democracy at this time, you are saying you will intervene only when it’s about your security, but you won’t help when it’s about our democracy.”

If any Arab leaders should actually match Mister Cameron’s stated sentiment, I would simply ask them how soon they will be done taking care of the problem. After all, there is no force in Libya that could stop a determined Egyptian intervention.

I respect Mister Cameron, and I am not questioning his sincerity, but I must ask him what he knows that the rest of us haven’t heard about yet. Apparently, Mister Cameron is certain that a defeat of Gadhafi will lead to a democracy in Libya. What precisely would “our democracy” mean in Libya or in any Arab nation? The world has yet to see an Arab democracy.

As a long time Gadhafi detractor, I will not miss him when he moves to his summer home in Hell, but it is not clear to me what will occur in Libya once Gadhafi enters that post-metabolic phase of his personal adventure. I would like for the people of Libya to have a democracy run by Libyans and at peace with the region and the rest of the world, but I cannot ignore that in Iraq, the greatest number of foreign Islamic terrorists entering post-Saddam Iraq were from Libya. Many of them, in fact, come from the three main tribes of the Benghazi area. The homegrown, Al Qaida-mimicking Islamic group in Libya originates in large part from Benghazi. Right about now, too, I wish a little more urgency would have been shown concerning the destruction of Gadhafi’s 44,000 pounds of mustard gas. That gas makes for a nasty wild card in this sad poker game.

As a natural born idealist and an incurable optimist, I am hoping that Libya’s recent advances in education will be enough for Libyans to overcome the national kidnapping that Islamic Terrorists are attempting in Libya now. I see no hard evidence to support my best wishes for Libya, but time will surely tell. The air strikes by France and the UK, the missile strikes by the US, and the buildup of other Western military forces at Italian bases indicate that Western Europe (excepting Germany) has decided that the devil we know is worse than the devil we do not know. I hope that the influx of British, French, Danish, Canadian, American, Spanish, and Norwegian forces do not disrupt poor Berlusconi’s busy social schedule.

For another choice quote, on Wednesday, March 16, the often brilliant Princeton/Harvard/Oxford graduate Anne-Marie Slaughter accused the Obama administration of ignoring the human rights of the people in Libya. She tweeted the following: “U.S. is defining ‘vital strategic interest’ in terms of oil and geography, not universal values. Wrong call that will come back to haunt us.”

For starters “universal values” is a fascinating term. Whose universe is she referring to? Apparently, in her universe the United States military would be quite busy delivering human rights around a largely right-less planet to folks that might not all agree about sharing human rights with their own family members, let alone their neighbors. Would we start with China? Would we first introduce human rights in Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Pakistan? What about Malaysia or Indonesia? How about a few human rights in Russia or Rhodesia? Where do we start, and who will be paying for it? Will the Chinese finance our campaign for human rights in China? That would be cute.

Great idea, except for that little war with China thing.

Anne-Marie, did you not loudly criticize Bush for resorting to military intervention in Iraq? But now you want quick and vigorous military action by Obama? What a fascinating idea…. But let’s engage the fullest powers of our imagination for a moment. Let’s pretend that Anne-Marie is not just scoring points on the Obama Camp in hopes of regaining overpaid employment with some future Obama opponent in the next election cycle. Ok, Anne-Marie, you win, let’s do it your way. Come by my house, and I’ll donate one AK-47 assault rifle and a case of ammo (1440 rounds full metal jacket). As you are installing human rights in Libya, keep detailed notes. Call us on your cell phone when you get Africa fixed up, and we’ll proceed from there. We all “universally” wish you every possible success. Pax Americana, the sequel.

And from Uncle Momo, himself, in a letter to European leaders on Saturday, “It is not your country. We could never and would never fire one bullet against our people.”

Well ok, Momo, I suppose technically “one bullet” would be unlikely. A hundred bullets every day of the week, thousands of bullets frequently, massive rocket and artillery barrages accompanied by bombardment by aircraft and followed by an assault by an armored column? Sure, several times this week. But “a single bullet”? Nah, a single bullet wouldn’t be any fun.

Who Impacts Egypt?

By Jay Holmes

This is in response to “mr blue,” who asked last Monday, “So what countries currently have the biggest impact in Egypt besides the Egyptians?”

First Mr. Blue, take a deep breath. Except in Las Vegas, blue is not a good color for people to be.

On paper the USA has the biggest impact, or at least the biggest potential impact. To what degree the USA decides to attempt to impact the political future in Egypt remains to be seen.

The real total is hard to know, but the USA is spending at least 2 billion US$ a year on or for Egypt. If nothing else, Mubarak proved that 2 billion doesn’t always get you much in that neighborhood. I say always because the potential is there. Although the USA is in a position to strongly influence events in Egypt, we do not know how far they will go or how successful they will be.

Right now Mubarak’s pals are still running the show in Egypt, and they have little reason to feel confident in any promises that this administration makes, but they do have every reason to fear a withdrawal of financing and military support. All of the USA’s potential impact will mean little unless wisdom and skill are brought to bear in attempting to influence events. In order to achieve a desired force vector, one must first know the starting position of the object to be moved, then one must know where one would like the object to end up. The western governments seem confused on both points. There is a general, vague agreement that nobody wants “Ayatollah 2″ in Egypt, but beyond that simple desire and the wish to have more oil every day, there has always been trouble refining long-term goals in the Mideast from the US, European Community or NATO points of view. It seems we just bounce from crisis to crisis, trying to figure out how to keep the oil flowing.

The other player attempting to create a sizeable impact in Egypt is, of course, Iran. Iran has the determination, the cash, and the manpower to make a big difference. They also lack the need to entertain any domestic or foreign arguments about anything like ethics. That sounds like a winning formula on the surface, but most Egyptians are as disgusted with Iran as the average westerner is. Iran’s skill at dealing through intermediaries is very limited. They call the shots with Hezbollah, and Syria is frightened of disagreeing with Iran, but beyond that small playground, the Iranian government is a drunken one-eyed bull in a china shop. I do not speak Persian, but I am wondering if there is a word for “subtle” in the Persian dictionary, or if the hash-heads and thugs calling the shots in Iran have outlawed that word in Iran. Iran keeps itself so busy trying to intimidate and abuse Iranians inside and outside of Iran that they have little time for establishing any positive initiatives anywhere. Iran is undoubtedly making every imaginable effort to take over the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, but the vast majority of Egyptians do not want a radical theocracy theater company running their country. Another factor for the Iranian government is that they are very busy this week trying to fend off Iranians.

Israel will work subtly and quietly and will at least be clear about their goals. Hilary is perhaps on the phone right now with them. I can imagine the conversation.

Hilary: “The situation is critical and your cooperation is essential.”

Israel: *suppresses a laugh* “Uhm, yea …uhm you’ll be the first to know if anything comes up. What do you guys know so far?”

Hilary: “Well naturally we know EVERYTHING…except maybe a few things…and a few other things…or anything about Egypt…but we’re, uh, working on it and, uhm, we’re trying our best to bring about a peaceful solution.”

Israel and Hilary simultaneously laugh out loud.

Israel: “Yea, us too. . . . Ok. I’ll call you if anything comes up. My mom is calling on the other line. . . . I gotta go.”

Then the next conversation on the Israeli side.

Mossad: “You didn’t tell her anything did you?”

Israeli foreign ministry: “What? Do I look like a lunatic? Just don’t attack any US spy ships and leave the diplomacy to us!”

Mossad: “I’ve told you a thousand times, we had nothing to do with that USS Liberty business. . . .”

Israeli Foreign minister: “Save that line of crap for the press!”

Mossad: “Alright, alright, nobody is attacking any US ships! I swear!”

The various powerful Mideast business elites will not be concerned by where Egypt ends up, but will concentrate on profiting from whatever the results are. The same can be said of most European and Western business magnates.

 

What’s Up with Egypt?

Egyptians have been busy. In the last three weeks, they’ve ousted a ruler of almost three decades, they’ve seen their military dissolve parliament, and they have heartened anti-government protests in Yemen and Algeria. In today’s global society, such developments anywhere are important to people everywhere, yet reliable information is difficult for us average writers, bus drivers, school teachers, and other mere mortals to sift through when so many political enthusiasts are pushing their own agendas.

That’s why today, I am proud and pleased to bring you an objective analysis of the Egyptian situation that we can count on. My writing partner, Holmes, is a man with experience in intelligence and covert operations. That’s his description of himself because he is also a very humble man who would never willingly garner admiration or status. What you need to know as you read this, though, and this is coming from me, is that he is a man-in-the-know and an expert at political and military analysis. I’m honored today to bring you his take on the current state of Egypt, and what its future may hold.

What’s Up with Egypt?

By Jay Holmes

Recent events in Egypt have many people wondering what the future of Egypt will be like. In order to make a more informed guess about what’s in store for the Nile River/Suez Canal neighborhood, we need to first look in a direction that does not require a crystal ball, Egypt’s past. Egypt has a long past—about 7000 years long—so we’ll be brief.

In 4500 B.C., before Egyptians knew they were living in what would one day be referred to as “Egypt,” farming communities along the Nile River were turning out pottery that was as sophisticated and artistic as pottery that American Pueblo tribes produced in the twentieth century A.D.

By 4000 B.C. the Egyptians had hierarchical societies along the upper Nile.

Around 3000 B.C. the upper and lower Nile groups became a unified kingdom.

Around 2900 B.C., the prayers of bureaucrats and wannabe novelists were answered by one Egyptian god or another, and papyrus was invented for writing. Some of those early novelists are still waiting for publishers to call them back, but the rest of life in Egypt progressed rapidly, thanks to record keeping and written communications over their vast empire. Egyptian folks then stayed busy with important inventions in medicine, engineering, irrigation, and organizational methods. In the process they built some of the world’s leading tourist attractions in the form of giant pyramids.

In 31 B.C. Egyptian Queen Cleopatra spent too much time in highly fashionable Egyptian beds with an early Roman frat boy type named Marcus Antonius (he of the second Roman Triumvirate). Fellow Roman Triumvirate member, Octavian, caught them sleeping—or whatever they were doing in bed—and defeated the Roman/Egyptian army. Rome began its direct rule of Egypt. (Note to single ladies: Don’t get in bed with guys who have large gambling debts. It will always end badly.)

Having an Italian in charge annoyed a lot of Egyptian taxpayers, just like it annoys a lot of Italian taxpayers today, but Egypt would not have another independent Egyptian ruler for 2000 years. This is critical to understanding the dynamics of Egypt today.

In 641 A.D., Muslim Arabs conquered Egypt. Various Muslim factions, including Mamluks, Baybars, and Ottomans, vied for control of Egypt until a particularly rude tourist from France by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte showed up in 1798. In 1801, due to pressure by various Islamic groups and the British Navy, the French left Egypt. They stole hotel towels on the way out and failed to pay the bill.

After a series of aggravating Turkish and British interventions, Egypt finally gained its independence from England. In 1956, Gamal Nasser became President of Egypt and nationalized the British-built Suez Canal. He was the first truly independent Egyptian ruler of Egypt since Queen Cleopatra.

Egypt then involved itself in several “Arab coalition” wars against Israel until 1979, when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signed the Camp David Peace Accord and recognized Israel as a state. This ended Egypt’s troubles with Israel, but left Egypt somewhat isolated from other Islamic nations in the region. To make the new Egyptian isolation tolerable for Sadat, the United States agreed to huge economic and military support for Egypt.

When Sadat was murdered by Iranian-backed Islamic terrorists in 1981, a committee selected Vice President Hosni Mubarak to serve as the president. Mubarak was one of the most educated and well-trained generals of the Egyptian Military. In military terms, Mubarak was no lightweight. He attended the Egyptian Military Academy, the Egyptian Air Force Academy, and the Frunze Military Academy in the old USSR.

From what we know from old Soviet files, the Soviets considered Mubarak to be one of the very best and brightest of Egypt. He was a skilled jet pilot and a bright staff officer. He was a sort of “Egyptian Buck Rogers” from the Soviet point of view.

Mubarak rose quickly to the head of the Egyptian Air Force. Nearly everyone either agrees or assumes that Mubarak began amassing incredible wealth during his time as a senior air force officer in charge of contracts. Estimates of Mubarak’s personal family wealth range from 25 billion to upwards of 70 billion $US. He was obviously very skilled at popular table games such as Kickbacks and Pie-slicing.

If we accept the bottom figure of $25 billion as fact, then we are talking about 5% of the Egyptian GNP. This figure, alone, is enough to indicate a huge negative effect on the Egyptian economy. Now, remember this about any leader of any criminal enterprise. They are not the only ones taking money. Assistant goons tolerate submission to a head goon because they are allowed some slice of the pie.

When we consider the size of the pie in Egypt, and the number of slices being removed, we cannot know or even estimate the actual total numbers, but it is not hard to understand the ongoing disaster that we call the Egyptian economy. That economy leaves the average working class Egyptian with a miserable standard of living.

Some people claim that Mubarak is an American puppet, but if the U.S.A. had ever been able to control him, it never would have tolerated his double-dealing, backstabbing behavior. When we combine that low standard of living with the fact that Egyptians have lived under a “state of emergency” throughout all but 18 months of  Mubarak’s pharaonic dynasty, the motive for rebellion is not too hard to understand. What is a bit harder to understand is …

The Future.

Why do “we” care? Well, not all of “we” would agree about anything in the Mideast, but some important features of Egypt are the Suez Canal (more important to Europe than to the USA), the Nile and its influence in Mideast food production, and, of course, Egypt’s border with Israel. The next person that controls Egypt controls all of that and a large, modern air force, a Navy that includes eight Harpoon Missile armed, deep-sea capable ships, and an army that is armed with Abrams tanks and lots of other expensive and lethal equipment.

Some of the key external forces to consider are Iranian imperialist dreams and the giant check that US taxpayers send to Egypt every day. Though any favorable outcomes will later be claimed as their doing (after the fact) by Israel and European governments, neither Israel nor Europe are in a position to greatly impact the political future of Egypt. Syria and a variety of “Palestinian” groups would like to think that they can influence the future of Egypt, and they, too, might later claim to have done so.

In reality, though, the future will be decided by the Egyptian military junta, whose ideology is something like “we don’t know how to run this show but anyone else will run it worse,” along with the Egyptian people, who are enjoying saying words like “democracy” and “freedom” but have little personal experience with either. Though Egyptians might not all have a clear idea of what democracy means to them, it likely includes being able to eat, and not being abused by a police state.

For the moment, the same military clique that put Mubarak in power and kept him in power is in charge. This is, for the most part, good news for Joe and Susie Egyptian. Several, less pleasant alternatives were available ranging from strong-arm VP Omar Suleiman to various Sharia Law-wielding dictator wannabes.

One very populous group in Egypt is The Muslim Brotherhood. It is not your average Knights of Columbus religious men’s club. For one thing, their membership is philosophically diverse. Their members range from altruistic people concentrating on charity and social work to radicals that want Sharia Law for Egypt. A few of their more radical members dream of Sharia Law for the entire planet, and these members are, from our point of view, the most dangerous.

The average Muslim Brotherhood member is not dreaming of a new world Islamic caliphate, but their moderation may or may not matter in any political takeover. Though everyone would like the C.I.A. to read all the tarot cards and predict this group’s future actions, the fact is that this group cannot predict itself. Internal power struggles will have to play out. Whether or not the Brotherhood can turn “popular” into “powerful and in charge” remains to be seen.

Symbol for The Muslim Brotherhood

The Iranian government views the crisis in Egypt as a possible opportunity. They have done their best to co-opt the Muslim Brotherhood, but so far they do not quite seem to be able to pull the strings in Cairo, despite their best efforts. For Egyptians and for everyone else, let’s hope that Iran does not gain decisive influence in creating the next Egyptian Pharaoh.

Against that very tempting and vague opportunity to control all that is Egypt, Iran has to worry about the image of a popular rebellion taking down a well-armed goon backed by an efficient and ruthless secret police. The fact that Mubarak could fall in spite of all his power and control is not a happy event to the Islamic Shiite thugs that run Iran. On the one hand, they are doing all they can to take advantage of the power vacuum in Egypt. On the other hand, they are double checking with their approximately 17 secret police organizations to make sure that none of the “grateful and loyal, happy, devout Iranian followers” gets any ideas about things like human rights or freedom, or other highly objectionable, traditional Western ideas.

If an Iranian lookalike gang should come to power in Egypt, the US military will suggest “surgical strikes” to eliminate critical, lethal hardware from Egypt’s inventory. The current US administration will likely refuse to make any decision regarding strikes, one way or the other, and will simply occupy itself with “the C.I.A. failed us” press releases. The opposition party in the US will then spend their time on a campaign titled That Creep Lost Egypt, as if it was ever ours to lose.

The fantasy option is a freedom-loving, democratic leader who will somehow manage to introduce a high degree of freedom while keeping all the Islamic caliphate wannabes and lurking dictators under control as he/she eradicates rampant corruption from daily Egyptian life. This fantasy leader would create jobs and eliminate crime while improving healthcare for Egyptians. It’s fun to dream.

My guess (based on my crystal ball, which runs on energy generated by my bad attitude) is that the military junta will try to present something like a believable reformist. If the new reformist dictator manages to steal significantly less, and is able to lift the state of emergency in Egypt, things might improve enough to keep Egypt from being taken over by Sharia gangsters. Any new leader in Egypt will either have to spend less time amassing fortunes and more time using the Egyptian government for something new…say, something like “government”… or they will have to go in a less attractive direction by becoming more despotic in order to control the population.

I hope that some form of progress can come to Egypt, and that eighty-three million Egyptian people can get back to spending their time developing a modern society with all its great inventions and benefits. The history of Egypt indicates that Egyptians are capable of a great future. They deserve one, and I hope they get one.