Yemen Update: Saleh’s Sojourn to Saudi and What It Means

By Jay Holmes

Last week, a rocket hit Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s personal mosque at his home in Yemen. It killed three of Saleh’s bodyguards and his personal Imam. Saleh and others were wounded and flown to Saudi Arabia for treatment.

The hospitals in Yemen could have handled the medical treatment with less delay. Saleh’s decision to be flown to Saudi Arabia is an indication that he believes he would not be safe in a hospital in Yemen. On that point, Saleh and I agree. Naturally, many of us are wondering about the significance of this attack.

The first step in making a guess about the impact of Saleh leaving Yemen is to venture a guess as to who might have ordered the attack. Instinctively, we might wish to assume that Al Qaeda type gangs of Islamic terrorists are behind the attack. Given how often that’s true, it’s a reasonable instinctive answer. In this particular case, though, I believe it to be the wrong answer.

Many of Yemen’s power elites have been hedging their political bets. For three decades, they have been able to “double down” on Saleh with confidence, but some of them have evidently lost their confidence in Saleh’s chances for staying in power. In the view of many powerful Yemenis, Saleh is no longer a safe bet.

Last week, an artillery attack was conducted against the home of powerful Yemeni businessman/politician Hamid Ahmar. Hamid and his brother are the leaders of the Hashid tribal confederation. I believe that the brothers were moving the confederation away from supporting president Saleh, and that Saleh is likely responsible for the attack on Hamid Ahmar. Saleh needed Ahmar dead, and he needed him dead fast. That opened the door for a quick and sloppy attempt. The attack on Saleh was likely retribution by the Ahmads. Both groups deny any involvement in attacking each other, and I don’t for a second believe either of them.

Saleh’s current host, the house of Saud, has openly encouraged Saleh to sign an agreement for a transitional government. In this case, transition means, “Adios Saleh. Don’t come back.” When the House of Saud makes a political move, it moves deliberately. It is unlikely that the Saudis will back down from wanting Saleh gone. They won’t kill him while he’s in their hands, but at this point, they wouldn’t mind him having an accident somewhere else.

From the Saudi point of view, any tribal confederation coming to power in Yemen is better than mayhem in Yemen because they are convinced that mayhem in Yemen will eventually be co-opted by an Al Qaeda type gang or by Iran. Which tribal chief pulls the strings in Yemen is not critical to the Saudis; they are confidant that they can work with any of them. What they don’t wish to deal with on their doorstep is chaos.

If the Ahmar family can bring the Hamid tribal confederation to a workable agreement on a new architecture for power in Yemen, then Saleh will have too little support left in Yemen to do anything.

To compare this to an American situation, for academic purposes think of The Paul Castellano/John Gotti mafia business arrangement. Castellano was a confident New York Capo and Gotti was his most important captain. Once Gotti convinced Sammy “the bull” Gravano and his crew to back him against Castellano, Castellano was a goner.

If Castellano had survived the hit in Manhattan on December 18, 1985 he still would not have held power as long as Gotti’s alliances were in effect. Other families would not pay for Castellano’s honor with their own families’ blood and money in a war to suppress the upstart John Gotti.

While I don’t foresee Saleh and his driver ending up dead on a Manhattan sidewalk, the same dynamic applies. The key to Saleh’s future has slipped from his hand. It is now in the hands of Hamid Ahmar and his brother. The Hashid confederation will decide the future of President Saleh. The Saudis have likely sent their best insurance salesman to Saleh’s quarters to sell him a guaranty of safety and comfort in Saudi Arabia. Saleh will hold out as long as he can for a “better” deal.

The Hashids are needed in order for foreign investors to safely finance the proposed new gas industrial development in Yemen. The project could make a very large dent in the 70% unemployment in Yemen. In fact, a well-run gas project could transform the Yemeni economy for decades.

China won’t admit it, but it is in silent agreement with the West about the Hashids bringing stability to Yemen. China and India would both like to buy gas from facilities in Oman and Yemen.

Iran, on the other hand, would like to see the Hashids fail. It will pretend that is for ideological reasons, but it is for financial and political reasons. Natural gas facilities in Oman and Yemen will make a natural gas depot in Iran far less valuable and will effectively reduce Iran’s bargaining position in world markets.

And what does any of this mean to us? I take it as good news. The Hashids have lost money and blood in the chaos. They want their profits and their sleep back. They want the natural gas project to happen. They cannot prosper under any radicals of any stripes. They want a functioning republican government that aggravates the masses less than the current one does and that continues to ignore the local matters in Hashid-controlled areas so that they can take their cut from the gas project.

So, that’s my guess. What’s your guess?

Protests in Yemen: Life on the Spice Trade Route

By Jay Holmes

The spice trade has dried up, and the 24,000,000 well-armed people in “The South” suffer an unemployment rate of close to 70%. The fragile economy relies on Yemen’s very limited oil supplies, and these are expected to dry up by 2017. Yemen has natural gas reserves, and, since its access to the Indian Ocean is outside the Straits of Hormuz or any other choke points, Yemen is well placed to develop liquefied petroleum gas exports. However, in keeping with strong, regional traditions Yemen is plagued by rampant corruption that sucks any efficiency from economic development. This is one facet of Yemeni life that fuels the recent protests.

Yemen is the only republican government in the region. Two houses of government share legislative power with a president. Everyone over the age of 18 is allowed to vote, including women and non-Muslims, though only Muslims can hold office. The president and the legislators pick a prime minister, who then acts as head of government operations while the president remains the Head of State. Ali Abdullah Saleh is the current president, and he has been since 1990.

Yemen was previously two countries, North Yemen and South Yemen. Prior to its unification in 1990, Ali Saleh was the leader of North Yemen from 1978 until 1990.

Beneath this seemingly manageable government organization lies a reality of tribal competition and outright warfare. In the North, the Houthi tribes are usually at war with Yemeni government forces, or anyone else unfortunate enough to wonder into their neighborhood. There is currently a truce between the Houthis and the government, but no one expects it to last much longer. If the Houthis have anything in common with Yemeni President Saleh, it’s a strong instinct for opportunism, and Saleh’s government is fragile now.

Saleh is a Shia Muslim and is ruling in a Sunni majority country, but the breakdown of loyalties is far more complex. There are multiple sects of both Sunni and Shia Muslims, and the sect alignments are reinforced by tribal lines. However, there is no reason to believe that the current protests in Yemen have anything to do with Sunni vs. Shia. It appears to be more a case of Young vs. Old driving unemployment protests, and Nearly Everyone vs. Saleh the Imbecile driving the growing Saleh Drop Dead movement. Yemen has a young population, and the youth in Yemen are likely no more impressed with Saudi, Omani, or Iranian propaganda efforts than they are with President Saleh.

Saleh is truly a self-made man. His formal education ended prior to 8th grade and did not resume until he received his unimpressive military training. His instincts and management style seem to resemble those of a post WWII Sicilian mayor. But, unlike the stable mafia mayors of Sicily in the fifties and sixties, Saleh presides over a community that lacks a sense of unity. In Yemen, Them vs. Us management techniques are hampered by the day-to-day Us vs. Each Other and Anyone Who Shows Up reality of rural Yemen.

To understand the protesters in Yemen today, it’s handy to look at a few high points in the Saleh Circus history. While Saddam Hussein was still warden of Iraq, Yemeni President Saleh simultaneously claimed strong fraternal ties and undying loyalty to both Iraq and its enemy, Iran. No, I’m not making this up. The usually humorless Iranian government tolerated the farce because, when your only other “friend” in the world is the oil-less Assad mob in Syria, anyone even pretending to be friendly is tolerable.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Saleh proudly entered the Guinness Book of Records under the Monumental Miscalculation category. To the quiet and curious amusement of realists on planet Earth, Ali Saleh backed Saddam Hussein. In response to this idiotic move, Saudi Arabia responded by sending home the nearly 900,000 Yemenis that were in Saudi Arabia doing what Yemenis can rarely do at home—earning wages without committing felonies. Many of those ex-wage earners and their hungry adult children are likely enjoying the protests in Yemen this week.

In 2000, an Al-Qaeda kamikaze boat attack bombed the USS Cole while it was fueling in Aden, Yemen, killing 17 American sailors and wounding 29 more. In another bout with Reality Deficit Disorder, Saleh claimed in 2005 that he single-handedly stopped the occupation of Aden by the United States Navy at the time the USS Cole was attacked by standing fast against the crews of eight US warships. If there had been any US warships in Aden besides the badly damaged USS Cole at the time, the claim might not have been quite so ridiculous.

Just in case anyone might question Saleh’s highly developed talent for absurdity, he also fervently supports Iran’s right to produce nuclear weapons. . . .Those nuclear weapons that the Iranian mullahs claim they are not producing.

Saudi Arabia has all but given up on Yemen as a neighbor and is constructing expensive border barriers to staunch the flow of smuggled goods, Yemenis, and Al-Qaeda visitors via Yemen.

In a sense, Saleh’s dilemma is that Yemen has outgrown him. Many Yemenis have become more aware of the world outside of Yemen, and they are not enjoying the comparison.

Saleh responded to the recent protests with moderate rhetoric and promises of a new constitution. As the protests persisted, Saleh claimed that he would step down as long as he received a guarantee against any prosecution.

As ridiculous as Ali Saleh often is, I would be surprised to see him risk his life by remaining in Yemen after a change in government. Saleh has burned his bridges with Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, and Iraq. Perhaps he can finally use his one real talent by moving to Detroit, USA or Sheffield, England and opening a comedy club. Both places could use a bit of his illicit cash.

Saleh’s only supporters at the moment are his frantic pals from Iran. The Iranian government wants to maintain access to Yemeni ports for the trans-shipment of weapons and trouble to East Africa and other locations. The Iranians are calculating that no other Yemeni would be crazy enough to ally with them, so they are desperate to keep Saleh from leaving office.

The Yemeni police also stand between the Yemeni people and reform. So far, the Yemeni police have been willing to respond with gunfire, even though their loyalty to Saleh is somewhat questionable.

Over 200 Yemenis have been killed since the protests began. Saleh has agreed to the Gulf Cooperation Council Proposal to resign in 30 days, and for his vice president to take over for an additional 30 days with elections to be held in 60 days. The protestors, however, are impatient and do not want to wait, as they might see this as a stalling tactic to give the security police a better chance to crush the protests.

Al-Qaeda has attempted to co-opt the protest movement, and Saleh has been willing to use that as a bargaining chip for gaining support from the US. Although Al-Qaeda survives comfortably in the mountainous areas of Yemen, they are not popular with the majority of Yemenis. The US and Saudi Arabia continue to track Al-Qaeda in Yemen. If Al-Qaeda were to grow as a result of the current chaos, it would, in fact, be simpler to deal with in Yemen than in Afghanistan and Pakistan. US carrier groups can operate safely off the coast of Yemen, and the Navy is in a position to deliver strong logistic support for any ongoing patrols there, making operations against Al-Qaeda in Yemen far easier than operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

On the positive side, the Yemenis may not want or need a whole new style of government. They might be willing to accept the same basic structure of government if they could have a little judicial reform, an executive branch separate from the legislative branch, and new governors. That makes a transition in Yemen less difficult than in Libya. Yemen has a real government. It just needs real governors.

For the moment Ali Saleh still holds the microphone.

Related posts:

Who are the Libya Rebels? Part I

Who are the Libyan Rebels? Part II

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.

Special Edition Libya: Worldwide Poker Game

By Jay Holmes

In our last post, Dave asked, “How much of the reluctance to act is the result of pressure from European allies concerned about their vulnerability to interruption in the flow of gas and oil from Libya? Or is this just homegrown lack of decisiveness?

This is Holmes’ response. . . .

Thank you for your question Dave. The quick answer is “both,” but if you are bored today keep reading. In my view, there are multiple factors that contribute to inertia in any military activity by the West in Libya. From the European point of view, Italy and the UK have the most to lose in Libya, except for the Libyan people, and they are both wanting to avoid mistakes. Sometimes failure to act while avoiding mistakes can, in itself, be a very big mistake.

The UK has a huge financial stake in Libya and is as oil-dependent as any industrial nation is. Current UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, made clear his disgust for the UK’s unsavory “terrorist prisoner release for oil” dealings with Libya, but he faces the same economic realities that his predecessors did. The UK needs oil from, and trade with, Libya.

In Italy, Berlusconi has been happy to deal openly with Libya, and 70% of Italy’s oil addiction is supplied by that country. Also, Italy has agreements in place with Libya for massive works projects to be completed, principally, by Italian construction companies.

France, and, to a lesser degree, Germany, had been attempting to sign significant trade agreements with Libya, as well. We cannot know what deals are being proposed by whom in the back alleys of Europe’s capitols or in US oil companys’ board rooms, but the motives are easy enough to imagine.

We are not the only one’s wondering about any “deals.” The rebels will naturally maintain their own suspicions about who wants what, but if they are smart they will understand the easy opportunity to make promises of future commercial cooperation in exchange for help now. Overall, Europe may be hoping for the US to act while they play the “slow” game. That way, they can avoid responsibility for any casualties or political fallout while reaping the rewards of any US military activity.

There is, in reality, no military reason why European military forces could not easily handle any intervention in Libya without involvement by US forces. Europe has been touting the superior magical qualities of the Euro-fighter since its conception. Europe now has the opportunity to demonstrate the “fight” aspect of the “Eurofighter,” and France could show us the superiority that they have been claiming for their fighter aircraft as well. Let’s see if it happens. Are they just tax-funded, expensive paperweights, or will they be used as Von Clausewitz, a political theorist, would recommend, as an extension of European political policy? Any desire by European governments for US intervention in Libya would be driven by the desire for the USA to pay the lion’s share of the fiscal and political costs.

As for the USA, Obama ran on a somewhat “anti-military” platform. He told us that he would quickly clean up the mess in Iraq, and that he would chase terrorists from Afghanistan while leaving a tidy little democracy in place. He has thus far achieved neither of these goals. In addition, the US courts have apparently crippled his controversial health care reform bill. Obama has used up lots of political capital without achieving any correspondent political victories since coming to power. And on top of these obvious failures, he still faces massive unemployment in the US.

Obama has proposed budget cuts for the Military while still having to feed the gods of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. War gods don’t usually work cheap. They require blood and treasure. For Obama to order US forces to intervene in Libya may be pragmatic in strategic terms and easy in military terms, but it would not be welcomed by his shrinking political base at home. Self-declared, lock-step American “liberals” are not likely to support a Republican candidate, but Obama and the rest of his party need the vote of pragmatic independents to avoid disaster in the next elections.

Naturally, North Korea was not going to let this period of Western stress pass without trying to improve crazy Kim’s position on the world’s geopolitical stage. Not surprisingly, Little Kimy has announced the development of a magnetic impulse nuclear weapon.

In case Obama didn’t have enough on his mind, he has had to respond to the sad tragedy in Japan by having the US Navy use 3rd Fleet (east Pacific) ships to reinforce the US 7th Fleet (far east fleet) in an attempt to deliver medical and logistical aid to the earthquake-ravaged northeastern Japan. Even the USA has a finite number of naval assets. And while the US 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean has been reinforced to deal with Libya, the US 5th Fleet (Indian Ocean) is continuing its operations in support of our forces in Afghanistan and must deal with ongoing threats by Iran in the straits of Hormuz. And then we have those nasty pirates in Somalia to contend with.

The US Navy is busy this month, and the Pentagon would love to have use of the US-financed bases in Italy to utilize US Air Force assets to conduct any air operations over Libya. If, after financing these bases and pouring in so many millions of dollars into the Italian economy for more than half a century, Italy refuses to cooperate on this point, I think it would represent a turning point for the USA in its troublesome and costly relations with Italy. Change would come quietly, but change would indeed come.

Both Obama and his European “allies” would love to see Gadhafi vanish from the world political stage. In this they are in agreement. But neither Europe, nor the US, wants to help usher in the world’s next theocratic tyrant state. The Libyan revolutionaries have yet to organize enough to present a clear image of themselves to the West so the West is not yet sure what it is being asked to support.

The Arab League has, in a sense, passed the ball back to the Western powers by quickly agreeing to a “no fly” operation over Libya. They are, at the same time, demanding “no military intervention by the West.” I guess in English we can translate that as “make Gadhafi go away, and then we’ll be mad at you for it.” Hardly a surprise.

It seems to me that the most critical need for the Libyan rebels is to establish believable communications with the Western powers. Against this obvious need, they feel a strong instinct to obtain their own “victory” without Western intervention. The rebels will have to get over their own cultural limitations if they wish assistance from the West in removing Gadhafi.

Obama and his policy formulators will have to make their best calculation of what the sum of all the forces at play add up to. This normally simple Newtonian calculation is complicated by everyone’s inability to accurately define the Libyan rebels.

Everyone wants that malodorous diaper changed, but no one wants to be the one to clean the offending baby.

Now take two aspirin and call me in the morning if you need another headache.

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 A history of Libya to help us understand the current dynamics of the unfolding situation:

Special Edition Libya: Timeline, Part I

Special Edition Libya: Timeline, Part II

Special Edition Libya: Timeline, Part III

An Analysis as of March 12, 2011.

Special Edition Libya: March 12, 2011

By Jay Holmes

In 2004, Moammar Gadhafi realized that he had to make a fundamental choice. Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups were on the rise in the Sahara. Moammar could no longer live in conflict with the oil-consuming, cash-delivering Western nations while watching the Islamic fundamentalists gain strength in Sudan, Algeria, and Tunisia. Moammar made the easy choice. He chose to look north toward Europe for his future.

From 2004 to the present, Libya has played host to a wide range of heads of state , foreign ministry officials, and banking leaders, including the leaders of the UK, Italy, Poland, Germany, and the Ukraine. The times and dates have varied, but the theme has remained constant. Gadhafi has been striving to present a believable “reformed” face to the Western media, while his visitors showed up with oil on their minds. Gadhafi increased his nation’s revenue by allowing more oil exploration and drilling. In doing so, he helped keep oil-consuming, industrialized nations from going into petroleum detox.

Uncle Momo’s willingness to suppress his strong instincts for havoc has been erratic. He has shown himself capable of delivering a speech denouncing Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, and issuing orders to send assassin teams to Malawi, Sudan, or Chad in the same day. Although Gadhafi and some of his family members did cause some trouble in the West, they also consistently avoided supporting European terror groups and blowing up airliners during this “reformed” stage of the Gadhafi saga.

Gadhafi demonstrates a clear interest in the family image makeover by presenting his son and heir apparent, Saif, as a kinder, gentler Dictator in Training. When Gadhafi wishes to back down from any harsh or oppressive measures, he frequently has Saif present the news to create the illusion that Saif Gadhafi is a more moderate influence on the regime.

Though many media commentators in the West accept Saif as a “Gadhafi for the new age,” I simply see him as a son who dutifully acts his part in the fashion that movie director Moammar commands. As fun-loving “liberals” go, Saif seems to be a bit trigger happy. Most liberals would not order their bodyguards to open fire on spectators at a soccer game simply because they booed his team. However, Saif did just that in Benghazi. Also, while Saif might not be deserving of any Oscars for his “moderate” performance, an oil-hungry West has been willing to pretend to believe it. I guess when you have enough oil to sell, you don’t have to be Gregory Peck or Lord Laurence Olivier to be believed.

Since Gadhafi felt no threat of retaliation from African nations, except from his well-armed Egyptian neighbors to his east, he demonstrated little restraint in Africa. Within Libya, itself, the population became more educated, more electronically connected to the world beyond its towns and cities, and somewhat more urban. They became, perhaps, somewhat less desperately connected to their tribal roots, and The Uncle Momo Show became less tolerable.

As Libyans watched the Ben Ali Kennel Club fold up shop in Tunisia and run off with their tails between their trembling, hitherto-unexercised legs, they perhaps felt more emboldened in their resistance to Moammar. While Libyans likely recognized Ben Ali and his particular canine pack as being “small mongrels” compared to Moammar and his wolves, the sight of the Mighty Mubarak leaving office had to seem like a miracle of sorts for Libyans and other Africans and Easterners. Mubarak commanded a well-armed and, by African standards, well-trained military, and yet, he was gone.

Libyans are attempting to seize the day in their large corner of the Sahara, but they face some major obstacles. Western leaders have thus far shown an unwillingness to commit to any military action. The minimal risk, low loss option of a “no-fly zone” spoken about by both UK and US leaders is now a few days later being described as a monumental undertaking requiring apparently more detailed planning and preparation than the 1944 invasion of Normandy and Prince William’s wedding combined. While last week it was presented as a casual “intervention light beer” option, this week the US and European governments have decided that it would first need support and approval of everyone, including Alaskan Eskimos and Australian aboriginal councils. Tribes in the upper Amazonian region are often difficult to locate so this could take a while.

When any Western government says, “Oh yes, we really will do it, just as soon as the UN is in agreement,” they are simply backing down without admitting it. If nothing else, UN participants can enjoy a temporarily upgraded illusion of doing important world business.

While US President and occasional Kenyan Barack Obama was busy explaining that we are “boxing in” Gadhafi, his Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that Colonel Gadhafi had a potentially decisive advantage in arms and equipment that would make itself felt as the conflict wore on, and that Gadhafi would win. Clapper’s performance before the US Senate audience begs several questions. Was this his view or the view that the White House instructed him to present as part of a Washington D.C. political magic show? If Obama and his staff were sincere in the surprise they demonstrated at Clapper’s statement, then why is the Director of National Intelligence not providing the President with his honest assessments in the middle of a major crisis?

Republicans were quick to respond with anger at what they claim is an undermining of the Libyan resistance and de-facto support for Moammar Gadhafi and his regime. Was Clapper doing a subtle sales job in an attempt to get Congress to demand action? If a demand for military action comes most loudly from Congress, then the White House will be able to take less of the blame for any negative consequences from that military action.

As a young, first term senator, Obama was happy to play the “I voted against war” card in his campaign for the presidency. Now that he’s president, it’s tougher to let the military do his bidding without taking a bit of the responsibility. I honestly can’t yet determine if Clapper is the flaming idiot that he presents himself as, or if he has simply been tossed on the fire before the Golden Ox of Congress. The discordant tones emanating from the White House are starting to sound depressingly like the sort of song that Uncle Momo, himself, would sing.

Suggestions are being voiced that, perhaps, it is time for the USA to dip into its strategic oil reserves. I disagree with the idea, but I am curious about the financial arrangements. Did taxpayers not pay for that oil to be pumped into those reserves? If so, then will Exxon be sending me a check for taking the oil? To prevent having to write so many checks, will the oil simply be passed out for free at the pump? Oh goody, I finally get to enjoy a visit to a gas station without bringing my wallet. We can’t be sure of the financial aspects of the deal, but we can be sure that, one way or another, most of us will continue to fill our tanks and to shop for groceries at a store that depends on diesel trucks for deliveries.

This morning, neither Uncle Momo nor his rebelling subjects can be sure of Washington’s and Europe’s intentions. If meaningful help will arrive for the rebels, it will have to come from the West, but it does not, at this moment, appear to be forthcoming. It is my impression that the anti-Gadhafi forces suffered a blow to their morale when they realized that the West is avoiding military action in Libya. Intelligence Director Clapper is right in his assessment of comparative forces, but, in my view, the key to success for the rebels will be their ability and willingness to cooperate amongst themselves and organize politically, as well as militarily.

It would be unwise for the rebels to use their limited supplies and capabilities in any further attempts to dislodge Gadhafi’s loyalists from the Tripoli area. Even with their limited equipment and supplies, they have an opportunity to oust the Gadhafi Circus by utilizing a mixture of patience and opportunistic ambush tactics whenever Gadhafi forces move. Gadhafi’s forces are not particularly vulnerable in Tripoli, but whenever they take to the roads, they and their supplies will be ripe for the picking.

That strategy will require cooperation and organization. One of the challenges to cooperation and organization amongst the Libyan rebels is that the Islamic radicals will continue to attempt to co-opt this Libyan revolution. The Libyan rebels have not called for my advice. We shall see how they evolve their nascent revolution. Their destiny is, after all, not in the hands of Obama or Western leaders in general. Their destiny is in their hands.

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Three-part history of Libya to help us understand the current dynamics of the unfolding situation.

Special Edition Libya: Timeline, Part I

Special Edition Libya: Timeline, Part II

Special Edition Libya: Timeline, Part III

Special Edition Libya: Timeline, Part II

By Jay Holmes

In 1970, the last US base in Libya closed. The American troops were happy to let oil tycoon Armand Hammer work his deals without them having to hang out in a place filled with sand, heat, more sand, more heat, and little water.

Moammar had just come to power the year before, and it was obvious from the start that he would be trouble for everyone, including Libyans. But even with his highly limited brain power, he attempted vast reforms. Moammar is not very smart; however, he was smart enough to listen to the Western technocrats that he claimed he hated. Because he listened, not all of the oil cash went to his foreign banks. Surprisingly, extensive water and agricultural projects, oil and gas field development, hospital construction, and education reform did occur. He greatly improved education and opened hospitals that Westerners would cringe at, but that were, by Libyan standards, an improvement for Libyans. Moammar presented himself as the great, pan-Arab, revolutionary, Jew-crushing, west-defying, oil-price-raising Don of Dons. . . . Or would that be Caliph of Caliphs? . . . . Well, whatever.

In November, 1970, Moammar actually convinced Sudan, Syria, and Egypt to join together in one, big, happy “Arab state.” Syria and Egypt believed that they would be able to control the situation, and that they would eventually end up in charge of Libyan oil fields. Moammar, the intended victim, proved to be a step ahead of his co-conspirators, and it became apparent that he and his petro cash would be calling the shots.

The Egyptian people loudly reminded the Egyptian government that they were not Arabs. Egyptian generals frankly explained that they “had no intention of taking orders from that Bedouin Goat.” Also, Syria realized that this would not be “oil for solidarity,” but, rather, a game of Everybody Loves Momo. The show got canceled before the pilot was produced. Momo tried the same scam with Tunisia and was left standing alone at the altar in a very ugly wedding dress.

With hopes of being hired for the role of The New Prophet, Moammar quickly hopped into bed with the Soviets. And that is not a joke. Moammar did go thru an I-Am-the-New-Islamic-Prophet phase. You can just imagine how much that endeared him to the Iranian Shiites. No Shiite junta will ever trust Moammar.

The “terrorism for fun and profit” age of Libyan history began with the July, 1973 hijacking of a Japan Air flight to Libya. Moammar was kind of new to the prime-time terrorist scene and didn’t quite know what to do with the plane after his pals hijacked it. So they took it to Libya and blew it up. Unlike the Barbary pirates of 1801, they forgot to demand ransom money. Think about that. What do you make of a guy that commits a major crime and forgets to grab the cash? No cash, no political demands, just the raw fun of hijacking an airliner.

In 1973, the Irish Navy—even smaller and more ridiculous than Steven Decatur’s fleet—intercepted five tons of Russian-made arms and explosives being rowed to Northern Ireland from Libya for an IRA big shot named Joe Cahill. The Irish Navy had no US Marines. They had no British Marines. They had no Redsox fans. They only carried water pistols and a few .303 British Enfields that the UK had left in a trash bin. How did they manage that one?. . . Hmm. . . . It’s almost like they knew the Libyans were coming and when they would be there. . . . I am eternally grateful that some Russians always hated the Kremlin more than we ever did, and were often willing to talk.

In 1974, Libya signed an arms purchase agreement with the USSR. It was the largest arms sale in USSR history. (The USSR made larger arms transfers, but none that paid cash.) The modern “triangle trade” began to fuel a massive Libyan terror campaign. Instead of rum, sugar, and slaves, it was oil to the West, dollars to Libya, then dollars to the USSR for arms to Libya. The USSR got the cash it desperately needed to help fund its seriously stalled world communism gig, and Moammar the Criminal got more arms with which to create suffering

Libya then became involved in so many scams, schemes, and dramas that I cannot list them here without turning this into something more voluminous and painful than the recent Obama health care bill. Let us attempt a digestible outline.

We know Moamarr was one of the key supporters of so many European “little red revolutionaries,” as well as the hatcher of frequent, often bazaar, attacks in the West from Sweden to Australia. But we should realize that Moammar’s war with the West was nothing compared to the brutality and genocide that he promoted and pursued in Africa. Tanzania, Uganda, the Sudan, Chad, Angola, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea have all felt the loving, fatherly influence of that great liberator of the masses. Unfortunately for many thousands of them, liberation came in the form of death.

I wonder how many bewildered African children saw their families murdered before they were carted off into slavery because of this homicidal maniac? To be sure, Moammar did not invent African genocide, but he made every effort to increase it by providing more and better arms, and by using Africa’s many tribal conflicts in his sick dream of becoming the Hitler of Africa.

In January, 1979, President Jimmy Carter’s pathetic, half-wit brother, Billy, accepted at least $240,000 to act as a lobbyist for the Libyans. Allegations of additional funds changing hands were unproven, but the FBI discovered the $240,000. Billy was apparently unaware that the CIA and US Treasury were doing their best to track money from Libya entering the US in an attempt to ward off funding of terrorists in America. As events came to light, Billy quickly remembered to register as a foreign agent on behalf of Libya. Taking money to represent a foreign government without that bit of paperwork is called treason.

This was an embarrassment that, in my view, President Carter did not deserve. You can pick your president, but you can’t pick your family. . . . Or the president’s family. NATO member nations were not favorably impressed. The state department was humiliated. The Pentagon was quietly outraged. The voters were not pleased. Between Billy and the Iranian violation of the US embassy in Tehran, Ronald Reagan easily defeated Carter in the November, 1980 elections.

In 1981, the CIA and NSA both presented concrete proof that Moammar was behind terrorist bombings in France and Italy that killed Americans. Several European governments presented similar evidence to the US government. President Reagan instructed the US Military and the CIA to conduct limited operations against Libya. I always assumed that “limited” meant “try not to disrupt the oil flow.” Reagan was under pressure from NATO member states to act with restraint. In this case “restraint” meant, “whatever happens we need that oil.” The US needed the oil, and Europe needed it more desperately than the US did. The dream objective was always “more oil and no Moammar, and please be sure someone worse doesn’t take over”.

On August 19, 1981, Libya launched two SU-22s in an attempt to shoot down an unarmed US E-2 Hawkeye surveillance plane in international airspace over the Gulf of Sidra. This was the third Libyan attack on unarmed US aircraft, and this time, the US was out of patience and ready to act.

Like the Irish Navy, the Hawkeye had no US Marines or Red Sox on board. What the Hawkeye did have was two F-14 Tomcat fighters from the Navy Black Aces Squadron, tucked in a loving embrace under her big, motherly wings. The Tomcats dropped down from mama and made a turn toward the attacking Libyans.

Without the Tomcats entering Libyan air space, the Libyans obeyed orders from their ground controllers and fired their Soviet-made, air-to-air missiles at the Tomcats. The Tomcats were able to scramble the electronic control systems of the attacking missiles, and the Libyans watched their very expensive Russian missiles fall into the ocean.

The Tomcats fired on the SU-22s, and the SU-22s were helpless against the American missiles. Both SU-22s were shot down. Both Libyan pilots ejected, but one of the Russian-made ejector seats was apparently made by one of the many Russians that did not like the Kremlin. The chute failed to deploy, and the pilot died. (Naturally, Gadhafi claimed that the US Navy pilots shot him while he was in his parachute.) The Libyans scrambled two Mig 25s to join the fray. The MIG 25 pilots wisely declined to approach the US planes or the carrier task force.

Moammar realized that attacking US military forces was a bad tactic and continued to concentrate on sponsoring terrorism, instead. Libya became the great hub of Soviet Block terror training centers for everyone from Spanish ETA terrorists to Colombian M-19 junkies. Western observers marveled at how Libya sometimes played host to opposing terrorist groups that were sworn to kill each other. One group would train with gratitude for their kind host, while their opponents would do the same, miles away, on another sand dune in the vast Sahara. I always wondered if they ever crossed paths in the Tripoli airport. I always wanted to observe that socially awkward moment.

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This Special Edition Libya timeline was begun at Timeline, Part I and is continued at Timeline, Part III.

Special Edition Libya: What’s Lost if the Devil is Deposed?

By Jay Holmes

In short, what happens if you sell your soul to the devil, and the devil is deposed? European businessmen, the UK, and Italy are in exactly that quandary.

European businessmen and the UK government, under Labor Party’s Gordon Brown, did a deal with Gadhafi. It went like this. Gadhafi promised British Petroleum (“BP”) that it would continue to let it pump more oil, around $900 million, out of Libyan oil fields. He also promised BP and the UK government that he would give UK companies preferential treatment when international sanctions were lifted. In return, the UK would send home Abdel Al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland.

In August 2009, Scotland did release Al-Megrahi, supposedly on humanitarian grounds. He supposedly had prostate cancer and was going to die within three months. He left the UK on a hospital bed and was miraculously healed during his flight to Libya, regaining his ability to walk. He is still alive today.

BP and the UK have yet to fully collect on their bargain, and you can bet some of them are biting their nails to see their back room deal in such peril of falling through with Gadhafi on the brink of being deposed.

The other European country currently gnashing its nails is Italy. While Holmes would dearly love to never, ever drive in Rome or Milan again, lots of folks in Rome and Milan feel differently about that, and they want their oil.

Since WWII, Italy has gotten approximately 70% of its petroleum products from Libya. Also, a natural gas line, the Greenstream Pipeline, that was completed in October 2004 runs straight from Wafa, Libya, to Gela, Sicily. Italy’s energy company, ENI, says Italians only get 10% of their gas from this line, but some sources believe Italy’s current dependence on Greenstream may be as high as 20%. On February 22, the Greenstream Pipeline was temporarily suspended.

From the Libyan perspective, Italy is the biggest importer of Libyan gas, taking 38% of the Libyan gas pie. Germany is also a big player, getting a 19% slice. In fact, Gadhafi’s current worries could be the one thing that finally gets Berlusconi in bed with Angela Merkel, something he has craved for years.

As an aside, this does explain a lot about Berlusconi’s infamous sex life. Having spent more than one unpleasant night in bed with Gadhafi, we can understand his urgent need sleep with beautiful young women to erase that traumatic, prison-like memory. But be sure he’s not holding one of his famous bunga bunga parties over this Libyan situation.

So again, here’s our question for you. What becomes of souls traded to the devil when the devil joins the unemployment line? Anyone have any experience with corporate soul purchases?

All the best to all of you for valuing your souls.