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.

101 Uses for a Dead Spouse

By Piper Bayard

In zombie lore, as I understand it, a person dies when bitten by a zombie, and then comes back as one of the undead. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to refer to that interval of death between “life” and “undead” as the “Pre-Zombie Condition.” As you will soon see, delicacy demands that I use some sort of metaphor as I present this next tidbit to you.

Last year, a Moroccan cleric by the name of Zamzami Abdul Bari issued a fatwa declaring that marriage continues even after death, and that, therefore, a man can continue marital relations with his wife for up to six hours into her “Pre-Zombie Condition.” To be fair, he said that women could also partake of this. . . . joy. *cough, cough*

Setting aside such vomit-inducing questions as ‘How can this possibly be an issue?’ and ‘Exactly what research did Zamzami do to arrive at the magical six-hour figure?’ it occurs to me to wonder, ‘Why stop there?’

Let’s face it. One of the many inconvenient facts about death is that whether it occurs instantly or over a tortuous period of time, chances are you haven’t had time to clean your house to a level of comfort for yourself or for all of the descending relatives and kind souls who come bearing briskets and casseroles. In light of that, I can certainly think of more useful things for a husband or wife to do during that six hours than engage in unilateral marital relations.

In fact, I made up this Honey Do List for my husband, just in case he meets his reward before I do. I mean, why waste a good Pre-Zombie Condition, right?

  1. Clean the grill. You know we have to have hotdogs if your family is coming.
  2. Move those boxes of tools back out into the garage so we have more room for chairs. You know my family never stands up long enough to burn a calorie.
  3. Change the lightbulb over the porch so no one breaks a leg and sues us. Cousin Kenneth’s only livelihood is bringing litigation, after all.
  4. Hide the liquor, because if I see Uncle Fred drunk at one more family gathering, I’m likely to kill him myself.
  5. Mow the yard. While you’re at it, please pick up the dog poo…. On second thought, leave the dog poo where Uncle Cody’s high-stepper wife will prance through it on her way out.
  6. Break the handle in the downstairs bathroom so the water never shuts off. That flowing brook sound will be soothing while we’re mourning you, and it’s not as much trouble as maintaining an indoor fountain.
  7. And please paint the living room. You told me yesterday you’d get that done this month, and Zamzami makes it clear that you can’t get out of your obligations just because you’re dead.

So why is this coming up now? Apparently, an Islamist or two or three in the Egyptian parliament found the idea of Pre-Zombie Condition marital relations appealing. Naturally, Egypt’s National Council for Women strongly opposes this move and is encouraging the fundamentalist parliament to not approve the law. Click here for the story from Al Arabiya News.

To all of the decent, sensible Egyptian people who are frozen in a facepalm right now, wondering how their Arab Spring sacrifices turned into an argument about necrophilia, I feel your pain. We have the Westboro Baptists, after all.

What would you put on your spouse’s Honey Do List? Please keep it clean or keep it in a metaphor. 🙂

All the best to all of you for making good use of the time you have.

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: Missiles and Missives

By Jay Holmes

As the White House’s “days not weeks” line has evolved to “don’t worry, just a few months,” the missile and aircraft attacks have degraded Gadhafi’s goon squad enough to allow the Benghazi-based rebels to push west to Bin Jawad on the coastal road to Sirte. Gadhafi has traditionally taken good care of the tribal alliances of the Sirte area so the rebels might find the going a bit rougher in Sirte and on to Tripoli.

A tactical analysis of the available forces, their assets, the geography, and the leadership in the theater of operations would be a fun exercise, but likely doesn’t matter much as long as the NATO forces continue their “if it moves and belongs to Gadhafi kill it” policy. At this point, the most critical tactics will not be employed on the coastal road to Tripoli or in the air above Libya and the Gulf of Sidra.

The most critical battles that need to be decided now are of a diplomatic nature, and they will not be won or lost with another shipload of bargain basement, Chinese made AK-47’s. Rumors are floating through the political sewers of Washington, London, Paris, and Rome that an escape is being proposed to Gadhafi. Western leaders have opted for the “sources high up in the administration” unofficial leak method of announcing efforts to arrange for Momo’s departure (live departure) from Libya.

The toughest thing about playing travel agent for uncle Momo is the fact that he has so many enemies in so many places. The second toughest aspect of planning his vacation is the fact that the few “friends” that would take him are themselves in no position to guarantee their own future let alone Gadhafi’s.

If Momo leaves, he has to go to a country that is willing and accustomed to ignoring the International Court of Justice. Joseph Mugabe and a few other lower budget despots would likely be willing to take Gadhafi if he brings some of his loot with him, or if the West is willing to pay them off in some other creative fashion. The creativity will not require any effort on our part because all despots have favors that they need or would like this week. They will all be quick to turn over their Christmas Wish List to us, in fact, and the poor diplomat that visits prospectively will have his ear filled with demands .

While the Italians are so far rumored to be the negotiators, my guess is that they will handle no more than the communications with Momo. It will take the US, France, and the UK to make a plausible deal with a “host country.”

Getting Momo gone is the obvious best alternative to grinding out a battle to take Tripoli while magically avoiding massive civilian casualties. The less obvious and far trickier part of the equation is encouraging a transition of power that will not threaten Western nations.

Regardless of public promises made and political careers incinerated, it would be hard to imagine Egypt and the Western nations tolerating a “Tehran West” situation in Tripoli. Some of the supposed leaders of the rebellion have presented a believable facade to the West, but there are clearly some Al Qaeda affiliates involved in the dance.

The best way to avoid a long military commitment in Libya is to invest heavily in helping to create an alternative to Momo that Egypt and the West can live with. It may require some work and a little leadership, but it’s doable. The supporters of the “Islamic Radical Domino Theory” tell us that radical Islamic terrorist states must, by force of nature, replace any government that falls in the mid-east and North Africa. This theory fails to take into account the diversity of cultural and political forces at play in Libya. The Tehran West scenario is avoidable.

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: 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 III

By Jay Holmes

In 1984, the UK broke off relations with Libya when a Libyan Embassy staff member gunned down London policewoman, Yvonne Fletcher, in front of the Libyan embassy. The British SAS was called in to storm the Libyan Embassy. US Navy 6th Fleet received an alert message about this in a code that was known to be readable by the Russians. Soviet intelligence quickly warned Libya that Steven Decatur’s friends appeared to be restless, and the Libyan Embassy wisely backed down.

Then came a very busy year, 1986. On April 5th, 1986, Libyan-controlled terrorists bombed a disco in Berlin, killing two US servicemen and a woman. Over 230 people were injured.

Subsequently, the US requested participation from its NATO allies for an April 15 raid on Libya. All allies except the UK refused to allow even overflight by US war planes.

Denied the use of bases they had paid for and manned, the US launched twelve F-111 US Air Force fighters from Lakenheath, England. The fighters had to fly an Atlantic route to Gibraltar, and then proceed to Libya without entering any other European air space.

The long flight necessitated low altitude, night-time, mid-air refueling. In the final refueling stage, one of the F-111s dropped to low, touched the water, and was badly damaged. Both crewmen died when their damaged aircraft either crash landed or was shot down by Libyan air defense missiles. The Libyans have presented multiple versions of their side of the story, and the Air Force was not able to recover the wreckage, so the details will likely never be known.

On April 14, Italian politician, Bertino Craxi, a.k.a. Il Crackhead, had warned Moammar Gadhafi of the April 15 raid before the US planes arrived. This was, perhaps, why Gadhafi was not in his palace when it was bombed. In any event, Russian ships monitoring air and sea traffic at the Straits of Gibraltar could not have failed to notice the overflight by the US F-111s.

A small number of US Navy aircraft from two 6th Fleet aircraft carriers joined in the attack. Libya’s five largest terrorist bases were destroyed by the US raid. New Soviet-made aircraft, still in crates, were destroyed. Moammar explained that the raid was a glorious victory for Libya. Not even the Libyans believed that one.

This raid helped deteriorate relations between the Soviets and their client states in North Africa. Many countries with Soviet trained and Soviet equipped air defense systems realized that they had placed their safety in the hands of highly over-rated technology.

The Kremlin, not to be mistaken for Cinderella’s castle.

Also, Libyan resistance to Uncle Momo became far louder and more active after the raid. Moammar complained bitterly to his Soviet friends. The message traffic from the Soviet embassy in Libya to Moscow Center was rumored to be one of the more hilarious dialogues in the history of espionage. The Kremlin was already unhappy at a very expensive and bloody Soviet war in Afghanistan, and Gadhafi’s tirades did not improve morale at the Kremlin.

At one point, Gadhafi allegedly demanded nuclear weapons from the Soviets. The Soviets didn’t mind African and European bloodshed, but they were not about to place their own security in the hands of Uncle Momo.

Allegations circulated that the Politburo considered replacing Uncle Momo with a more reliable client state leader, but if any such plans were discussed, they were never implemented. Libya is not Hungary or Poland, and the Soviets have no way of delivering forces to Libya to back up any “dream coups.” Momo continued making new demands on the Soviets, but he discovered that Russian bookies do not give refunds after the game is played.

Just to be clear, it was alleged by some that the Libyan air defense system built by the Soviets was manned by Soviet military personnel in conjunction with Libyan Air defense soldiers. It was also alleged that the Soviets had ordered the 1981 Libyan Air Force attack against the Navy Hawkeye. The Soviets deny this and have always denied it. Because the Soviets claim there were no Soviets at any Libyan air defense facilities in 1981, 1986, or at any other time, then, of course, no Soviets were harmed in the making of this movie. Glad we cleared that up.

After April, 1986, the history of Uncle Momo became more bizaare with each passing year. We had the infamous Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, and a variety of truces and wars in Mr. Gadhafi’s neighborhood. The incidents of outrage are too numerous to even mention, but they are available from many sources online and at your local library. However, I will hit on some highlights.

From 1986 to the present, Gadhafi has dealt with multiple assassination attempts and attempted coups. One of the results is that the frequent purges of military officers have left the Libyan military with poor leadership capabilities. These purges are having a major impact on Moammar and his supporters this month.

Moammar started off 1987 with the execution of six Libyan military officers and two civilians for plotting a coup against him.

Also in 1987, Gadhafi sponsored a coup in Berkina Faso, a small country located in west Africa. It became his west African regional arms shipment hub. Moammar then expanded his cross border incursions into Chad and invaded his neighbor. France and the US backed Chad and evicted Moammar from most of Chad.

In December, 1987, Libya announced a massive water tunnel project to transport water from Tunisia to Libya. The project would supposedly involve over two thousand miles of underground pipeline. Libya’s neighbors were not happy about this so eventually Tunisia, Libya, and Algeria came to a regional water agreement to address the critical need for water in the area.

Never forget the importance of water in Libya and its surrounding countries. Momo never forgets this, and his various water projects in Libya have been an important factor in keeping him in power. In Libya, a little water can purchase a lot of loyalty.

In December of 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie Scotland when a bomb planted by a Libyan agent detonated in the cargo hold of the 747. All 259 passengers and crew members died. Falling debris killed eleven people on the ground.

Lockerbie, Scotland terror scene

In 1989, Tomcats shot down two Libyan Mig-23 Flogger-E fighters attempting to attack the US 6th Fleet. The Libyan Floggers did not damage any US ships or aircraft before they were shot down, even though they were expensively modified with the intent of assuring success in an attack against the US fleet. Reports indicated they were outfitted with upgraded engines, improved radar, and improved weapons systems. Gadhafi was apparently deeply discouraged by their failure.

In September, 1989, the Libyans planted a bomb on a French DC-10. 170 passengers were killed.

On November 14, 1990, both the U.S. and British governments announced indictments against two Libyan intelligence officials for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

In 1993, a coup attempt by some of Moammar’s more powerful military supporters failed. Because the plotters included members of his own, traditionally loyal people, that attempt disturbed him more than any previous attempts.

In 1995, an Islamic militant group in Libya announced its intention to take over Libya. An unanticipated effect of that was that some of his less ardent supporters drew closer to him. Many educated Libyans were more frightened of the Islamic group than they were of him, worried that the fundamentalists would be far less pleasant to live under.

1996 was another exciting year for Uncle Momo. In February, another assassination attempt on him failed, but several bystanders were killed. Several years later the UK was blamed for the attempt but they denied it.

In March, 1996, Moammar had to deploy several thousand troops to northwest Libya to smother an uprising. Then, Uncle Momo, escorted by his “girlfriend bodyguards,” visited Cairo, Egypt for 5 days to lecture Egypt on methods of good government. Yes, this really happened.

In June, 1996, 1200 people were killed in a fight at Abu Salim prison between the Libyan military and forces of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Also that month, there was a soccer match in Tripoli between Gadhafi’s son’s team and some unfortunate soccer players. When the fans booed little Gadhafi’s team, little Gadhafi’s bodyguards gunned down 20 fans. Yes, I am serious.

In November, 1996, the Islamic rebels failed in yet another assassination attempt on Moammar when the Russian-made grenade did not detonate properly.

In 1998, just when you thought it couldn’t get any crazier, Moammar announced that he was tired of having to lead all of the Arabs in the world because some of them didn’t show him the respect he deserved as the great pan-Arabic king. He said he had been generous with his time, and he explained that, after two decades of brutal abuse of blacks in Libya, Libya would now become a “black African” country. Libya would no longer be an “Arab” country. He instructed Libyan men to find and wed only black women, and for Libyan women to marry only black men. The wave of grateful black Africans failed to show up in Libya. The few blacks that mistakenly showed up looking for work faced continued abuse rather than any honeymoons.

On April 5, 1999, after eleven years of “pressure” from the west Libya turned over two of the plotters from the 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 bombing for trial in the Hague by Scottish judges. One interesting thing about this is that one of the plotters turned over was a member of the Magharia tribe.

Abdel Basset Ali Al-Megrahi, Lockerbie bomber

Eighty-five percent of Libya’s population remains loyal to tribal affiliations to this day. The Magharia tribe’s alliance with Uncle Momo’s Gadhafi tribe is critical for Moammar to remain in power. It has been rumored that Moammar believed a “fix’ was in, and that both of the killers would be acquitted in exchange for continued oil sales. This has never been proven, but one of the bomber plotters was, in fact, acquitted.

In July, 1999, both the US and the UK announced a resumption of diplomatic ties with Libya.

On January 31, 2001, at the International Court in Hague, Netherlands, a Scottish court sentenced Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer, to life in a Scottish prison for the 1998 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

On May 30, 2001, Gadhafi sent troops and weapons to the Central African Republic to help President Patasse put down a coup attempt. Patasse was temporarily bolstered, but he was unable to subdue the conflict between “southerners” and “northerners” in the CAR, and Patasse was overthrown in a coup in 2003.

On January 20, 2003, the UN managed to establish a new level of absurdity in its long and disappointing history when its human rights watchdog committee elected a Libyan diplomat as its president for the year, despite concern from the US about the country’s poor record on civil liberties, and its well documented role in sponsoring terrorism. So Libya was simultaneously under UN sanctions for terrorism, and it was serving on the UN Commission on Human Rights and its successor, the UN Human Rights Council. The UN General Assembly only suspended Libya from that Council on March 2 of last week.

In April 2003 Libya admitted to the Lockerbie bombing, something everyone had known all along, and agreed to pay reparations to the families of the victims. While Gadhafi was in the middle of his “newer, nicer Uncle Momo” publicity campaign, Libyan agents were captured in Saudi Arabia when they attempted to hatch a plot to kill Saudi Prince Abdullah. The house of Saud will not forget.

On October 4, 2003, in apparent celebration of its appointment to the UN human rights committee Libya, attempted to ship gas centrifuges for Uranium-235 separation from Switzerland via Italy. Italian authorities were alerted in time, and the shipment was captured.

Previous to the centrifuge incident, Libya had received two tons of yellow cake uranium from North Korea in 1991 in exchange for oil and cash. Libya did not yet know that we were aware of the Uranium shipment. Gadhafi realized that he was vulnerable to military action by the UK and the US. He claimed to abandon his efforts at creating a nuclear weapon.

Rumors abounded that both Venezuela and Brazil were cooperating with Libya in a three-nation project to develop nuclear warheads. Eventually, international inspections revealed that Libya’s three nuclear weapons development sites had been dismantled, with all known equipment accounted for.

Mustard gas shells

Libya secretly agreed with the UK and the US to destroy 44,000 pounds of mustard gas under joint supervision by the US and the UK. Neither the US nor the UK wanted the UN involved in the process. No mustard gas was destroyed, and it remains in Libya still, but it does not appear that Gadhafi has pursued further development of the required delivery systems. Keep in mind that manufacturing mustard gas is much easier than safely destroying it. He opened Pandora’s box by making it, and now it’s still in his hands.

After apparently abandoning his WMD programs, Moammar announced a new foreign policy that included renouncing all terrorism. He also announced several economic reforms. From 2004 to the present we’ve seen a major shift in Libyan policy. Gadhafi continues to kill Libyans and other Africans, but he has moved toward a profit-based diplomacy with Western nations.

The blood still flows, but so does the oil.

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Special Edition Libya: Timeline, Part I

Special Edition Libya: Timeline, Part II

 

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: Historical Timeline, Part I

By Jay Holmes

Events in Libya are fast and furious right now, and many are wondering what Libya will look like in the near future. Let’s start with a brief history so as to remind ourselves that beyond the painful glaring light that is Gadhafi, there is a country of sorts.

Around 1000 B.C., the Garamantes, a tribal people descended from Berbers and Saharan herders, inhabited the area of the Fazzan in southern Libya.

In the 7th century B.C., Phoenicians got lost on a Saturday boat trip and decided to stay in what is now western Libya. The fishing was ok, and the few locals couldn’t gather enough strength to evict them. Greek tourists continued to enter the area without visas and refused to go home. They founded a colony of illegal aliens called Cyrenaica. Claims as to dates and times of this colony remain confusing. The Greeks, Romans, Libyans, and Egyptians were still arguing about it when I left the cafe in Benghazi.

Around 600 B.C., Carthaginians heard about the fishing and arrived to set up housekeeping.

Between 74 B.C. and 19 B.C., the Romans conducted a 55 year campaign that, at the time, was considered something of a blitzkrieg. That’s when the Romans gained control of what we call Libya. The Libyans found the Romans a bit less argumentative than the Greeks, and they developed a taste for Italian cooking. The Libyans also noticed that Italian construction workers are faster than Greek construction workers, and they let them stay.

In 158 A.D., long before the first publishing lawsuit ever occurred in Manhattan, Libyan Berber Apulieus of Madaura published The Golden Ass. You might have read it. Your high school teacher called it The Metamorphosis. The story is about a fool who dabbles in magic and accidently turns himself into a mule. Yes, Libyans have been writing decently for a long time. They do not all speak and act like the Clown Prince Gadhafi.

Life cruised along with lots of trading and fishing. Thanks to overgrazing and dry conditions, Libya lost most of its arable land and never regained it. This ecological disaster still affects Libya today. In 100 A.D., he who controlled Libya’s scarce water controlled Libya. In 2011, he who controls Libya’s scarce water controls Libya.

Then, in 643 A.D. the Muslim wave came over the horizon. They were organized and obedient to their generals, and they conquered and kept going. They took their religious crusade on to Europe, via Spain. That wave didn’t stop until Charles Martel, a.k.a. The Hammer, put up an organized fight at Tours, France in 732.

Libyans kept fishing, trading, and herding in Libya, and then, in the 1500s, the Ottoman Empire showed up and took over. Many Libyans were unhappy about the new regime, but the Ottomans were unmoved.

In 1801 the Libyan, Tunisian, and Algerian coasts had long been controlled by annoying pirates. The pirates left British and French ships alone because they had glimpsed the British and French navies. They were not crazy. At that time, there was almost no American navy. As a result, the pirates took any and every American ship they wanted, kept them, and ransomed the American sailors.

Decatur Boarding the Tripolitan Gunboat by Dennis Malone Carter

Also in 1801, President Thomas Jefferson made his famous “we won’t deal with terrorists” speech. An unreasonably foolhardy young American naval lieutenant by the name of Stephen Decatur took a ridiculously small force of ships and men to the region to enforce a “no pirates zone.” The Pasha laughed, France laughed, and England, having the biggest and best navy, laughed the loudest. The King of Spain, on the other hand, said, “Don’t laugh. I know these people. These Americans are trouble.”

Stephen had the foresight to bring two important things with him. He brought Marines. . . . They don’t laugh, ever. . . . He also brought some hard-drinking Redsox fans from south Boston. Between the deadly Marines and fourteen years of nonstop chanting of, “The pasha sucks,” the creepy pirates wisely give up.

In 1815, the pirates signed a treaty agreeing to only pick on the English and the French. Decatur, in his farewell to Libya speech, said, “Don’t ever piss us off again. Next time we bring carriers and even more Marines.” Libya believed that for a long time.

In 1911, Italy offered the tried and true regime-change bargain to get rid of the Ottomans, and Libya accepted. Life with the Italians was more annoying than life with the Turks had been, particularly when the Italians pressed thousands of Libyan men into twentieth century slavery. The Italians also stole Libya’s oil, but they left most of the women alone. And then again, there’s that hard-to-turn-down Italian cooking. Like in Brooklyn, there’s an Italian restaurant on every other corner in Tripoli. Nevertheless, nobody likes having their sons taken away into slavery, and the Libyans don’t forget.

During WWII, the Italians, under Mussolini, overextended themselves in the hope of  bowling the English out of Egypt and taking the Suez Canal. In February, 1941, Erwin Rommel took his Afrika Korps into Libya to reinforce the Italians.

In 1942, an annoying man wearing a strange, ill-fitting hat showed up and made trouble. . . . No, not Moammar. . . . Bernard Montgomery. The guy was an egomaniacal jerk, but Churchill liked him, and he had a pretty good English army with him, including some hard-brawling Australians and stubborn New Zealanders. After a brief discussion with the Italians, and a prolonged and bitter fight with the Afrika Korps, the Germans left. Rommel had better tanks, but Monty had those iron Aussies. When the Germans retreated, the Libyans were mildly happier for it. The British did not enslave the Libyans. That made them far more likeable.

Bernard Montgomery–Wonder if this started Gadhafi down the path of wayward hats?

In 1945, a Libyan-style Kristallnacht occurred, and many of the surviving 40,000 Libyan Jews left. Some did not. Many of those that stayed were murdered in 1948. A few survived and stayed until 1968, when they were banished from Libya.

In 1951, Libya became independent under King Idris al-Sanusi. Having a king of a united Libya was tough to maintain because there were about 140 tribes in Libya, and the only thing those tribes could agree on was that they didn’t like Germans, they didn’t like Ottomans, they didn’t like Italians, and they didn’t like Jews. The king, however, remembering what his grandfather told him about that crazy Stephen Decatur, agreed to allow the United States to operate Military bases.

In 1956, American oil companies showed up with more cash than British oil companies and took over the show. Business tycoon Armand Hammer and Occidental Petroleum were very good at this sort of thing.

In 1969, the King of Libya traveled abroad for medical treatment, and a faction of young army officers, lead by a bold 27-year-old named Captain Moammar Gadhafi, took power and kept it for a long time. In fact, he still has it this morning as I write, and Stephen Decatur has not shown up. . . . Yet.

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This Special Edition Libya timeline by Holmes is continued in Timeline, Part II, and Timeline, Part III.