You don’t stay 41 years in power without learning a geopolitical trick or two. A wily fox, the African king of kings Muammar Gaddafi seems to have carefully surveyed the chessboard and come to an iron-clad conclusion; the no-fly option – not to mention an invasion of Libya – won’t fly in the United Nations Security Council.
As reported by Asia Times Online (Arab revolt reworks the world order March 10), three of the emerging BRICS group countries – Brazil, India and South Africa – have already all but torpedoed the no-fly option. They happen to be current members of the Security Council. The other two BRICS members – Russia and China – are permanent members. BRICS for some time now have coordinated crucial decisions. At Foreign Ministry level, Russia had already dismissed no-fly last week, and China did it this week. Plus there’s Lebanon – another non-permanent member of the Security Council. That makes six “no” votes. Make no mistake; Gaddafi is keeping tabs.
Even the administration of President Barack Obama is not explicitly backing up no-fly. Pentagon chief Robert Gates – even counting on two aircraft carriers and 175 planes of the US 6th Fleet based in Naples, Italy – has explicitly warned this is serious business and it means war, which implies all manners of possible escalation plus unintended consequences (think Bosnia).
Those who do back a no-fly zone make a dodgy catalogue; former African colonial powers France and Britain; US neo-conservatives; and the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – which includes Bahrain (which already lethally repressed protests), Saudi Arabia (who may do the same during this Friday’s “Day of Rage”), Oman (which may do the same if protests continue) and Qatar (whose al-Jazeera is barely covering the democratic aspirations of fellow GCC members).
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary general of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), also backs no-fly (but the OIC has not taken an official position yet). Same for the toothless Arab League; a meeting has been called by the GCC to discuss it. As for the European Union (EU) it should have a unified position by the end of the week; but don’t bet your steak frites on it.
Even the liberated eastern Libya movement is puzzled. Some leaders of the provisional Benghazi government want it, some don’t (as well as a mass of rebels). There’s no evidence the Obama administration is at least trying to take an informal no-fly poll among those doing the fighting (and dying), be it in English or Arabic.
Talk to the hand
Meanwhile, Gaddafi skillfully plays the al-Qaeda joker – as in without me, the West will be confronted with an Islamic emirate assembly line churning out thousands of jihadis across the Mediterranean. The people unquestionably buying Gaddafi’s rhetoric are none other than extreme right-wingers and cripto-fascist fanatics in the EU and also in Israel. From Islamophobes in Germany and Scandinavia to the new French political darling Marine Le Pen – the I-mean-business daughter of the founder of the National Front, Jean Marie Le Pen – they will be silently congratulating the Good Colonel Gaddafi on his geostrategic acumen.
Gaddafi has also made a shrewd move; he sent an envoy to Egypt’s Supreme Army Council. The message is clear; the Awlad Ali tribe – which controls the city of Salloum, on the Egyptian side of the border with Libya – is supplying the liberated eastern Libya rebels with everything from food to weapons. He wants it to stop. It’s an open question whether the transitional army-Egyptians will fall for it – apart from notorious “war on terror” stalwarts such as now invisible Omar “Sheikh al-Torture” Suleiman.
Anyone watching al-Jazeera can tell that the rebels are disgruntled, unemployed youth engaged with a lot of spirit and no strategic/tactical insights in what The Guardian of London aptly described as “drive-in war”. Some of these come from the Zintan tribe.
So it’s no wonder that Gaddafi’s televised address in the middle of the night on Wednesday was to an audience of young people from Zintan (there were not many, and they didn’t seem to be mesmerized). The hole in Gaddafi’s rhetoric is that all the communiques from eastern liberated Libya totally bypass typical al-Qaeda terminology, and talk extensively about a united nation and the people’s desire for democracy.
A key argument of proponents of no-fly is that if “we” – the civilized West – don’t intervene Libya will descend into Somalia-style chaos. It’s instructive to follow what’s actually happening in Somalia right now.
Somalia is crucially strategic, right across Yemen by the Gulf of Aden and practically a neighbor of the GCC countries. Everyone and his neighbor intervene in Somalia – from al-Qaeda to Ethiopia, from Sudan to GCC-based “charities”.
The African Union (AU) got really scared that Libya and Egypt will not be funding its operations anymore; so their 8,000 alleged peacekeepers (from Burundi and Uganda) launched an attack on al-Shabaab, a Somali coalition supported by a coterie of Osama bin Laden-affiliated jihadis that controls much of central and southern Somalia, including key parts of the capital, Mogadishu.
No one knows how this business of UN-sanctioned peacekeepers actually attacking an Islamic militia will end up. But Gaddafi will certainly use what’s happening as a bargaining chip with the AU; as in, if you want my money and collaboration, don’t even think about supporting no-fly.
This is how the African king of kings is reading the writing on the UN walls. No-fly, even approved, would be useless against his helicopter gunships, tanks and superior firepower. He knows the no-fly contingent can’t invade Libya – that would be seen as one more chapter, after Afghanistan and Iraq, of the white man’s crusade to destroy Islam (and get the oil).
If Saudi Arabia arms the rebels – as it did with the 1980s Afghan “freedom fighters” – the weapons may be seized by infiltrated al-Qaeda types, and Gaddafi wins the public relations war. The US Central Intelligence Agency could always bribe one of his generals – or one of his sons; after all Mutassim already tried to unseat him – to go for the proverbial bullet in the back of the head; Allah knows what kind of freak would take power afterwards.
No wonder the king of kings now looks so relaxed under his brown robes. As far as he’s concerned, it’s only a question of time before it’s a (blood-soaked) game, set and match.