West divided on Libya. More shocks in Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen, Syria
The London conference attended by 40 foreign ministers and various delegations ended Tuesday, March 29 with the US and Britain ranged in favor of arming the Libyan rebels and France and Italy against. It also passed control of the coalition offensive to a “contact group” with the vague brief to map out Libya’s future.
The conference therefore relegated the Libyan conflict to the same uncertain fate as the other Arab uprisings, which still face more bloody paroxysms on the road to unknowable outcomes.
debkafile’s analysts nevertheless discern half a dozen fixed points, not all of them optimistic, in the fog of uncertainty:
1. Control of the Libya war has passed in practice out of the hands of NATO, the UN and the Security Council and over to a multilateral “contact group” which will meet in Qatar and Italy. It is not hard to predict the outcome of a war managed by an international committee with a vague brief – especially when from the outset its members do not see eye to eye on its goals. This Tower of Babel will no doubt provide Muammar Qaddafi with plenty of room for maneuver.
2. Despite all the Western powers’ exertions, the oil-rich Qatar with its television station and 70,000 inhabitants can hardly be held up as representing pan-Arab support for the Western war effort in Libya. Every effort to obtain such support has run into a devious negative.
3. Washington is still in two minds about whether or not to recognize the rebel Interim National Council in Benghazi and furnish its fighters with arms. The one thing clear is that both steps are adamantly opposed by the US higher military command and defense leaders who make no bones about their views.
The commander of US NATO forces Adm. James Stavridis spoke Tuesday, March 29 to a US Senate committee of “telltale signs of the presence of Islamic insurgents led by Al-Qaeda and Hizballah” on the rebel side of the Libyan war. He admitted that the Western powers are maintaining a close watch to get a better understanding of “the content, composition, the personalities who are the leaders in these opposition forces.”
Nonetheless, staunch war supporters US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice are solidly in favor of arming the INC. Clinton has established a permanent US diplomatic presence in Benghazi.
US President Barack Obama has not come down squarely on either side of the dispute in Washington. In his last interview he said: “I’m not ruling it out, but I’m also not ruling it in.”
4. No power other than the United States possesses the military capabilities for determining the outcome of the Libyan war. Britain and France, divided on much else, conveyed the impression at the London conference Tuesday that their military options are no better than symbolic.
This became evident Tuesday when, in the course of the London conference, American air and missile strikes eased for a few hours, the rebels facing Qaddafi’s loyalist forces unaided in battle, immediately lost much of the ground they had won with American support and were forced to retreat further east.
Less than 12 hours later, when President Obama spoke again on television, the US offensive was renewed. It was a signal to Muammar Qaddafi that America was not giving up on its military involvement but would raise and lower its pitch at will.
This was how Obama put it: “Qaddafi’s been greatly weakened. He does not have control over most of Libya at this point, and so for us to continue to apply this pressure, I think, will allow us the space and time to forge the kind of political solution that’s necessary.”
5. debkafile’s Middle East sources note that ”- whether or not the US president intended it – the latter part of his comment about “space and time” was a perfect fit for the situations unfolding in Bahrain, Egypt, Syria and Yemen.
The convulsions besetting all four magnify their instability rather than reducing it. And all are in for greater shock waves that will buffet the entire region for years.
Bahrain. Tehran, though temporarily set back by Saudi military intervention, is again roiling the Shiite population into rising up against the throne. The oil-rich island kingdom is in for more riotous demonstrations. Here, too, Hizballah’s destabilizing hand has left its mark.
Egypt. The political and religious elites are at each other’s throats. Both are undermining the efforts of the military junta which took over after Hosni Mubarak’s ouster to establish its authority.
Yemen. This strategic Red Sea nation is sinking ever deeper into a bloody, interminable civil war.
Syria. President Bashar Assad’s efforts to offer concessions, including his sacking of the government Tuesday, March 29, as bones to appease the Sunni majority have had the opposite effect. Tempers of the disaffected groups in Syria are rising, together with a widespread willingness to brave a brutal crackdown and mass arrests. Syria is beginning to fall into the same sort of sea-saw standoff as Libya.