Could We Just Buy Off Gaddafi’s Mercenaries?

Gaddafi is relying on foreign mercenaries to serve as his security troops just like Romania’s Nicolae Ceaușescu relied on hired Palestinians. This is a sure sign that his regime has little to no internal support.

My spouse and I were explaining this to our son who asked, “So, since they’re mercenaries, couldn’t we just outbid Gaddafi?”

We laughed at the idea at first but then stopped to think. Back in the day when mercenaries were far more common, they could sometimes be bought off especially if it looked like their current employer would never be able to pay up. The basic economics of a mercenary life has not changed so maybe Gaddafi’s mercenaries would be just as susceptible to financial inducements as their historical predecessors.

Gaddafi supposedly has a lot of money to pay his mercs with but I think it safe to say we have more and a much better track record of paying off.

More importantly, as the article notes, we can control the banking system and the means of moving large amounts of money around. Gaddafi might not be able to pay his mercs after all and even if he does, they might not be able to move it or spend it. An equivalent offer from the US or Europe might be regarded as a better bet.

Of course, there are no guarantees that this would work. Although the hired troops are labeled “mercenaries”, in the modern world most mercenaries have a political agenda and chose their clients accordingly. It is likely that Gaddafi’s sub-Saharan mercenaries are Islamic fundamentalist zealots motivated first by ideology and only secondarily by money. There would also be the practical problem of making sure they follow through on their end of the bargain instead of just taking the downpayment and then keeping on fighting for Gaddafi.

Even so, buying off the mercs would be cost effective in terms of cash and even more importantly in terms of lives. Even better, if successful it would undermine other dictators confidence in their own mercs e.g. Iran’s use of Palestinians. Dictators might convince themselves that a wishy-washy US President might not launch the missiles but they would have a harder time convincing themselves that a President wouldn’t cut a check. That would make other dictators less likely to turn the mercs on their own people.

I like to think that some of our intelligence and/or State department people are out there trying to cut a deal to yank the carpet out from under Gaddafi. However, given their lack of imagination so far, I have to wonder if they’ve even thought about it.

6 thoughts on “Could We Just Buy Off Gaddafi’s Mercenaries?”

  1. Why would Islamic fundamentalists fight Qaddafi? One of the major oppositiom groups is the radical Islamist, anti-Western Sanusi Sufi order, and despite all his talk about Islamic values, Qaddafi isn’t actually very pious.

  2. Lukas,

    The politics of the region is a hodgepodge of conflicting groups and ideologies. Clearly, muslim fundamentalist inside Libya see the “formerly” atheistic/communist Gaddafi as a great evil but for Muslims outside the country, he may appear to be a powerful pro-muslim force because of his longstanding opposition to the West. They might also simply see him as a useful tool against the West much the same way we backed Stalin.

    More likely, however, any such rationalizations are just gloss for their financial motives.

  3. Gaddafi and Islamist fanatics hate each other. Purportedly, they have tried to kill him and his secret police go after Libyans of Islamist sympathies. Gaddafi has always enthusiastically supported terrorists of the 1960’s Marxist revolutionary type around the world, including the IRA, FARC and Subsaharan African guerrillas.

    Gaddafi does have some domestic support from his tribe, just like Saddam did in Tikrit, whether the tribesmen like Gaddafi or not, he is one of theirs and his tribe is likely to suffer retaliation from other Libyan tribes if he is overthrown. He is also importing mercs and also has a large group of foreign castaways from former rebel groups he has supported in the last 40 years who are wanted men in their home countries. They have nowhere to go, most of them are war criminals and are hated by other Libyans and so, have no choice but to stick it out and fight to the bitter end.

  4. Good question. But I bet the USG is seeking ways to degrade Gaddafi’s mercenaries – just look at the economic sanctions being imposed as the most obvious example. Will they work? I don’t know. What are the other options? As your son suggests one option is to pay them off.

    Nevertheless, these efforts, are not as video-friendly as air and sea bombardments so they’re not going to show up front and center in the media. They will also be a lot harder for those of us on the outside to track but that doesn’t mean that various methods along these lines are not being employed.

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