Gaddafi’s Only Mistake – Two Words

While Gaddafi was taken aback by the scale of the initial uprising and it seemed that he was on the ropes, his forces managed to rally and with armor, artillery and air power was just about to enter Benghazi, the headquarters of the opposition in the East of Libya, when NATO air power smashed his tanks and turned the tide of the (civil) war.

While no one knows the final outcome it appears that with NATO air power ruling the skies and the fact that his tanks are easy targets from the air on the mostly flat and sparsely populated Libyan coastline, the tides of war can only appear to go against Gaddafi. He can’t sortie out from his strongholds of Sirte and Tripoli but the rebels are free to move up the coast, take the oil rich areas, and start to plan some sort of siege against the remaining areas in Gaddafi’s hands.

The reason for the huge groundswell against Gaddafi that allowed the West to pass a security council resolution allowing for armed intervention are two words that Gaddafi said in a speech as his forces appeared ascendant and heading towards Benghazi:

No mercy

By effectively telegraphing IN ADVANCE that he INTENDED to commit atrocities against civilians in Benghazi, Gaddafi gave the coalition the perfect “smoking gun” that enabled them to rally the Arab and the Western world against him.

If he wouldn’t have given this “gift” to the opposition it seems clear that he would have utilized his air power and heavy weaponry to crush the rebels and reassert control over Libyan oil. With that and the passage of time (Gaddafi had huge foreign reserves) it is likely that someone like the Chinese or Russians (who abstained from the Security Council resolution) would have become partners with him in order to leverage his oil and it would have been some sort of “business as usual” for Gaddafi, although he would have a hard time shopping at the finest stores in London and Paris.

I never thought my knowledge of Libya, gained from playing years of WW2 military simulations related to the 8th Army and the Afrika Korps, would ever amount to anything useful or relevant in today’s terms, but in fact the situation Gaddafi faces is similar to Rommel’s last attempts at advancing on the British before the tide turned when he faced overwhelming air power.

Anyone who has to fight, even with the most modern weapons, against an enemy in complete control of the air, fights like a savage

Gaddafi is finding that out fast and his forces are likely to disintegrate much faster than the Germans in WW2 in the same situation since their morale and cohesion is far lower.

But for those 2 words, it is highly likely that Gaddafi would have won.

10 thoughts on “Gaddafi’s Only Mistake – Two Words”

  1. Rommel and the Germans faced determined enemies. I wonder if Obama has the moral fiber to carry this through. The British, in WWII, used to send people back from the front for what they called LMF, Lack of Moral Fibre.

  2. But for those 2 words, it is highly likely that Gaddafi would have won.

    I’d mostly agree with you, but I think there’s one more factor at play.

    If someone like Nelson Mandela or Margaret Thatcher or Micheline Anne-Marie Calmy-Rey said such a thing, we’d probably not immediately run to the bombsights. We’d likely give each other some shocked looks, but then, while watching the situation closely, we’d probably not jump in with guns blazing. After all, we’d reason, rational people don’t set their armies against their own people with a publicly-announced order to kill them all, so something else must be going on.

    If those two words were used by Hugo Chavez or Bobby Mugabe or Idi Amin, however, we’d be much more likely to give them the Full Gaddafi Treatment as an initial response.

    So, I’m thinking that those two words by themselves aren’t enough to trigger our fight response. We need the additional factor that those words were spoken by a borderline-insane incoherent loonytunes to get us going.

  3. I don’t think of Gaddafi as insane. Those two words “no mercy” were relevant because he seemed committed to carrying out atrocities in order to ensure his grip on power and he has a past history of doing so when cornered. He said he was going to do it, and he seemed to have every intention of doing it.

    Agreed that Rommel faced a determined adversary and so does Gaddafi and it isn’t the Western powers… it is his own people. They know it is a “kill-or-be-killed” country in Libya and that he will stop at nothing if it means hiring mercenaries or bombing his own people or using snipers or otherwise killing indiscriminately. And the opposition knows that this ends when Gaddafi and his family are dead or have fled the country.

    The Western powers will lob in bombs and air raids at little risk to themselves it is the forces on the ground that will decide this.

  4. I agree that Khaddafi’s survival depends on the resolve shown by the French, Italians, and Obama. However, I think that there are other factors that drove the Coalition of the Unwilling to this point. The certainty of atrocities by the local government against civilians does not drive Western governments, or the UN, to take any serious actions against the perpetrators.

    In Africa, be it Idi Amin, or any of the many genocidal government attacks against civilian groups; the West has ignored them, with the exception that occasionally the UN will use them as opportunities for graft and/or the establishment of child brothels. The use of military force by Iran against its populace is swept under the rug. The Syrian military attacking civilians is a tabu subject; be it Assad Sr.’s leveling of the city of Hama, or Junior’s use of the military against demonstrators today [this morning I saw Secretary Clinton has declared that we will not get involved in Syria, because Assad is viewed as a “reformer”]. Military attacks on the Coptic Christians in Egypt are officially non-events.

    The motivations may vary from country to country in the CotU; but they are neither humanitarian, nor concern for human rights.

    I more than suspect that the US involvement is driven by a combination of desires by the Obama regime; deliberate weakening of the US strategic position, a deliberate setting of further precedents for the weakening of the rule of law and the Constitution domestically, and support for the specific forces commanding the “rebels”. A line was crossed in defining motivations when it was admitted that the commander of the “rebels” had personally fought against the US in Afghanistan and had organized recruitment of Libyans to fight Americans in Iraq. Further revelations that parts of the “rebel” forces are Al Quada places this action beyond the Pale. Secretary of Defense Gates has stated that in fact there are no vital US interests at stake in Libya. But not only are we there, but the “days not weeks” has been expanded to “months”.

    Obama is going to work the teleprompter tomorrow and blow smoke wherever it will penetrate. One can be sure that the media will carefully NOT ask anything that would contradict his statements; lest they be locked into a closet.

    The Europeans have other motivations. There are, of course, the matters of the dependency of Europe on Libyan oil and natural gas. With the EU economy on the ropes and Portugal, Spain, and Italy teetering on the edge; the loss of energy may be the last straw. Further, there were the recent revelations that much of the EU’s political and business class has been on Khaddafi’s payroll for decades. A change in rule may prevent any number of embarrassing revelations.

    But there was another bit of information that may have had a bearing on the Europeans’ reaction. In August, Khaddafi visited Italy and attempted to extort € 5 billion a year from the EU, threatening to unleash a wave of African Muslim immigrants on the EU if he was not paid off. Demographics is destiny, and already native Europeans are pretty much doomed to become a minority soon. Much of EU policy is based on looting the economy for the time remaining. Having that period shortened is not in the Eurocrats interest.

    We are watching this through a very carefully drawn veil. I have a feeling that this will not end well.

    Subotai Bahadur

  5. I agree that the Europeans are running the show and their motivation is oil. What is happening in Syria, however, may intervene. I read that we now have two aircraft carriers near the Strait of Hormuz. I wondered why there was none in the Med near Libya; that now appears to be answered. It seems that Bahrain and Qatar are more important than Libya. Not to mention the Saudis.

  6. In general I don’t see everything through the lens of a giant paranoid filter.

    The reason that the US and other parties don’t intervene in Africa is that it is very difficult to do so; Libya is well positioned near forward air bases and the terrain is favorable for aerial warfare.

    It is easy to say that because we intervened one time here and didn’t intervene elsewhere that it is part of a great conspiracy; but there are logical reasons why you intervene in one place and not another.

    For instance:
    – is it in easy reach of advanced air power?
    – are well documented mass atrocities being committed vs. civilians?
    – are there forces on the ground opposing the leadership and are their hands (relatively) clean?
    – do other nations in region (i.e. the Arab League) also agree that intervention should occur?
    – does the UN agree that intervention should occur?

    Also the tide of history seems to be shifting (for now) against brutal dictators in the middle east. If not for the fall of Tunisia and Egypt the events in Libya would be impossible to dream of.

    In the past immediate documentation of atrocities and the like from forces on the ground wasn’t always available; thank Al Jazeera and Facebook and video cameras and the internet for that, now.

    Also as a stone Republican it makes me a bit ill for the Republicans to go after Obama on this when we embroiled the US in long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We can all tit-tit the differences but strategically the interests aren’t that far apart.

  7. I would like to see Gaddafi’s head on a stick as a maddened crowd of Libyan rebels dances in his blood as his torso is torn to shreds.

    That said, the rebels do not yet have the stick for house to house fighting in urban warfare that the Gaddist thugs do, which is what will have to happen to pry towns and certaily Tripoli from Gaddafi’s grasp. The rebels need some training and some unit discipline of the kind an NCO corps enforces. A lot of armies move only because soldiers fear their first sergeants a whole lot more than the enemy.

    Unless we intend to Dresden Tripoli, but that kind of goes against having the NFZ in the first place.

  8. My end game is kind of different. I think that Gaddafi’s own guys will kill him and then they will “join” with the rebels and try to form some kind of “national unity government”. Those guys are opportunistic and won’t go to the bitter end. They will control the terrain on the ground in the west and then would be able to negotiate from a position of reasonable strength.

    God only knows what will happen after that, then.

  9. Carl, the problem with that idea is that a large number of Gaddafi’s troops are not from Libya. He has thousands of mercs from parts farther south. Most are part of groups he has been employing for many years so their reliability is as good as any in Africa but they have no loyalty to Libya.

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