Qaddafi’s Scorched Earth Policy, at Home and Abroad

Muammar Qaddafi is still trying to play the al-Qaeda card, arguing that his murderous regime is what stands between Europe and the emigration to it of thousands of Muslim extremists. He told Turkish television that his regime is a key element of stability in the Eastern Mediterranean, and its fall would bring chaos there, including to Israel.

So, who knew? Qaddafi is the guarantor of Israel’s security and that of Europe? It is a desperate attempt to induce caution with regard the growing move in the West toward some sort of military intervention to prevent Tripoli from massacring the rebels.

Interestingly, Qaddafi’s language seems calculated to appeal to the far right in Europe and Israel, which views all Muslims as potential terrorists. It is an attempt to build a Qaddafi-National Front-Likud-Peter King front against the democracy movement in the Middle East. Qaddafi also sent an envoy Wednesday to the military council that is running Egypt. Since the pro-rebel tribe Awlad Ali dominates Salloum, the Egyptian city on the Libyan border, the rebels presumably are getting some supplies from their Egyptian allies. Qaddafi is probably keen to cut them off. His fear-mongering about al-Qaeda might have some purchase with right wing officers such as Omar Suleiman.

Aljazeera Arabic points out that the rebel forces, far from being “al-Qaeda,” are mostly disgruntled youth from major Libyan tribes such as Zintan. The keywords preferred by statements from such tribes are secular ones— the nation, the people, the army. Muslim fundamentalists speak of the “umma” or the ‘community of believers’ when they talk about the nation, whereas those imbued with civil discourse use terms like the ‘watan’ (originally a translation of the French ‘patrie’ or fatherland), and speak of ‘the people’ (sha’b) rather than ‘the believers.’ It is this civil language that the rebels speak, in all the communiques I’ve seen.

Pro-Qaddafi forces are being accused by residents of Zawiya, an important oil town to the west of Tripoli, of pursuing a scorched earth policy in the city, according to the BBC. Some 50 tanks and 150 armored vehicles are said to be indiscriminately wreaking havoc on the infrastructure.

Aljazeera Arabic is showing scenes, nevertheless, of defiant, chanting crowds in Zawiya during the past two days, at times dispersed by live ammunition directed at them by Qaddafi’s men. It is reporting as of early morning Wednesday that there are still resistance fighters in the central square of the town, which has not been completely subdued by forces from Tripoli. It remains mysterious as to why such heavy armored forces are having such trouble taking the central square; presumably they are facing heavy rocket-propelled grenade fire; the rebels have shown that they can kill tanks that way. An interviewee from Zawiya says by telephone that there are no phone lines and there is no internet in the city, and residents cannot now get out.

CNN’s intrepid Ben Wedeman reports that western towns like Zuara are under rebel control and are helping Zawiya.

He also reports a major pro-Qaddaffi attack Wednesday afternoon on Ras Lanuf.

Aljazeera Arabic is also reporting a major battle mid-day Wednesday at the gates of Ras Lanuf, including artillery duels, between rebels and pro-Qaddafi forces. Rebel forces continue to hold a position 20 km west of the town. On early Wednesday morning sounds of explosions and heavy fighting were audible in Ras Lanuf, continuing on and off subsequently. Presumably Qaddafi forces in the nearby town of Ben Jawad are also defending it from rebel attack. The rebel technique of continuing to advance on Ben Jawad and to threaten Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirt, i.e. of carrying the fight to the enemy, had probably blunted so far the ability of the pro-Qaddafi forces to attack effectively in Ras Lanuf, though it is subject to aerial bombardment. Aljazeera is showing film of a mosque in the city hit by an air raid, another piece of evidence pointing to a desperate, scorched-earth policy on Qaddafi’s part.

3News in New Zealand has an excellent report on the way the rebels in Ras Lanuf and to its west have gotten hold of some tanks and shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles, and are showing not only more firepower but more discipline at the Ben Jawad front.

Aljazeera English interviews a spokesman for the Benghazi-based Libyan national council who insists that Qaddafi must leave the country but raises the possibility that the National Council would not pursue legal measures against him and his sons if he did depart.

Posted in Libya | 25 Responses | Print |

25 Responses

  1. I don´t think it looks good at all at the moment for the rebels, in terms of ousting Qhaddafi anytime soon. Just a gut feeling, I hope I´m wrong… Four thoughts crossing my mind:

    1) If they are mostly left to themselves, is any side likely to ever win the whole country if it takes to the level of a tribal conflict?

    2) Might this problem motivate external powers (governments) to intervene because “they” (oil firms) need a definite partner to talk business to?

    3) If intervention follows via selling weapons not only to Qaddafi (at any rate, can´t change the past, he´s probably bought enough already) but also to his adversaries, we´re still waiting for the first time in history that this strategy won´t backfire – not only at the “friendly” nations who ship the TNT but also at the local population

    3) How do the armies of guest workers from all over the world go together with the army of Libyans apparently left out from big money? Will they coexist, how much did they actually know about each other before the conflict began…

  2. What unfolds in Lybya is this (IMO of course):

    The US will allow Gadaffi to counterattack until the `humanitarian crisis requires` NATO intevention first in the form of No Fly Zones to control the Lybian air space and then having control of …that they will eviscerate his armored division(s).

    Having militarily incapacitated Gadaffi, the Marines under the quise of NATO and the UN resolution land at Benghaszi.

    The Big O, has his own spendid little war and thus proves that he is stong enough to lead Amerika to new heights of glory.
    1) The Zionist/Theocracy is saved
    2) We now control the Suez Canal (?? Up Ur’s Gamal baby ??) and have THE historic locus of control and real choke point for Imperial access to the Indian sub-continent (Pakistan-Afghanistan in particular). Admittedly not as important as bfore air travel was invented.
    3) Egypt is `stabilized` by new US miltary base(s) in east Lybya.
    4) Algeria and Tunisia are eventually `stabilized` by new US marine base(s) in Tripoli (u know, `From The Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli`).
    5) Unrestricted access to North African OIL
    6) Big US OIL Interests are brought in to restart production in ernest
    7) World OIL prices fall back and US consumers are delirious
    8) Big US OIL Interests announce intent to ramp up OIL production by developing the vast untapped reserves of Lybya thus bringing world OIL prices down below where they were by taking out the speculative fever in the commodities markets (??? says Big O `who else has the know how to do this u sa, certainly not the sheiks of arabee, we have no choice if we are to have world stability and thus peace)
    9) He accomplishes what the SHRUB could not by his disastorus invasion of Iraq (neo-cons reallly are ass****s)

    The Big O, having accomplished all this is politically triumphant and shoots up in the pools, crushes the ?R? in 2012 and possibly leads his party to recover its majority in the House and regain a super majority in the Senate.

    • That is crazy. Not to say the US has not been crazy before, witness Iraq. But no, that’s just nuts.

    • Perfect analysis,Big O seems doing exactly what you have described, after all a humanitarian crises must be contained by kind hearted Corporations in order to ease the price od Gas for Common folks.

    • while there doubtlessly are people who nurse the kind of wet dream that you decribe here, let me give a European reply to it:
      a) I doubt Obama is vain, ignorant and greedy enough to act like that – neither do I think he´s eager to spend that much of his time and energy on foreign policy battlegrounds.
      His agenda is mostly domestic – your scenario would put the trust of the American people in his capabilities as a Feldherr to the test – he doesn´t have all the time in the world to complete No. 1 show he´s worth No.2.
      His predecessor neither had nor wanted a (badly needed) domestic agenda and needed his Iraq war do distract from that fact…
      b) With all due respect, I think the days where the US had the capacity to achieve your scenario are gone

      • as to `Mr Bill`;
        perhaps it is too nuts even for the Big O at least all parts of my scenario
        but i assert that the US is stiill crazy after all these years (not just in the SHRUB era)
        consider the unravelling policy for and the lies about what’s really going on in Afghanistan
        this suggests to me i may be closer than u want to allow, as i said – `still crazy after all these years`

        as to `Mr Zubair Ahmed`;
        kind of u to say, the bit about the Suez canal may be way overdrawn however

        as to Mr `Ttitakjang`
        perhaps u are correct, but i don’t think i was saying Mr. O is vain or crazy or whatever

        Our times (much to my distress) are witnessing the re-mergence of uber-Capitalism (aka neo-liberalism) and its necessary attendant Imperialism in the US and in Britain and really the rest of Europe via the agency of the EU, IMF and World Bank (escapees like Iceland nothwithstanding).

        Just as O’s domestic progressiveism does not exclude continuing massive tax cuts and other goodies for the already uber-wealthy because that’s good for growth (never mind that all that growth also goes only to the already uber-wealthy) so too his foreign policy is needfully still rooted in an `American Century` view even though i agree with u that we are most definitely on the declining side of that.

        And what, at the end of the day, is the basis of this decline, OIL (the lack thereof) adequate supplies of which to keep the economy humming and profits big as under the regulated capitalism consensus of the Cold War years.
        This lack began in earnest with paek Aerican Oil in the early 1970’s and is ever worsening. Hence the now all but unstopable steam roller of world wide uber-capitalsim until ?.

        Add to the that the fact that Big O as well as almost all Dem presidents after FDR (and possibly him too if Charles A Beard & Willima A Williams are to be believed) are as much a part of that (albeit a kinder gerntler version with a limosine liberal masque) as the most hard bitten Republican (e.g., McCain).

        Finally add to that the advantitous domestic poltical reality that `saving the Zionist/Theocracy’ is an inescapable political necessity for all elected politicians of every stripe, at least until my generation (born 1948) passes from the scene.
        (My 35 yr old son says he does not know a single acquantance under 40 who is not a christian fundementalist or is Jewish who does not think that the problem is Isreal.)

        So i argue the fundementals of the neo-liberal world outlook are driving Big O or another possible POTUS not mere domestic policy or the lack therof.

        I agree the later might at least seem have been behind the otherwise feckless SHRUB POTUS’s gabbing hold of the possibilities of the 9/11. Howeverm, even there, i would suggest that the seeming fecklessness was because they did not yet control all of Congress (pre-2002 midterms) and they could not yet figure a way to steam roller through all the essentials of their neo-liberal doestic policy. (They did get through the bi-partisan NoChild dung becasue of Sen Kennedy.)

        • I would further add that i do not agree with the premiss that Big O’s domestic policy is not in trouble.

          Everything for him depends on the doestic economy and were world OIL prices to further increase or even stay at the $110/barrel level, the US and other EU economies will `recess` again and even worse because not only will unemployemt rise to much more dramatic and politically disastrous levels, but we will have substantial OIL price driven (cost push) inflation across the board.
          Yesterday i the NYTimes an article suggested about .25% GDP decline for every $10 / barrel rise in OIL price.

          Thus the parmount need for a `spendid little war`.

        • Dr Dave,

          The US may well do as you say but that does not mean it wouldn’t be crazy. I just don’t see the military allowing a ground invasion of another country right now. They just don’t have the capability. As for air strikes, even that takes a lot of logistical positioning as the Libyan air defense would have to be taken out. Lots of problems there with collateral damage, possibly allowing Qaddafi to make anti-American appeals to defend the homeland. A lot more can be done with subtlety such as arms embargoes, asset freezes logistical and intelligence support to the rebels, etc. No need to go to the full crazy. You also have to consider the effect an overt response would have on the confidence of other American client dictators. Not that I care about them but the US foreign policy establishment sure does.

  3. I’m curious as to the difference between “umma” (community of believers) and “sha’b” (the people) . Does sha’b include the umma?

    • My understanding is that “al ummah” means all believers irrespective of social status, nationality or ethnicity and “ash-sha’b” implies the ordinary people, usually in the context of a given nation or tribe – “ash-sha’b al Masr” – the ordinary people of Egypt. I would not take them to be mutually exclusive. Muslims anxious to sound as solemn and zealous as possible will use the former. However the vast majority of Muslims including most “clerics” would see nothing whatsoever irreligious in the use of the word sha’b. I think it is important to note that this is a struggle against tyranny – the one the Arab world has been waiting for for a long time. There is no way of getting away from the fact that jihad means struggle, irrespective of how Muslim and right wing extremists (and a few others) may care to define it.

    • Umma is pan -islamic,people ”Nation State”
      this is a bogey which is not going to cut much ice any further.

    • Sha’b refers to all the people, Muslims Christians athiests etc. within a particular frame of reference i.e. inside Libya. Ummah refers to, as you quoted, the community of believers, no matter where they are

    • Thanks for your thoughts on “umma” vs. “sha’b.” I guess “umma” means believers across social/ethnic/national lines, and “sha’b” means mostly people within country, or one particular frame to reference, although probably not in the sense of Steichen’s “Family of Man.”

  4. Looks like Qadafi’s forces at Zawiya are being careful, trying to avoid incurring losses. Libya’s 1970’s-vintage armoured vehicles are vulnerable to RPG’s, as the Russians learned to their cost using similar tanks in urban fighting at Grozny.

    The Libyans themselves had a bad experience with their armour in the “Toyota War” in northern Chad, although their Chadian enemies used heavier, guided, anti-tank missiles mounted on vehicles.

    If they’re smart, they’re probably also trying to avoid an all-out pitched battle for the city. Instead, it seems that they want to gradually disrupt and disperse the rebel forces, exploiting their lack of formal organization and communication systems. Intimidation and persistence, not wanton destruction, would be their best tactics.

    The 3News site also mentioned that talks of some sort might be underway in Zawiya.

    Much more useful than a “no-fly zone” would be the provision of shoulder-launched anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to the rebels. Such weapons need not be state-of-the-art, since Qadafi’s armoured and air forces are all obsolescent anyhow. Since older types of RPG’s and light SAM’s pose no great danger to modern Western tanks and aircraft, there is little risk of harm, even if the donated weapons later fell into the wrong hands. A few hundred million dollars’ worth of shoulder-launched rockets could tip the balance in the war.

  5. I agree with Roland. It’s a violation of international law to unilaterally install a no-fly zone, but we damn well can recognize the rickety coalition in Bengazi as a “government” and loan it all the Stingers and TOWs it needs to win and stabilize oil prices. We also have a perfect right to offer any Libyan pilot who defects $1,000,000 for his MIG. And if a few of our ECW planes fly over Tripoli with their gear on full-blast and fry some communications centers, we can always say it was an accident.

    As for the fashionable cynicism that this is all a plot to “control” Egypt, I think we all can see that the problem in North Africa is that everyone is pretty much on his own. The Egyptians don’t give a damn about Libya, so a US military base there will not give us control over the Suez Canal. In fact, in 1956 we had a major military base in Libya, but it didn’t give us any control over Britain and France trying to conquer the canal; we forced them to withdraw by threatening to cut off their Marshall Plan money.

    • “threatening to cut off their Marshall Plan money.”

      1. Britain received about $3.3bn from the Marshall Plan. But over the next 50 years Britain repaid its Lend Lease debts to the US and Canada. The total amounts repaid were US $7.5bn, and Canada $2bn.

      2. The disbursement of funds from the Marshall ended in 1952.

  6. It is not that difficult to translate Qaddafi’s language into plain English. He is not like Milosevic, his defense will not be in the court room, but on the battle field. Removal of Qaddafi is certainly possible, but consequences of calling him murderous and further removal are going to be much more serious.

    When Qaddafi says he is not afraid to die, he means it. We may dislike this message, but this is the way it is. When it will turn out that occupation of Libya needs tens of thousands of troops and this will not stop the guerrilla war anyway, this will be not a surprise.

  7. My understanding is that Libya has been cooperating with Berlusconi in accepting African refugees bound for Europe and intercepted by Italian authorities in the Mediterranean while the refugees attempt to enter Sicily and other points. He has been accepting them regardless of their origin which makes it much easier for Italy to stem the flow of immigrants. I think he is alluding to this assistance in his speech.

    • Do you BELIEVE that? Qaddafi has a pretty uninhibited way to tell the truth or not. Whatever makes the puppet at the end of the strings dance!
      He probably gets up in the morning greeted by his computer asking him “who do you want to intimidate this morning?” When he types “USA” the computer spits out “Al Qaeda” and high oil prices”, when he enters “Israel”, the computer will reply “Instability” and when he types “Europe”, he´ll get “illegal immigrants”. He´ll then play exactly that card and have breakfast while his victims go “waaaah”.
      He might have promised Berlusconi that he´ll take the refugees. He actually might have taken some. But don´t forget he was the reason why Libyans wanted to leave North Africa in the frist place.

      • titakjang,

        I do believe that he has worked a deal with the Italian government to take back African refugees not just Libyan refugees. It’s widely reported ( here is one. There many – link to and not difficult to imagine. I forget what he gets in return. I do not approve of this, I was just explaining what some of his references in his speech were about. Of course he will say or promise anything to save his ass. It’s just that in regard to accepting intercepted refugees there is some truth to it. He is appealing to European anxiety about uncontrolled immigration. That will resonate with some.

  8. I wouldn’t expect a no-fly zone to happen. It would have to be a unilateral decision, we would never get the request through the security council, so the UN won’t approve it. I can imagine supplying weapons -and perhaps a few “advisors” to the rebels. Hard for me to imagine US politicians giving out stinger-type antiaircraft missiles however, the political uproar that would happen if a terorist ever got one and took out an airliner it too great.

    My bigger worry. Can the rebels keep water and electricity working. I suspect Tripoly probably can keep public utilities functioning, but with the sudden loss of foreign expertise, and bombing, can the rebels?

  9. There are many ways the US and other countries can intervene without sending in the bombers and marines. There was a very good analysis of this on Counterpunch – link to

    The article explains that being truly neutral in another country’s civil war is difficult if not impossible if only because doing nothing favors the side with the immediate advantage. The trick for the US is to provide weaponry and intelligence and such that is helpful to getting rid of Qaddafi quickly so that oil contracts can be negotiated with the resultant government before chaos ensues but not so overtly as to scare all our other client dictators. Got to try to keep that empire from fraying completely you know.

  10. The existing UN-SC resolutions have painted Muammar Qaddafi into a corner, at 68 he’s got nothing to lose, so he’ll just set about crushing the “rebels”.

    His air force doesn’t really matter. No fly zones didn’t stop Mladich shelling Sarejevo, setting up rape camps, marching into Srebrenica to murder 8,000. Nor did they stop Hussein persecuting the Shia in Southern Iraq. Likewise they won’t stop Qaddafi eventually marching into Ben Ghazi.

    The NFZ over northern Iraq did help protect the Kurds, but the Kurds had a viable fighting force (the Pashmurga) that could be clandestinely armed, trained and otherwise supported; not unlike the KLA in Kosovo. I’ve not seen any evidence that the Eastern Libyans are anywhere near as well organised.

    I’ve seen reports that the KLA have sent people to fight for Qaddafi, presumably in gratitude for the help he gave them in their struggle for independence. Ireland buys most of its oil from Libya, presumably in gratitude for Libya’s supply of weapons and explosives to the IRA. He’s pretty good at calling in his debts.

    I’m more inclined to agree with Ttitakjang’s real-politik, than with Dr. David C. Mace’s fantasy.

    If Qaddifi succeeds in crushing the rebellion, then Presidents, Bouteflika, Assad, Saleh etc; and Kings Mohammed VI, Abdullah II, Hamad Al Khalifa etc will be privately jumping for joy. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out some time in the future, that they did all they could to break the UN sanctions against Qaddafi.

  11. I second ‘Henry James’ comment above. So, Qaddafi isn’t a sweetheart — jeepers, who woulda thought? He’s not going to blink; he’s not quaking over a miscellaneous, perhaps U.S.-funded flock of rebels–no matter how well-armed.
    Professor, don’t you remember your incisive and prophetic warning of about 6 months that the U.S. shouldn’t tip its hand and intervene in the Middle East turmoils; that Arabs and Muslims must be free to choose their own path to their future?
    Are we all engaging in some kind of giddy vicarious kick about spreading the supposedly unalloyed joys of U.S.-style democracy (including pollsters, PACS, lobbyists, hanging-chads) to the farthest reaches of the galaxy?
    I can understand neocons and neolibs like Friedman, Kristof, Brooks etc. spouting this stuff, but shake my head when erstwhile sober analysts get antsy for no-fly-zones and ‘humanitarian’ intervention.

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