Saturday, March 19, 2011

Appointment In Samarra

Shaking The Tree

Libyan Air Force Jet, Attacking The Rebels, Is Shot Down --
Possibly By French Fighters (Patrick Baz, Agence France-Press)

On Thursday evening, the UN Security Council voted to impose an immediate cease-fire in Libya between the well-supplied and overwhelming forces commanded by Mommar Quaddafi, and the nascent pro-democracy rebellion that had sprung into being less than three weeks ago -- this, as that rebellion looks as if it's about to be crushed, harshly, by elite Libyian army troops and paid mercenaries from central Africa.

Quadaffi went on Libyan state teevee to announce his government and forces would immediately comply with the UN cease-fire -- but apparently, they didn't (no surprise there), and the New York Times reported heavy bombardment and fighting in Benghazi.

President Obama publicly declared yesterday that Quadaffi was being given a "final warning" to adhere to the UN resolution's terms, which were "non-negotiable". Quadaffi sent Obama a rambling, disconnected letter which was read by one of The Duck's spokespersons:
You will regret it if you take a step toward intervening in our internal affairs... I have said to you before that even if Libya and the United States enter into war, God forbid, you will always remain my son, and I have all the love for you as a son... We are confronting Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, nothing more.
Our response, and that of other 'partners' in this enterprise earlier today, was to launch approximately 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a variety of Libyian air defense and other military targets. French aircraft apparently attacked at least one Libyan army tank near Benghazi.

(Map: New York Times Online, March 19th)

And, as they say, that was just the overture. I'm only a Dog, Jim; not an intelligence analyst, and have no idea what the actual symphony will sound like. Or how long it will last. Or what the price of the ticket will be.

Initially, I was all in favor of our unilaterally bombing the hell out of The Duck; fortunately, that only lasted for a few hours. I've seen a B-52 strike, and what's left after; and (as The Great Curmudgeon says) don't believe Our Freedom Bombs Only Fall On The Bad Guys. They don't.

We can assume that Quaddafi will be forced from power, and that it will either end quickly, or not. Quadaffi isn't emotionally stable -- based on his 'costumes of state' (Mommar is the Lady Gaga of north African leaders), and reports -- recently backed up by Wikileaks -- that his minor-emperor lifestyle centers around narcissistic comforts and physical pleasure, rather than governing or trying to build a more modern country for his people subjects.

The assessment of most other governments of The Duck are the same: Crazier than a balloon full of rats; hard to say what he'll do. Libya was (until a month ago) a "stable and reliable partner" of the West -- that is, he sold us oil, which gave American and EU diplomats an excuse to look away when The Duck appeared in public wearing clown suits, while his nation suffered food shortages and high unemployment.

Intervention in Libya isn't a wildly popular idea in Europe, or among the advisers surrounding our President. The U.S. is tired of Endless War™; Europe is sick of being asked to support unilateral American anything. The French and British may be the only parties in the "broad coalition" to provide the military assets that make this Resolution more than a mouthful of words.

Europe and the U.S. also can't afford to put their snouts into the rat-hole of a civil war if it means a trap snaps closed on the other side -- making it messy, politically and monetarily expensive, to back out. The economies of the U.S. and Europe have been crippled by the greed of their own financial structures, with effects greater than anything Al-Qaeda has dreamt of inflicting.

At the same time, the UN and Western departments of state remember that they stood by and did nothing about genocide in Rawanda, and in Darfur, until it was too late for millions of victims. Then, Lil' Boots and President Cheney unleashed the Project For a New American Century plan, projecting U.S. power anywhere, which left a mess for the rest of the world to clean up, and generations of scarred children who will flinch at the mention of the word, "America".

After popular rebellion in Egypt, the Middle East is even more fractured along sectarian and tribal faultlines: The Saudis and the Emirates are frightened, so are the Israelis; the Palestinians are hopeful, the Iranians and their proxy forces are eager to advance their chances.

Perhaps Obama and others thought we have to be seen to popular rebellions in the region as a protector, the repository of democracy and the rule of law (unless you're Bradley Manning, or a Wall Street Master Of The Universe); maybe it is ultimately all about the oil.

And, it's the Great Game Of Power. The larger players at the table are always maneuvering for advantage; smaller players are, too -- or, just to keep their seats. For the U.S., it's about maintaining America's preeminence to influence others and affect events in the world -- the Empire we've had since the end of WW2, but which appears to be slowly winding down.

I keep thinking about a story, used in a play in the 1930's by W. Somerset Maugham, turned into a novel by American author John O'Hara, Appointment In Samarra.

A man bumps into Death, in the form of a woman, at a market in Baghdad. Death gestures at him; he runs home, tells his manservant what happened, packs a bag and leaves to hide in the town of Samarra -- the last place Death would think to look for him.

The manservant goes back to the market, and finds Death. He asks why he had threatened his master. "I did not threaten him," Death replied. "I was only surprised to see him -- because he has an appointment with me, tonight, in Samarra."

If we're trying to reestablish America's image as using our might for good works, rather than (for example) the craven desire of a Lil' Boots Bush to have a larger penis, and avoid the mistakes of not intervening in Rawanda or Darfur... well, I hope we understand the law of unintended consequences, and that No Good deed Goes Unpunished.

Haven't the events of the past week been enough evidence that The Great Game is nothing more than that? What more will it take to change our perspective; a sizable asteroid? A pandemic?

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