The website for the US Embassy in Tripoli provides information to Americans about two options for getting out of the country: government and commercial. The latter includes 18 flights bound mostly for destinations in North Africa and Europe, provided by carriers based in Tunisia, Egypt, Germany, Morocco, Jordan, and Libya.
The former, so-called government evacuation options, include a Romanian government-sponsored flight that leaves Tripoli today. Also today, a Greek cargo vessel is expected at As Sidrah, an Algerian ferry at Benghazi, a Russian ferry at Ras Lanuf, and two Turkish ferries at Ras Lanuf and Misurata. US citizens will have limited access to some or all of these ships.
A grim if obvious reminder that we don’t have unlimited resources and that regional relationships are critical.
In our most recent post, we argued that the Europeans have the capability to intervene (aircraft carriers, support vessels, aircraft, etc.). Why, we asked, does it have to be an American aircraft carrier that gets the job done? We neglected to mention the fact that an actual aircraft carrier may not even be necessary, as there are three large floating aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean:
- Malta: Pilots defecting from Libya landed their jets here; also serves as a rallying point for fleeing Americans.
- Sicily: ENI’s Greenstream natural gas pipeline runs from Libya to Sicily.
- Crete: Already being used as a rendezvous point for evacuation ships; in terms of aircraft, it could cover part of eastern Libya, but much of that territory already belongs to the rebels anyway.
The first two could definitely be used as bases for land-based aircraft.
In terms of the Westerners still stuck in Libya, reportedly some 5,000-6,000 Europeans remain. Without a significant ground component in addition to the aerial units enforcing the putative no-fly zone, the intervening power would be setting up the mother of all hostage situations. Assorted tribes, Libyan military, and mercenaries could all respond by seizing these hapless foreigners as bargaining chips, human shields, and so forth.
As always, if you do anything, do it right.
The Cavour, Italy's answer to the Enterprise
Writing in the Washington Times, Admiral James Lyons (USN, ret.) calls for regime change in Libya, the removal of Muammar Qaddafi, and the deployment of US forces to accomplish this task:
As a first order of business, we should reposition an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean. The USS Enterprise and the USS Kearsarge, both in the Red Sea, and perhaps the USS Ponce as well, should be turned around to re-transit the Suez Canal and take a position off the coast of Libya.
J.E. Dyer at Contentions suggested that the absence of a US aircraft carrier int he Mediterranean was a problem. The suggestion of a no fly zone (see here and here) is necessarily a call for the deployment of a carrer. Meanwhile, Daniel Larison at the American Conservative argues against intervention and suggests it may be politically impossible.
One key question, however, is why does it have to be an American aircraft carrier?
Death on a Pale Horse (Gustave Dore, 1865)
The collapse of the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes has left many observers wondering which domino is the next to fall. Whether the revolution itself should have been foreseen is a matter for extended analysis, but one thing should have been clear long ago: Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak would not outlive the 2010s.
I mean that literally. Ben Ali was born in 1936 and Mubarak in 1928. By 2020, they would have been 84 and 92 years old, respectively. Even Leonid Brezhnev didn’t make it to 76. Fidel Castro, who is two years older than Mubarak, caved in to biological demands and handed the presidency over to his younger brother three years ago. Egypt and Tunisia should have been on the watch list for geriatric reasons alone.
As Allied troops battled their way through the hedgerows in Normandy and a small band of German officers plotted to kill Adolf Hitler, delegates from across the globe descended on the resort-town of Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. There, in the summer of 1944, they laid the foundations of an international system that would operate with only minor modification into the next century.
Seated for an interview in his office overlooking Farragut Square, I asked Gen. Scowcroft for his thoughts on the sort of system we need for the future.
General Brent Scowcroft
Time Magazine’s Joe Klein called him Yoda. Having served in high-level national security-related advisory positions in every single Republican administration since Richard Nixon, General Brent Scowcroft anthropomorphically embodies the concept of “national defense” like no other. Today he joins Bellum for a lengthy interview covering a variety of topics, including:
- American exceptionalism
- whether we are like the British Empire
- preparing for future wars
- the difference between national problems (e.g., education) and national security threats
- and the future of the international system.
NOTE: The full transcript can be downloaded here: Transcript of Bellum Interview with Brent Scowcroft.
A sampling is available below:
You are a hero to many people in the national security community.
I doubt that.
Following the allied defeat Sidi Bouzid, the Axis triumphed again at Kasserine Pass in March 1943. (ibilio.org)
On February 14, 1943, the German army in North Africa launched a daring counterattack against the Allied forces that had landed in Tunisia the previous November during Operation Torch. Rick Atkinson wrote of it in his book, An Army At Dawn:
Enemy bullets and tank shells sheeted across the desert. Soldiers scooped shallow foxholes with their helmets or clawed at the ground until their fingers bled. ‘All around me comrades were being machine-gunned from tanks,’ one soldier recalled…(p. 341)
Of fifty-two Shermans in action, six survived the afternoon. At 1:45 P.M. half a dozen Tigers bulled through the rubble on Sidi bou Zid’s northern outskirt. (p. 343)
Ernie Pyle summarized it well in a column just weeks later:
Unfortunately, we didn’t kick hell out of them. In fact, the boot was on the other foot.
Fast forward to present-day Tunisia. On December 17, 2010, a Tunisian man named Mohamed Bouazizi, a native of the town of Sidi bou Zid, doused himself in gasoline and lit himself on fire. This set in a motion a chain of events culminating in the hasty departure of President Ben Ali less than a month later. Dr. Larbi Sadiki at the University of Exeter opined: “n 1943 Sidi Bouzid was the theatre of another battle: a battle for freedom by the Allied forces against the Nazis. Today it is the theatre of another battle. A battle for freedom from hunger.”
The Battle of Lutzen, 1632 (Carl Wahlbom, 1855)
Everyone loves analogies. Saddam is Hitler; Afghanistan is Vietnam; 9/11 is Pearl Harbor; negotiating with Iran is Munich all over again. Well, now we have another one for you: the Mexican Drug War is the Thirty Years’ War.
Admittedly, it’s a bit arcane, but the analogy illustrates a key feature of the conflict that the comparison to, say, Colombia does not. Whereas illicit drugs served as the means for political factions in Colombia to arm and pay themselves in a perpetual internal war, in Mexico the money appears to be an end in and of itself.
Bellum senior editors Tristan Abbey and Scott Palter have a thought piece over at Small Wars Journal today:
Amid all the analysis and projections–about the Muslim Brotherhood, the potential domino effect throughout the Muslim world, prospects for Israel and the United States, and so forth–recent events should also provide a warning to European defense planners.
The lessons? Europe needs an expanded coast guard to deal with refugees, a ready brigade to evacuate foreign nationals, and potentially a follow-up corps to prop up friendly regimes on the brink of collapse.
Writer of tragedies
Digging around through the archives and came across this delightful quotation from Robert Gates, delivered to the Intelligence and National Security Alliance in May 2010:
When I was deputy DCI [Director of Central Intelligence] in the 1980s, I was briefed on a plan to launch balloons into Libya dropping leaflets telling the people to overthrow the government. I told them to make sure the leaflets specifically said that it was Qaddafi who should be overthrown. I could imagine strong westerly winds carrying balloons with a generic “overthrow your government” right across Libya and into Egypt. I thought President Mubarak would not be pleased.
Which calls to mind another quotation from the ancient Greek playwright, Euripides: “nothing is secure, nothing keeps.”