The Rebels’ Last Stand

Matt Gurney is a columnist and editor at Canada’s National Post. Follow him on Twitter: @mattgurney


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The Libyan rebels do not have the time needed to craft a properly trained military. If they are to have any chance, they will need to compensate for a lack of training and experience with firepower. Such a strategy has many risks, and will exact a high cost in blood. But against trained troops and professional mercenaries, with no time to prepare a proper army, what else can be done other than to hope that firepower rules the day?

In truth, they will likely require more than that. Libya’s air force is outdated and not particularly large, especially by the standards of the region. But the rebels, who have no aircraft and virtually no anti-aircraft weapons, are hopelessly outclassed by Libya’s otherwise unimpressive air arsenal. Ever since the first reports emerged of Gaddafi using his aircraft against helpless citizens emerged, there have been calls for the West to impose a no-fly zone on Libya. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, while not ruling the plan out, was clear from the outset that imposing a no-fly zone would require military strikes against Libya’s defenses first. In other words, it would commit the United States and its allies to one side of a Libyan civil war.

Some of America’s European allies, notably France, are hawkishly calling for a zone to be established, fully aware that such a step would be to take a side in a civil war. France has also recognized the Libyan rebels as the official government of “Free Libya,” as have the Portuguese. Canada is considering such a step. But no country other than the United States is capable of imposing a no-fly zone on Libya unilaterally, meaning some international body would need to provide legitimacy. The dysfunctional UN, with Russia and China holding veto power, is unlikely to authorize military action against Libya. The G8 has deferred to the UN, as has NATO. Put bluntly, no one cares enough about Libya to get involved. America has shown little interest, leading to speculation that it prefers the stability of a hostile ruler to the uncertainty of taking sides in a civil war.

In short, the Libyan rebels, however brave, are likely on their own. It is nearly impossible to predict in advance how a civil war will unfold, particularly one taking place in a society with the tribal complexities that Libya must contend with. But militarily, Gaddafi holds the advantages. Unless his fortunes change dramatically at home or the Western world chooses to intervene abroad, Libya’s rebellion might soon come to a tragic end.

Matt Gurney is an editor at the National Post, a Canadian national newspaper, and writes and speaks on military and geopolitical issues. He can be reached at matt@mattgurney.ca. Follow him on Twitter: @mattgurney.

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  • NobBullshit

    "it was unlikely to be have been pleasant, or within the Western laws of war" You mean like the way the west treats prisoners in Guantanamo Bay or Abughuraib? I hope they treat them better than your so called western laws of war=self righteous style cowardly vengeance.

    • Chezwick_Mac

      Guantanamo is a frigg'n luxury hotel compared to most third-world prisons. You've been imbibing too much left-wing drivel.

      Meanwhile, how does America's treatment of its battlefield prisoners at Guantanamo compare to Muhammad's treatment of the Banu Qurayzah tribe, which surrendered to him en mass after the Battle of the Trench? America issued its prisoners Qurans, halal meals and laptop computers; Muhammad gave his prisoners the sword.

      The verdict of history is clear: America is much more humane to its war prisoners than the Prophet of Islam was.

    • intrcptr2

      The entire criticism of Gitmo is that what was going on was outside of international law, you nob. That is why the current President practically threw temper tantrums, along with virtually everyone with an axe to grind, about closing it. Pity he didn't when it was his call. That might tell you it likely isn't nearly as bad as the media has made it out to be.
      Then there are also the courts martial against US military personnel who have transgressed military and international law. The West continues to prosecute its own.

      Somalia, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt have all witnessed mobs desecrating corpses and prisoners being summarily executed. Please to show me the last time the US did any of that.

      i suppose the Iraqis having free and open elections is your idea of "self-righteous style cowardly vengeance" [sic].

      • tagalog

        Why should the United States kow-tow to international standards of treatment of enemy aliens, when those standards are held only to apply to the United States? Besides, our government, through several Presidents of both parties, has rejected the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court since its founding.

        It would be one thing if the Guantanamo prison was a bad place, but it's one of the most humane prisons on the face of the planet, and has been since it was founded. Don't get Abu Ghraib mixed up with Gitmo.

    • Shel Zahav

      This is the Arab's way: to blame others while he commits crimes against humanity — or at least against other Arabs. Nearly every Arab leader came to power by murdering his predecessor or by inheriting from his father who did. In fact, of the first four successors to Mohammed, two murdered their predecessors. And this is the "wonderful" caliphate that al-Qaeda wants to resurrect. Oh, puleez. This is the Arab and the killing will go on and on.

  • http://www.fx-exchange.com/ Bowmanave

    The rebels should have adopted hit-and-run gurella tactics but I guess they are fools. You know when you are faced with a well trained, well oiled machine like that of Gadaffi's you do not face it ahead thinking you are somehow invincible. You need to calculate and recalculate the power balance and act accordingly. Libyans have become too stupid over the years. Who forgets the superb tactician of Libya, the world wide respected Omar Mukhtar? I think the people have become foolish. Let them suffer their foolishness then.

  • highcottonquinn

    Let the Eurabians implement the "No Fly Zone" and they can pay for it, too. Of course, they'd like the USA to do the heavy lifting and for the U.S. taxpayer to foot the bill. This is a civil war and Libya didn't attack the U.S. so we need to stay out of it. The Europeans get their oil from Libya, not the USA, so let them wage war for oil. The corrupt, islamified and feckless UN saw fit to put Libya on the UNHRC and now everyone wants to cry about Quaddafi violating human rights? Qaddafi is doing what most despots in that region have been doing for years and the UN continued to give them a position and platform to lecture the west and condemn Israel and the west continued to fund and arm the brutal dictators. The west continues to pressure Israel into feeding more of herself to the Muslim hordes all for the purpose of appeasing the Arabs, and in exchange for cheaper oil. Whores all. The only nation I feel sorry for at this point is Israel.

  • highcottonquinn

    Muzzies killing muzzies? How is this a bad thing? I say more civil war in the ME, not less, is best for the west. Let the savages cut each others heads off and revel in their Islamofascist, nazi overtoned idiotology.

  • suprkufrB

    I seldom worry about one faction of moslems butchering another, but this is beyond the pale. The free world egged the rebels on, and has now turned its back on them. If we don't stifle Gadaffi's air force within the next few days, there will be unimaginable genocide. This maniac will mercilessly hunt down, torture and kill every last opponent, even if it takes him twenty years. He's shown again and again that he'll assassinate his enemies even in other countries.

    • highcottonquinn

      Sure Qaddafi is scum but those loon toons over there will just replace him with another murderous, savaging thug anyway. Genocide via secular military dictatorships or genocide via religious dictatorships…they wouldn't have it any other way. The only thing that unites those losers in that region is their hatred for Jews.

    • Chezwick_Mac

      There is a factor here you're not taking into account. Qaddafi is NOT our man. Should we intervene even with just a no-fly-zone and tip the balance to the opposition, we will take ownership for whatever regime replaces him. If there is further carnage or a humanitarian catastrophe after he's gone, the pressure to intervene directly will be irresistible due to our having previously decided the outcome. The end result is America spending its blood and treasure trying to civilize yet another Muslim hell-hole.

      Let events run their course. It would be different if the opposition were spear-headed by an avowed secular democratic organization, but the truth is, we don't know WHO they are or WHAT they believ

    • Chezwick_Mac

      There is a factor here you're not taking into account. Qaddafi is NOT our man. Should we intervene even with just a no-fly-zone and tip the balance to the opposition, we will take ownership for whatever regime replaces him. If there is further carnage or a humanitarian catastrophe after he's gone, the pressure to intervene directly will be irresistible due to our having previously decided the outcome. The end result is America spending its blood and treasure trying to civilize yet another Muslim hell-hole.

      Let events run their course. It would be different if the opposition were spear-headed by an avowed secular democratic organization, but the truth is, we don't know WHO they are or WHAT they believe in. Sometimes, discretion is the better part of valor.

    • Chezwick_Mac

      There is a factor here you're not taking into account. Qaddafi is NOT our man. Should we intervene even with just a no-fly-zone and tip the balance to the opposition, we will take ownership for whatever regime replaces him. If there is further carnage or a humanitarian catastrophe after he's gone, the pressure to intervene directly will be irresistible due to our having previously decided the outcome. The end result is America spending its blood and treasure trying to civilize yet another Muslim hell-hole.

      Let events run their course. It would be different if the opposition were spear-headed by an avowed secular, democratic organization, but the truth is, we don't know WHO they are or WHAT they believe in. Sometimes, discretion is the better part of valor.

  • Murtadino

    Let it be, war is deceit accd to islam and allah is the best deceiver.

  • ze-ev ben jehudah

    Well,for Jews it does'nt make much difference,both sides hate Jews,and
    would like to destroy the Jewish state rather today than tomorrow.
    There is a saying;wether you're bitten by the cat or the dog it still hurts.

  • Aisling Gear

    If the Libya’s air force is outdated and not particularly large, especially by the standards of the region then it should be no problem for the other US equipped air forces of the region to impost a no fly zone.

    • highcottonquinn

      Or we can just let the Eurabians handle it. Imagine that. Letting those who whine about "American imperialism" do without "American Imperialism".

      • Chezwick_Mac

        Great point.

    • tagalog

      Go NATO! Go UN! Don't use U.S. troops or equipment, you can show us how to do it!

  • intrcptr2

    Sounds like Obama is taking yet another page from republican presidents past.

    How often have we heard the academics vilifying (Rightly so in some ways) Presidents from Eisenhower on up for supporting right-wing dictators during the Cold War? And now, after watching a successful revolt in Egypt, leaving aside who the next rulers will be, and telling Qaddafi that he must leave, we've sat on our hands and done nothing. Bush did it with the Afghans and the Kurds, and now The One has sold out the Libyans.

    We have a carrier battle group in the Med; easy as pie. There is no justification for this inaction on our part.
    I vaguely recall someone just last week telling Congress that Qaddafi's forces would prevail.

    • Kevin Stroup

      Since you are so gung-ho for war, why dont you join up and go fight over there? Are you volunteering to go help our "Muslim friends" in Libya?

      • intrcptr2

        You first junior, too old. And please, get a better argument; you should already know this kind of "thinking" doesn't pass muster.

        And yes, I am saying that the politics makes strange bed-fellows. I would rather be allied with a popular uprising than a tyrant. And in case you noticed, there is already a war being fought in Libya, it's not a case of my being gung-ho for one or not. It is a question of what side we've already said we're on, and how poorly we support the ones we've already called friends.

        Or are you saying that Obama's "change we can believe in" SHOULD be more of the same old, same old?

  • lessiboy

    Qaddafi, like Ahmadinejad, links up with bad guys in OUR hemisphere. Even if he was replaced by a religious dictatorship that hated the U.S. it woudl be worth while getting rid of him.
    It would send the message that if you blow up civilian planes full of Western passengers, you pay a price.
    Unfortunately, he has a loyal military and the rebels don't have planes and tanks and allies.

  • Amused

    Let the Arab league provide a "No Fly Zone " what the hell , we sold the Saudis enough F-16's, and this is a civil war , we should keep our noses out of it .And if anyone wants to play "the morality card " ? ….well then we should have gotten involved in the Sudan long ago …but wait , ———— fill in the blanks .

  • sneed5

    Both sides of this conflict hate the United States of America. This is true in any Arab nation that has a rebellion. They love us when they need help but, as soon as we help them out of their problems….they hate us again. Stay out of this conflict. We have all the "friends" we can aford to buy.

  • Wesley69

    Had this been an ally, Obama would be doing what he could to overthrow him. But a dictator, as in Libya, Iran or Venezuela, Obama plays the timid leader. It's like voting present, not taking a stand that could cost him.

    His inaction and lack of resolve will only inspire dictators, who will view the US as a weakened power, not because of its people, but because of its leadership.

    Personally, the rebels who would take over Libya would not establish a Democratic Republic. It would go the way of Egypt, which is moving toward an Islamic Republic with strict Shariah Law.

  • Murtadino

    Qadaffi knows how to handle real muslims, let him walk the walk. As a matter of fact western leaders should learn a thing or two from him when it comes to handling jihadists at home.

  • cjk

    Never thought I'd have seen the day when I find my gut feeling backing Quadaffi.

    Saw some insurgent video and they were continuously grumbling 'allahuackbar' the whole effin time.

  • Rock of ages

    However, when it comes to speaking against the Left and their agenda, exposing Islamism and its murderous intentions and to defending the global war against jihad – he is in the unique position (maybe Sam Harris to a lesser extent) of being someone whom the Left cannot dismiss as a "Fascist" or "Nazi" (I saw them try but it doesn't stick), and of someone regarded as an intellectual by many ordinary people, and someone whose singular polemic aptitude enables him to easily overwhelm any Isla-pologist Leftist he happens to debate (I had the pleasure of seeing him dismantle that pompous ass Chris Hedges). So, I do think that Hitchens, even though may ruffle some right-wing feathers on occasion, should not be attacked too severely, or at all, since his contributions to the fight against the Islamo-Leftist axis greatly outweigh the displeasure of hearing some of his rants against causes dear to many here.
    So I would advice Frontpage to lay off of him – There are much bigger fish to fry.

  • Ghostwriter

    So,President Obama feels it's a good time to introduce his draft picks for the NCAA. Never mind that people are getting killed in Libya or that the disaster in Japan needs his notice. Sadly,those aren't his priorities. I'm sure the Libyan rebels will understand,how many of them are left when he does decide to do something will be the question.

  • coyote3

    I'll say it again. I am not exactly orgasmic about these "popular revolutions". They haven't resulted in things in our interest of late. Ghadafi is what he is, and I don't necessarily advocate supporting him, but he did fear the U.S., and that is second best to being liked as far as I am concerned. At least with Ghadafi we had a known quality, as well as quantity, and he probably could be controlled. He is probably no worse or better than some of the wombats we do support.

  • Jim

    Where is Oliver North now that we need him… A few stingers wouldn't hurt. The rest can be solved by IEDs.