Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Libya: The tumultuous middle of the wider chess game.

   Gaddafi and his forces seem to be holding out for the moment.

   The country has fallen into two camps, in the East and West, with the rebels centered around Benghazi and Tobruk. Yeah, Tobruk. Doesn't it make you salivate for the good old days of the 8th Army v the Afrika Corps? Gadaffi holds Tripoli but has rebel skirmishers bothering his stronghold from the nearby town of Zawiyah. The Rebels and the Libyan army say they have secured 80% of the oil resources in the East so Gaddafi's threat to set them afire and cause an oil apocalypse have been minimized. That's a bit of a popcorn killer and the reason oil prices retreated somewhat today. In fact, shipments resumed yesterday when two full tankers left Tobruk with some sleazy oil whoring company saying things are all cool with the rebels. Those guys will ship no matter who dies on the streets.

   Still, Gaddafi must be seriously pissed.

   There were reports today in Western media that Gaddafi may have the components necessary to whip up some mustard gas. Sounds fishy to me and more like an attempt by Western interests to lead public opinion in the direction of direct intervention. The usual playbook is in force here which first means 'sanctions' on everything except Libyan oil exports. That is, we stop selling you shit and stop buying shit from you except for the stuff we absolutely need like oil. Much like sanctions against Iran, they have minimal effect and right now, Gaddafi is so far gone, I doubt if he cares whether or not he can import soybeans and pork bellies. He's more concerned with counting his ammo and digging up his buried cash reserves to pay off his loyalists.

   He gave a delusional speech today to the BBC about how his people love him.

     Last time I heard such a lolworthy denial of apparent reality it was Comical Ali in Baghdad in 2003. Obviously, we are dealing with a delusional subject here. There is much to be said for bluster and denying the facts when you are trying to court an audience of loyalists at home, especially when your hold on those loyalists is tenuous at best and based on how much gold you can supply to buy that loyalty.

   But with NATO trying to figure out how to end this shit for "humanitarian reasons", one is forced to wonder what the wider game at play is here. For one thing, the longer this 'Arab revolt' goes on, the more pressure it puts on the 'jewel in the crown' of oil exporters, Saudi Arabia.  Crown Prince Abdullah dropped 35 billion this week to placate the plebs in his country as an insurance policy against them wondering why they're getting a peanut share of the oil wealth in Saudi Arabia. The West seems to agree that the longer the instability in Libya continues, the more precarious things could get for the stability of the world economy, that is, petro dollar flow, Saudi oil supply and the possible cost for the plebs back home commuting to work from suburbia.

   So right now we've got a motley crew of Western interests willing to close the deal on Gaddafi. The Americans are moving the USS Enterprise from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean (seems Suez is a free flow zone now considering Iran floated two destroyers through there last week). The British are ready to enforce a "no fly zone" over Libya (the next standard step in the playbook after sanctions) with Tornados and Typhoons within range from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. Some in British circles are starting to miss the carrier Ark Royal after its recent decommissioning but those Harriers it fielded were never a safe bet especially for a BARCAP mission like this over Libya. With limited radar, a shitty top speed, no one outside the Daily Mail sees those Harriers as anything but a lucky score against the Argentinians 30 years ago.

   The French seem game to enforce a no fly zone too and that would be fun since they sold Gaddafi a bunch of Mirages in the 80s, obviously previous generation, but its interesting how things change. Also, it's unclear exactly what Gaddafi has left considering a shitload of his air force defected to Malta and elsewhere after their pilots realized the deranged nature of an order from Gaddafi to bomb their own citizens. The latest word is that two Soviet era Mig-23s bombed Benghazi today, one of the targets being the water supply to that city which they missed.

   Still, you can see how this is about to play out.

   Gaddafi has an interest in stretching this out as long as possible. The longer he can hold out means he can keep this story in the headlines in the Arab world and the longer he can court wider instability in the region, the more valuable his poker hand. This is a direct play against the West and it weakens the Saudi position the longer it goes on. There is a delicate chess game at work here. Gaddafi is inviting the West to overplay their hand here. If the US and its Euro partners wish to shut this down by imposing a 'no fly zone' over Libya or if there's some wild amphibious landing, (the US has the USS Kearsage offshore currently) then Gaddafi can scream invasion and claim a wider Zionist plot which is a trope that easily gains adherents in the wider Arab world.

   So what do? How does the West play this?

   It's a delicate game. And hard to play even with a winning hand.

   Right now, the protesters are closing in on Tripoli. It's tempting to let things take their course and have Gaddafi toppled 'in house'. But if the protesters need a little extra then that's where things could get sketchy. As soon as the West imposes any kind of intention on an otherwise 'in house' rebellion, they risk 'jumping the shark' on the whole deal.

   Gaddafi right now has those Migs at his disposal and also a bunch of my favorite angry looking choppers, Mil Mi-24 'Hind' gunships. They can do serious damage against infantry not equipped with decent AA. Probably the best bet right now for the West is to sneak some shoulder mounted AA into Benghazi to help them out. Less obvious than a 'no fly zone' or sanctions that aren't going to impact Gaddafi in the short term.

   You know what I hate about this whole thing? How we in the West have robbed the protesters in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Libya of their whole revolution. Sure, it's natural for the West to measure things from their own perspective but ultimately, it is the people of these country's victory. They did it! All by themselves! They made it happen and Western interests positioning forces offshore to play global chess emasculates their achievement. Still, you can't hope to escape geopolitics but it is worth mentioning. If I were there, I know I'd be amongst that crowd, flinging rocks to prove a point.

   But it's a very big game right now and even though it's well known Gaddafi is mulling over a losing position, overplaying its hand by direct intervention and taking victory away from the victors is the riskiest move the West could play right now.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Will Gaddafi go full retard and blow the Libyan oilfields?

Don't let Gaddafi's good looks fool you. He's batshit.

   [EDIT: This is an old post on Libya getting awesome web traffic. Since Gaddafi's dead body is currently on display in a freezer in a Libyan supermarket, I'd prefer, for relevancy's sake that you read my latest mind dump on Libya here. Still, the below February 2011 post remains intact for those of you that love hindsight. I must admit, I kind of partial to it too. And I still like that power play of blowing the Libyan oilfields but it was never really an option for Gadaffi was it? Gaddafi thought he could win this war. And him blowing up his revenue source was always going to be a last resort option few 'dictators' ever get to. Even when they're losing; like Hitler in his Berlin bunker in 1945. And just like every other war historians pick through, Gadaffi's options in this war will get kicked into the dustbin of history's "what ifs." Should he have gone full retard on the oilfields?

 "The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there..." as the old maxim goes...]

   Reports coming out of Libya right now have Gaddafi about to go full retard. Seems like he's not going to go the way of the Tunisian and Egyptian dictators and fuck off nicely with billions in cash and bullion. He issued a badass statement earlier today which is probably dick waving but he said he wants to 'martyr himself' and go down fighting. That's pretty funny really. And understandable. You see, he's never been on the West's payroll like Mubarak and can't just bail to some fancy beachfront condo somewhere. The US has been itching to kill this guy going all the way back to Reagan when they bombed his compound after they fingered him for the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing. But the interesting variable here, in terms of the recent Arab revolutions, is that this is the first one taking place in an oil producing country. So Gaddafi gets to play an interesting card here that neither Mubarak or the Tunisian Ben Ali had in their deck.

    He can fuck with the world energy market in a major way. How exactly?

  First off, he's threatening  to take a move from the old Russian playbook, play scorched earth with Libya's infrastructure and blow those oilfields and the pipelines linking spice flow to the Mediterranean to kingdom come; taking ~1.9 million barrels per day of world oil supply offline for the foreseeable future. That'd be pretty painful, especially considering the state of the world economy right now. Oil is already flirting with the hundred dollar mark on news of this instability and with Libya offline, the jury's out on how much higher that could go. In 2008, $150 a barrel oil crashed the world economy and with current food prices, real estate misery, zombie banks and high unemployment, anything approaching a similar price is going to start some kind of economic meltdown in the US and Europe that'll have the corporate oligarchy shitting their pants. Of course, the disinformation outfit that is CNBC and Fox will tell you that the Saudi's can easily take up that slack but if you believe what the Saudi's say these days then you're just being naive. Those Wahhabi loons may even have a revolution of their own on their hands soon and if that happens my friends, we're entering a whole new clusterfuck world paradigm.

    Shit could get really interesting here and may be worth a popcorn grab.

   Gaddafi is his own special kind of batshit. That's why he might just go through with this plan. Flamboyant and narcisstic, he grabbed power in Libya as a 27 year old captain in a bloodless coup in 1969 while the King was away getting his pubes waxed or something. Fancying himself as the Arab Che Guevara, Gadaffi had a certain flair and a penchant for safari suits and sunglasses and set up the new Libya as a late sixties counter cultural anti imperialist mecca where anyone looking to do bad shit to Western interests could get supplies, weapons and explosives.

   Obviously, that put him on the shit list. Libya took part in the 1973 oil embargo against the US and its support for Arab unity and opposition to western interests in Islamic states painted a big fat target on Gaddafi in the western world. In 1982, Reagan imposed sanctions and the CIA tried to off him in 1984. Two years later, a squadron of F-111s bombed his compound and killed his 15 month old adopted daughter. This was in response to the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing that killed and injured a bunch of US servicemen. The Libyan's retaliated in 1988 with the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The evidence that Gaddafi funded it was remarkably flimsy but it's gone down in history as his doing and conspiracy theories are not my forte. Everything is a conspiracy these days and whatever line of bullshit you choose to believe is a personal affair. There is no truth anymore. We're living in a dystopian future sci fi novel.

    Ironically, it was Reagan's sanctions and the inability of Gaddafi to sell his oil during the 80s and 90s, (when oil was astoundingly cheap), that preserved Libya's supply. Estimates say Libya had about 55 Gb of which they've gone through about half. This leaves them with significant reserves of around the 30 Gb mark, enough that if those 1.9 M/bpd were taken offline would send those sleazy Wall Street fucks into a speculative circle jerk and have Exxon Mobil and their ilk jizzing their pants at the possible money train. Or maybe not. Because this kind of sucker punch to the world economy combined with Saudi instability could just grind things to a halt and lead to all kinds of riots on the streets of the US and Europe once the plebs can't feed their SUVs without going broke. That kind of action is something that'll grab the corporate oligarchy's attention. Profits tend to dry up when you are on the downside of the Laffer curve and it gets too expensive for the wage slaves to bother spending on anything except food and guns.

   So can Gaddafi pull this chaos off?

   Right now the word is he's got about 5000 troops he can rely on. That's out of an army of 45,000 total strength. Most of his air force bailed after Gaddafi pulled the whack job move of ordering them to bomb protesters from the air. A total batshit play on his part and probably a good indicator of how screwed he views his own position. He's lost control of a number of Libyan cities and since he's got nowhere else to go (except Venezuela maybe), it seems the threat of scorched earth is the only card left to play.

   Gaddafi is the type to go down with the ship. He not going to hide in a hole and grow a beard like Saddam.

   Libya is a country of Bedouin tribes, and right now Gaddafi can only count on the loyalty of his own tribe, the Qadhadhfa. The 5000 or so troops he can rely on are apparently elite forces with handpicked officers who've been sharing some of the gravy train for the last few years since sanctions were lifted and Gaddafi got taken off the US 'supporters of terror' list a few years back. Condi Rice even showed up on a state visit in 2008 and the US was all warm and Fonzy again and happy to have some oil back on the market so the plebs back home could afford the commute from suburbia.

Condi and Gadaffi enjoying a sitdown over Kleenex

   Of course, that could all go to shit now.

   The latest reports coming out of Libya are that Gaddafi has ordered some of his 5000 remaining troops to blow some of those pipelines that link the fields to the Mediterranean. It seems he's playing the last card left in the deck and using it against the West and his own people. He's also released from prison a bunch of Islamic fundamentalists hoping they go out into the fray and foment all kinds of religious nonsense. The West gets an oil spike and his own citizens get to live in a new African Somalia where the Libyan people get to lament the good old days when they could afford bread.

   I'm off now to do a google search on how oil price directly impacts the popcorn supply.

   Stay tuned for updates. I'm loving this shit.