'Each man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world'
-- Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

'Artists are tricky fellows sir, forever shaping the world according to some design of their own'
-- Jonathan Strange, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Events First, Policy After

The Irony is Deafening
Way to support Jihad #39. Exposing Pharaoh and his magicians
'The current governments of the Muslim world are playing the role of Pharaoh with Musa and the court scholars are playing the role of the magicians of Pharaoh in deceiving the masses. The governments and their court scholars are the third side of the triangle of enemies of the ummah alongside the Crusaders and the Zionists.'
-- Anwar al-Alwaki, 44 Ways to Support Jihad


The current issue of Foreign Affairs contains Leah Farrall's long awaited view on al Qaeda and its affiliates. Leah has one of the most cutting-edge blogs on jihadist ideology, along with jihadica.com and occident. She shot to global prominence at the end of 2009 when the jihadist commentator and strategist Abu Walid al Masri emailed her and they engaged in correspondence [for an excellent critique of this exchange and context see here]. In the Foreign Affairs article, Leah argues that al-Qaeda is much stronger now than it was a decade ago because it's membership has burgeoned and its affiliates, particularly AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) have become strong brands that draw in recruits and resources. Leah's intricate explanations of AQAP, AQIM, AQI and AQC interactions and strategic formations demonstrate her pre-eminence within this field and the article is 'required reading'.


It's been a busy time for al-Qaeda as Gaddafi too has invoked the group in his resistance against the popular uprising in Libya. Human rights abuses have led to a ruling by the P-5 to charge him under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, of which the United States is not a member (although Clinton ratified the Rome Statute in December 2000, this was nullified by Bush in 2002). Interesting was the amendment that American made to the resolution on the Libyan regime, that Americans would not face prosecution for any actions against the regime in the ICC but in their own country. 


Richard Dicker, head of the International Justice Program with Human Rights Watch was quoted in the Washington Times:
"If, for example, there is a no-fly zone established by the council, and the U.S. dropped bombs and accidentally killed 100 Libyan school children, that U.S. airman or those who ordered the attack would be subject to the jurisdiction exclusively of a U.S. court - not the ICC." 


'Policing a no-fly zone' is the line that European leaders have taken. I can see in theory why this is attractive: rather than commit a troop force (as in the Operation Enduring Hope debacle, 1993, Somalia) this is a much cleaner method through which the leaders of the free world can appear pro-active, and further, avoid ground commitment or mission creep.  Robert Gates has however noted that it would start with an attack on Libyan air defences and require more aircraft 'than are on one aircraft carrier.' Gates must be extremely reticent about committing to military action - this is another case of confusing Rules Of Engagement. There is no feasible way the no-fly zone could work - downing Libyan aircraft after destroying anti-aircraft positions (visual feast for world media) would create a whole new dimension to the uprising demonstrating Western support for the 'insurgents' and sending a message to the remnants of Gaddafi's forces: you can shoot your own people but not bomb them, let's keep this theatre two dimensional.


Some painful choices may arise in the coming days. Libya is a weaker nation-state than Iran or China, which routinely brutalise civilians and suppress protests. Cautious estimates of casualties in the Libyan uprising so far range from 1000 - 1500 dead across the state. Mercenaries will only remain as long as they are paid and believe the monopoly on violence to be sustainable. This dynamic may change rapidly. The regime has technological superiority on the battlefield, but the will of the International Community is on the side of the protestors, who are emboldened by recent history. 


Fighting to gain the monopoly on violence can be simple or brutal. Some revolts are concluded peacefully but others pit two immovable entities against each other. In 1461, the bloodiest battle ever on English soil was fought at Towton, at the height of the Wars of the Roses. At its end, in a single day, somewhere between 20 and 30 000 men lay dead, approximately 1% of the population. The equivalent today would be 600 000 English men, dead on a battlefield. These were two mutually opposed power blocs, two houses, Lancaster and York, fighting for control of the nation. By contrast, 1500 people represents 0.02% of a population in Libya of 6.5 million. Can you quantify violence? Is there a percentage threshold through which you view casualties in insurrection as figures on a spreadsheet? Body counts as a way of examining conflicts are becoming increasingly open to critiques but there's little other means through which to conceptualize the events in Libya. Information is sketchy at best. 


All of which should have made the issue of crowd control weapons, and Robin Cook's long forgotten pledge for an ethical dimension to foreign policy central to the news agenda. Only, the rather important Idex arms fair in Abu Dhabi seemed to skip under the radar, at which 93 British companies had representation. I imagine sales of tear-gas and rubber bullets were rather brisk. Raytheon must be looking at events in the Middle East and kicking themselves that their heat ray (a non-lethal, directed energy weapon, named the 'Active Denial System'), has faired so poorly in active duty.


Economics still dictate policy although so quickly are events moving that policy is reactive rather than preformulated. We are having to respond to developments. Since Libya mainly exports to Europe and is not a significant exporter in world terms, fluctuations in the price of Brent Crude can only fluctuate within certain parameters. This does not yet have the capacity to become 1973 over again. And its the economy that started all this. Interstate and intrastate rich/poor divides: the have-nots rebelling against the haves. No wonder the West is sidelined in this process. Don't forget the religious element: the ability of Islamists and Jihadists to coalesce around popular grievances has never been in doubt (the Qu'ran after all is a leftist document, appealing always to the disenfranchised) but the former's systems of government would have no better guarantees against poverty than a tyrant or democracy and the latter, the jihadists, refute the need for political systems entirely, seeing religion as the only medium through which to distribute order. They appear to be vehicles ill-suited to riding the wave of this popular discontent. 



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