On Point: Gadhafi's Cyrenaica Offensive: A Gift to Dictators


by Austin Bay
March 16, 2011

In March 1941, Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps broke out ofwestern Libya (Tripolitania) and attacked to the east, into Cyrenaica. By themid-April 1941, the Germans reached the port of Tobruk and surrounded it.

Moammar Gadhafi's March 2011 offensive isn't preciselyfollowing Afrika Korps' tank tracks. However, the principal objectives of amilitary offensive in Cyrenaica have not changed: Libya's coastal cities.

Rommel had targets well beyond Cyrenaica -- he intended toblitz Egypt and seize the Suez Canal. Fantasists in Berlin suggested Rommelmight continue on toward Persia (Iran).

The megalomaniacal Gadhafi entertains many fantasies. Not solong ago, taking control of Egypt, via assassination or divine acclamation, wasamong them. Now, as he and his corrupt clique fight for survival, his loyalistand mercenary forces need only take Benghazi and Tobruk.

Crack Tobruk, and the Libyan rebels have three choices:surrender, seek asylum in Egypt or head for the deep southern desert and wage alongshot guerrilla war. Surrender is defeat, followed by mass executions andmass gravesites. Asylum is defeat -- as the rebels hole up in Cairo, Gadhafiwill launch bloody reprisals against Cyrenaica's people. As for a guerrilla warwaged from the Sahara? Gadhafi will have an air-power advantage. The coastalcities will also provide him with thousands of hostages (the guerrillas'relatives) to torture and kill.

Rebel options, post-Tobruk, are dreadful. The mass gravesoutside the cities will be hideous. The long-term strategic implications of aGadhafi victory are also hideous.

Why can't NATO or the UN or the G-8 agree to impose a no-flyzone on Libya's dictator? The Obama administration, whatever its latestrhetoric, has willingly enmeshed itself in a multilateral spider's web ofnarrow interests, fear and greed. At some level, Gadhafi serves Russian andChinese commercial arrangements. Europe fears the appearance of colonialism.The pertinent phrase here is, "Gadhafi is the devil we know."

As for the rebels? Why, they are fractious. They havecourage, beg for aid and air cover, but -- a second pertinent phrase --"we just don't know who they are."

The wretched phrase signals either an intelligence failure,or a failure of will by Western leaders, or -- most probable -- both.

A Gadhafi win tells the world violent subjugation works.Iran's tyrants hope so. Gadhafi's survival may also serve Chinese domesticpolitical interests. Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution, which inspires Libya'srebels, has inspired Chinese dissidents.

Meanwhile, the Arab League has asked the United Nations toimpose a no-fly zone over Libya to protect vulnerable civilians. NeighboringEgypt and Tunisia voted for it. They have no interest in a victorious Gadhafiseeding regional turmoil. Nor do they have an interest in post-Gadhafi chaos.Given his age and savage madness, even if he smashes the current rebellion, hewill go, sooner rather than later, and his going will be ugly. Count on morecivil war. Western nations, Egypt and Tunisia will face another "we justdon't know" situation. New mass graves will dot the desert.

That's why it makes political and moral sense to help defeatthe devil we know now rather than face a worse hell later.

But as Gadhafi's tanks advance and kill, the Obamaadministration stalls. It apparently finds a Gadhafi victory preferable tofacing charges of imperialism or comparison to George W. Bush -- despite thepolitical cover of the Arab League's appeal.

Egypt also has an air force. Pray Cairo uses it in Cyrenaicabefore Gadhafi's mercenaries reach Tobruk. The Egyptian general who makes thatdecision will deserve a Nobel Peace Prize. 

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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