Small Wars Journal

Libya's Coming Insurgency

Libya's Coming Insurgency by Dr. Steven Metz, The New Republic. BLUF: "... whatever happens in the coming weeks or months, one thing is clear: The chances of a drawn-out insurgency in Libya are very high."


Bill C. (not verified)

Tue, 03/22/2011 - 4:24pm

This and other interventions post-the Cold War, consistent with our new policy of:

Exploiting the opportunity presented by conflict, natural disaster and/or other state/societal difficulty -- to establish (help establish/shape) a new political/economic order within these states/societies; one which is capable of better meeting the wants, needs and desires of the American people in the 21st Century?

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Tue, 03/22/2011 - 12:57pm


Please bear with me as I descend into conspiratorial madness...

Here is how the world elites and not just America's gilded class (borrowing heavily from Marxist terminology and methodology for "framing" the world) are going about to exploit the situation and people of Libya.

First, create the conditions for permanent and affiliate revolution in Libya as part of on-going revolutionary wave in the region. The commodification of democratic principles is well under way.

Second, execute half-ass strike operations intended to weaken all local actors equally... but don't remove Qaddafi. Weaken all actors equally means that some of Qaddafi military potential is targeted which by default strengthens the opposition who can now fight on somewhat equal footing (in time and space). Concurrently, initiate hand-wringing, wailing, and gnashing of teeth out of humanitarian concerns for the non-combatants. Manufacture some humanitarian outrage and intensify calls and resolutions for cease-fires to protect the innocent. No-fly zones established over feeding stations.

Third, rebels consolidate power in territory protected by no-fly zones, receive and exploit humanitarian assistance. In time rebels in this or that area proclaim independence from tyrant all the while pursuing their independent interests, without compromise, despite overtures for political alliances (permanent revolution). Non-governmental organizations and civil society advocates assist leaders and followers in newly liberated territories (and there are a bunch of those held by a myriad of Libyans... the anti-Qaddafi Abu Llail or Misurata tribes in the east for example)... and who hopefully control oil rich territory, refineries and ports.

Fourth, after successfully dividing the polity, negotiate for oil concessions with numerous factions instead of a strong single bargaining entity.

All the while continue to shout: "No democracy for oil... or blood for democracy... or oil for blood"... whatever...

I've got to stop watching Glenn Beck...



Bob's World

Tue, 03/22/2011 - 12:53pm

Kyle - While definitions, and certainly historians, differ as to what a "civil war" is, this really does not fit any of those criteria. It best fits what Galula called "Revolution" in his first chapter, and is a form of insurgency that erupts quickly and largely disorganized. What percentage of the populace is pro-Qaddafi vs pro-Change is anyone's guess, but as there is no real brand name on the insurgency the populace only needs to in some degree support change for this to move forward.

Tyrtaios - We certainly did not entice them to act (as we have done elsewhere in the past), so I suspect they will be grateful for any support they receive. The larger concern along the lines you mention is what is the implied inticement to act that we are sending out to populaces in a half-dozen other countries that are teetering on the edge of revolution themselves...

Omar - shot about four different azimuths with that post, and I wouldn't recommend following any of them. This is not about conspiracy theories, get rich quick schemes, or assassination plots. I think the President appreciates better than most the bigger picture and the stratcom implications of what we do or do not do and how we do it.


Tue, 03/22/2011 - 11:57am

Obama has been really snookered on this one. Its a terrible mistake, though the human cost may still be low if someone does shoot Gaddafi in the head soon.
Forget the left wing objections, this doesnt even pass the plutocracy's tests. What money will America's elite make off this half-assed and confused "intervention"?
And of course, its as blatantly unconstitutional as most other wars since forever..


Tue, 03/22/2011 - 11:09am

In certainly cant answer your question Kyle, but let me add another one: has any thought gone into the idea that we may have put an expectation into anti-Kaddafi rebels collective minds that support is going to be on-going?

If as stated, America's role will be short, and we do not meet their expectations, would they turn elsewhere for support that might not be in America's strategic interest?


Tue, 03/22/2011 - 10:41am

Whether the Libyan Civil War is conventional or insurgent in nature is going to be dictated by more factors than the capabilities of the combatants. The attitudes of the civilian population also plays a significant factor. A population that is loyal to the government will not allow an insurgency to operate. Insurgents need at least the tacit support of the civilians in the area of operation to be successful. Usually it is a tribal/clan or religious schism that allows the civilians a rational reason to support insurgents. I dont know enough about Libya to know which way this will go. Anyone else have thoughts on that?

Bob's World

Tue, 03/22/2011 - 7:29am


In a slightly different slant, my assessment is that the Libyan populace (like many populaces in the Middle East) has been artificially suppressed through government controls for years. The "insurgency" has been building all that time, it just has not been able to fully organize or act out due to aggressive government action. At least not at home, let us not forget that Libya provided the highest per capita number of foreign fighters to support AQ's operations in Iraq, and the second highest number over all behind the Saudis.

When a strongman has been the key to stability through suppression (both the source of causation for insurgency, and source of security preventing it from going active), I think that the only thing more disruptive than doing nothing is to go all the way to regime change. When a Tito or Saddam falls, the people suffer in the ensuing scramble to avenge old sins and to gain new position. So I would disagree with this point:

"Unfortunately, there is little the United States can do to prevent an insurgency short of a full-scale military intervention to force Qaddafi's removal..."

And offer instead that the best thing the US can do to prevent this continuing to escalate into a violent competition for support of the populace and control of the government is to actually act to achieve a ceasefire that for the near term keeps the Qaddafi government in power. The key being to avoid the chaos of a sudden vacuum at the top, while at the same time creating a forced "circle of trust" where representative of the current government and various populace groups can come together to air old grievances and to shape new guards for their future security.

This would probably include some form of amnesty from prosecution and retribution for Qaddafi; and some guarantee to the populace that he will not somehow still be in power once the dust settles.

A principle audience for the stratcom coming out of this are our longtime, but very troubled friends in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Yemen, UAE, Bahrain, etc. Those populaces need to know we will support their quests for liberty and evolution of governance; and those leaders need to know we will not tolerate the status quo of oppression and suppression, but will not throw them to wolves either.


Vitesse et Puissance

Mon, 03/21/2011 - 8:11pm

A counterargument. Moammar Ghaddafi is not Saddam Hussein. If his intelligence and security forces were adept at counterinsurgency, they would not be in the predicament they are in. If one is casting about for historical analogies - is Libya 2011 more like Iraq 2006 - or is it more like the Spanish Civil War ? Yes, there is every reason to think that there could be a more or less conventional but protracted civil war in the offing, one that practically encourages outsiders to place their bets on the winning side. But the West's interests lie in closing this down as quickly as possible. Yes, there is every reason to believe that the US, UK and France will be drawn in more deeply, to the point where they need to take this to regime change, and try to put things back together. But the idea of Ghaddafi and his support base putting up anything like the resistance posed by the Sunni resistance in Iraq does not have strong evidence to support it. In other words, you could get a soft landing, and there is some incentive for the Arab League to play a constructive role in the end game.

Robert Haddick (not verified)

Mon, 03/21/2011 - 6:17pm

Steve, it might be a horrible photo. But it looks like TNR gave you a medal for writing it!

More seriously, I certainly agree with your conclusion that Libya is very likely to descend into a long period of irregular warfare, in many forms. What positive effect outside powers can have on that course remains in question.

Robert Haddick

Steve Metz (not verified)

Mon, 03/21/2011 - 5:59pm

First, let me say that they picked a HORRIBLE photo of me to use on that story.

But, Carl, I still think there would be an insurgency as in Iraq because so many people have a vested interest in the system, and because a very high proportion of the Libyan population has never known a country not ruled by Qaddafi.

carl (not verified)

Mon, 03/21/2011 - 5:46pm

Dr Metz:

How would the death of Qaddafi and the death or isolation of his sons affect all this?