Monday, July 18, 2011

Libya's Civilian Revolution

To understand why so many Europeans and Americans want to aid the Libyan rebels, have a look at William Booth's story in the Post:
As armed rebellions go, the enthusiastic revolutionaries here in Libya’s western mountains are amateurs, many schooled in battle from playing video games. They confess they sometimes fire their rifles over the heads of their enemies because they don’t like the sight of blood.
The fundamental problem with armed revolutions is that they breed leaders who are good at fighting nasty civil wars. To overthrow an established and powerful government has generally required years or decades of tough guerrilla fighting and the willingness to sacrifice almost everything else to achieve the goal, including the lives of whoever gets in the way. Successful rebels tend, therefore, to be very hard men: Lenin, Mao, Franco, Fidel Castro, and so on. When they get into power they continue to act in the way that made them successful before, that is, mobilizing supporters through propaganda campaigns, crushing opposition, and shooting opponents.

In Libya Booth found a very different sort of rebel, men who are so soft-hearted that they don't like to carry their weapons in public for fear of scaring children. So far they have proved to be almost completely incompetent at fighting, which is why NATO had to save them with a bombing campaign. But Booth believes, as a lot of European and American politicians seem to believe, that if we can somehow help them to win they will prove to be as un-militant in power as they have been on the battlefield.

Despite the fears of some friends of Israel, nobody has found much sign of Muslim radicalism among the rebels:
“We are good Muslims, not crazy Muslims,” said Muhammad Ali, who spent his college years in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Instead of Koranic history or revolutionary cant they speak the language that has made the Arab Spring such an appealing movement all across the Middle East, the language of people who want the freedom to lead normal lives:
Asked what kind of government they would like to see if Gaddafi surrenders power, a member of the Jadu transitional government, the animated Salem Badrini, said, “First, we want a country of love, where all are equal, all the same. We all say these things: We want justice, democracy and freedom, no arguments, no problems, okay?”
The schoolteachers, engineers, accountants, and other ordinary men who have volunteered to fight for Libyan freedom represent something rather remarkable in history, a revolution of civilians. I hope the Gaddafi regime collapses quickly and gives them their victory, for their sake, for the sake of Libya, and for the sake of a world that could use more soft-hearted heroes.


Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with anything you say here, though I can't resist a few tweaks:

1) "incompetent" seems a hard word to use against the Libyan rebels; remember most have no training, and I presume at least part of the rebels' passivity, at least in the east, has to do with their need to figure out how to fight (how to call in artillery, how to spread out and stay spread out, how to follow a chain of command, etc.).

2) Their passivity could also be part of a Washingtonian strategy: all they have to do is keep existing, and Qadafy has to fall of his own weight. It is striking that Qadafy has shown so little ability to play politics with the rebels, splitting them, etc., now that he has no chance of outright victory.

3) Some of the rebels, esp. those of Misrata, seem to have been quite effective, esp. on defense.

4) It's true the difficulty of carrying out revolutions produces hard men. But it seems to me the ones you cite were driven to their really vicious tyrannies mainly by ideology. Hitler, after all, had a relatively easy road to power.

John said...

Some of the things I have read about Libya have been by experienced reporters who are mystified by how little the rebels seem to know about basic military tactics, e.g., one group that kept attacking down the same road and never sent anyone out the scout the flanks. The rebels in Misrata have defended themselves well, but we all know that urban terrain is the best situation for defenders.