The fight for Libya

Anthony Shadid reports from Ras Lanuf:

The momentum shifted decisively Thursday in an uprising that has shaken Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s four decades of rule, as rebels fled from this strategic refinery town under a sustained land, air and sea assault by government forces.

The fighting was a stark illustration of the asymmetry of the conflict, pitting protesters turned rebels against a military with far superior arms and organization and a willingness to prosecute a vicious counterattack against its own people.

Usually ebullient rebels acknowledged withdrawing Thursday, even as the fledgling opposition leadership in Benghazi scored diplomatic gains with France’s recognition of it as the legitimate government and senior American officials’ promise to talk with its leaders.

“We are coming,” Colonel Qaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, told reporters in Tripoli.

Western nations took new steps to isolate the Qaddafi government, but the measures stopped well short of any sort of military intervention and seemed unlikely to be able to reverse the momentum.

The cautious response underscored what is at stake in a race against time in the most chaotic and unpredictable of the uprisings to shake the Arab world — whether the opposition can secure more international recognition and a no-flight zone to blunt Colonel Qaddafi’s offensive before rebel lines crumble in the coastal oil towns west of Benghazi.

The New York Times reports that as the White House announced a five-point program designed to isolate and ultimately drive Gaddafi from power, the administration’s own intelligence chief told Congress he didn’t believe the Libyan leader could be ousted.

The White House campaign to convince both Colonel Qaddafi’s loyalists and NATO allies that the Libyan dictator’s days are numbered were undercut by a military assessment given earlier in the day by the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper. Responding to questions, Mr. Clapper told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that Colonel Qaddafi had a potentially decisive advantage in arms and equipment that would make itself felt as the conflict wore on.

“This is kind of a stalemate back and forth,” he said, “but I think over the longer term that the regime will prevail.”

Mr. Clapper also offered another scenario, one in which the country is split into two or three mini-states, reverting to how it was before Colonel Qaddafi’s rule. “You could end up with a situation where Qaddafi would have Tripoli and its environs, and then Benghazi and its environs could be under another mini-state,” he said.

The White House was clearly taken aback by the assessment that Mr. Qaddafi could prevail, and Mr. Donilon, talking to reporters a few hours later, suggested that Mr. Clapper was addressing the question too narrowly.

“If you did a static and one-dimensional assessment of just looking at order of battle and mercenaries,” Mr. Donilon said, one could conclude that the Libyan leader would hang on. But he said that he took a “dynamic” and “multidimensional” view, which he said would lead “to a different conclusion about how this is going to go forward.”

“The lost legitimacy matters,” he said. “Motivation matters. Incentives matter.” He said Colonel Qaddafi’s “resources are being cut off,” and ultimately that would undercut his hold on power.

Such differing assessments rarely surface in public in the midst of a crisis, although in the early days of the Egypt uprising there were conflicting assessments of the stability of the Mubarak government. Mr. Clapper’s job, created in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, was intended to conduct exactly the kind of all-source analysis that Mr. Donilon talked about. But the White House said later Thursday it retained full confidence in Mr. Clapper.

One prominent Republican senator, however, said that the intelligence director should lose his job. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that Mr. Clapper’s assessment “will make the situation more difficult for those opposing Qaddafi,” adding, “It also undercuts our national efforts to bring about the desired result of Libya moving from dictator to democracy.”

In Brussels, meanwhile, NATO all but rejected a no-flight zone over Libya and agreed only to reposition warships in the region and plan for humanitarian aid.

Mr. Gates, who has been strongly resistant to a no-flight zone, said in a news briefing after a two-hour meeting of NATO defense ministers that planning for a possible no-flight zone would continue, “but that’s the extent of it.”

Press TV reports:

The Libyan interim Transitional National Council says the UK government will soon join France in recognizing revolutionary administration as Libya’s legitimate government.

A spokesperson for the Provisional Transitional National Council of Libya in Benghazi, the capital of the revolution, said the council’s representatives were in talks with Britain, among other European countries to recognize the Libyan revolutionary council.

Iman Bugaighis described the talks with the British officials as “favorable.”

Bugaighis appreciated France, in particular, for dismissing Muammar Qaddafi’s rule and recognizing the council as the “only legitimate representative of the Libyan people.”

“We thank the French government for being the first to recognise the Libyan revolutionary council,” Bugaighis said. “We will not forget the role of France. We will remember it long after the revolution is over.”

In a letter to The Guardian, Richard Frost asks:

Is the free world again going to stand around talking while a people struggles to gain its freedom? I remember with tears the last broadcast from Hungary as the rebellion of 1956 was being crushed by Soviet tanks. I was born as the Spanish republic was being betrayed by the liberal democracies. The Libyan people have proved their bravery and no one – from Cameron and Clinton down – doubts the justice of their cause. It cannot be beyond our leaders to get anti-tank weapons – and tanks – to them now. If the rebellion fails, our leaders will stand in the dock with the statesmen who have stood idly by so many times before, washing their hands as the people’s blood flows.

Ralph Blumenau challenged a Guardian editorial which amounted to a rationalization for international inaction. With an apparent conviction that the righteous have a greater force on their side, the editorial declared: “Their biggest weapon remains their cause and who they are.” And it concluded: “The more brutality Gaddafi employs, the quicker he hastens his own end.” Blumenau notes: “A prediction without evidence. Think Mugabe.”

Meanwhile, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, arguably the British newspaper’s most intrepid correspondent, has gone missing in Western Libya.

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  1. Obama and Bush should get together and write a book on how to make the entire World– hate the US.

    “Clearly” as “they” say the US has no interest to defend in Libya and therefore doesn’t care if Gaddafi goes or stay…hence all the spin and double talk and ‘platitudes’ about the romance of going it alone and dying from Gaddafi bombs from DC.

    However France and the UK do have interests in Libya and surroundings and are pisssed that the US won’t even fart in the direction of Libya to help them after we suckered them into the US Iraq adventure. France and the UK are going to the UNSC alone with their request –but Russia is getting rich with new oil customers since the Libya upset, Germany and Italy have no major ‘bizness ‘interest in Libya–so they have no incentive to interfere…so the “EU” is split.

    I did intercept three messages tonight:

    From the Libyans and Arabian people:
    إذا كنت فقط لأنفسكم لماذا يجب علينا أن نكون لك
    From France:
    Vas te faire encule Yankees
    From Russia:
    Сядьте тугие киски, мы загребать деньги

  2. The anti-interventionists are getting their way: the Libyan revolution will die in a welter of blood, disappearences, and dark holes underground. You will all be proud of yourselves.