Saturday, August 20, 2011

Libya: downfall?

How quickly things change.  It wasn't very long ago that most news articles highlighted the fractious, poorly armed, badly trained, indisciplined character of the opposition, and the territorial gains made by Qadhafi.  After the killing of General Abdel Fattah Younes, the entirety of the Transitional National Council was sacked by its head, Mustafa Abdel Jalil.  It looked utterly shamblic, more than ever locked in fratricidal power struggles, looking less and less like the real government that it claimed to be.  Then there were the criticisms for atrocities toward 'African' (ie black) migrant workers and others, which undermined the appeal to human rights which many of the leading figures in the rebellion have built their reputation on.

Certainly, the claim to represent a popular mass movement was hardly credible.  These were largely former regime elements wholly dependent on external powers, without whom they could not trade in oil or gain international recognition, and on whose military artillery and strategy they were completely reliant.  They had been compelled to turn to imperialism partly to overcome their lack of authority within the revolt.  Their weakest point had been the failure of the revolt to spread to Tripoli, which seemed unlikely to fall to the sorts of relatively light bombing sorties that NATO was deploying.  Aerial bombing was no substitute for the spread of the revolution, which was actually receding as the initiative passed into the hands of Africom planners and others.  Leading politicians in the UK and France were admitting that Qadhafi would not be driven out by military force, and calling for a negotiated settlement. 

But after a week of gains, the rebels suddenly look as if they've got Tripoli surrounded, and Al Jazeera is reporting gunfire from within the capital.  If I were the sort of person to make rash predictions, I would say that Qadhafi might not survive the next 48 hours.  But then, let me be even more rash and suggest what would follow from that.  I think we would see a recomposition of the old regime, without Qadhafi but with the basic state structures intact.  The former regime elements would become regime elements, within a pro-US, neoliberal state with some limited political democracy.  In addition, those calling for intervention in Syria would be strengthened, as the Pentagon's faith in military power would have been revived.  This would be a significant regroupment for the US and allied states after recent setbacks.  It doesn't matter how ridiculous this war has been, or how much of a mockery the process has made of the revolutionary process that instigated it.  And it doesn't matter what subsequently happens inside Libya as long as it isn't outright civil war.  Problems can be glossed over.  The only thing that would register in the spectacle is that the US and its allies had successfully piloted their own model for the Middle East, with the word 'quagmire' barely uttered.