Aw, C’mon….Another War?

2011 March 21

By Wesley M. Brown

I don’t shock much as I’ve aged. Few news stories of human horror change my routine, and even civil wars, genocide, and parents chopping their children into tiny bits rarely interfere with my morning enjoyment of coffee and a bear claw.  But, I must admit I yelled at the TV yesterday when ABC broke in with the news that a coalition of oil-desperate nations elected to bomb various strategic parts of Libya.

Really? Another War? How many more can we possibly sustain while our country crumbles? Neither the War in Afghanistan nor the War in Iraq (the newer 2002 version…call it Iraq 2.0) show any signs of lessening, and this new operation shows promise that limited engagement will lead to more generalized operations once the country devolves into some form of civil war.

Gadhafi promised a “long war” against us. He’s right, but not because he’ll be fighting it. Our strikes were designed to even the odds between him and the rebels, and we hope that no matter the outcome, whoever controls Libya will keep that sweet crude flowing. Oil is the crack cocaine of nations, and we will not countenance anyone who prevents us from having it.  But the air strikes and other operations which will surely follow are simply an international hedge of sorts. If Gadhafi stays in power, he’ll be a kinder, gentler despot (The same way he was in the early 1990’s) because sooner or later, he’ll still have to sell the oil we need. We can point to our limited air strikes and assert that we only wanted to be fair, and we really didn’t destroy that many civilian buildings. He’ll hate us but still need us.

If he is deposed, which I think is more likely, I think that we will equally point to the military intervention and show the rebels just how much we really loved them and their quest for freedom, justice, and liberty, none of which have ever or will ever play any real part in Libyan society. They’ll hate us but still need us. If Gadhafi manages to survive, we’ll have a quick, very public, show trial for crimes against humanity, and he’ll be quickly hung by his own, just like we intended. Note the irony that the death penalty against deposed dictators never violates the human rights rules we accuse them of violating. Like Nuremberg, it is sufficient that you lost.

Of course, what the powers that be have completely omitted from the dialogue is the likelihood that (a) If the rebels win we will have to engage in at least peacekeeping activities to prevent the usual civil war that follows; or (b) Given the events in Egypt, Yemen, and Bahrain, there is still a strong possibility that a new government will be as radically Islamist as any in the North African/Middle Eastern region.

In short, our support of human rights goals in Libya may very well produce the exact type of new Islamist regime, or even Islamo-tribal regime, which would thwart our plans even more than a dictator. Let’s be honest for minute if we can: Gadhafi is the asshole we know.  Gadhafi is crazy but not stupid. He called this war “”simply a colonial crusader aggression that may ignite another large-scale crusader war.” ( He’s essentially correct on this point with two exceptions: (a) We really want his oil, not his soul, unless we could figure out how to convert Libyan souls to oil, and (b) That war has already begun between the West and the Middle East.

Our need for oil has made us regionally reckless. Consider the following statement from the President of France “French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the allied nations would use ‘all means necessary, particularly military’ to enforce the U.N. mandate.” (

Now, I am not a great fan of France. They have a national habit of mouthing off and then having to call in others to finish their military/colonial operations when things get too tough or expensive. Thus, I believe that when we realize toppling Gadhafi will by necessity entail yet another coalition of ground troops to prevent civil war, France will backpedal and leave us holding the bag once again.  I also note with some irony that it was France who refused to let us fly across her airspace to bomb Libya in the mid-1980’s when we last got into a fight with Gadhafi. What a difference 25 years of oil consumption makes.  This will not be a limited war so long as oil hangs in the balance. For purely humanitarian reasons, we could just as easily have invited ourselves militarily to Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Sudan over the last 30 years. Their civil wars and genocide make the Libyan crisis look like merely a contested soccer game by comparison.
But they have no oil.

One Response leave one →
  1. Mankindof permalink
    March 21, 2011

    Regarding your last point:
    There is more to distinguish Libya from Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Sudan than just oil. Also consider our intervention in Bosnia in the mid-1990s, and Somalia in 1993, neither of which have strategic oil reserves.

    Obviously our foreign policy is inconsistent at best, hypocritical at worst. But (1) we have actually gotten ourselves involved in genocides in oil-free countries, and (2) there are some distinguishing factors between the situation in Libya and those in Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Sudan.

    In Libya, there is a popular uprising, with protesters demanding democratic elections; those other three countries had no similar movement. Rwanda’s civil war was the result of ethnic tensions similar to the Shiite-Sunni conflicts in Iran and Iraq. And in Sudan, we did get involved, just not directly — we gave the rebels $20M worth of weapons, and sent special ops soldiers to secretly help train the rebels. It’s also worth noting that Gaddafi started bombing his own citizens to suppress the democracy demonstrations, whereas the governments of Bahrain and Yemen have not done the same (and hence, we have so far avoided getting involved there).

    As for the oil, according to the CIA World Factbook, Libya exports 1.542 million barrels per day (making it the 15th largest oil exporter in the world). The U.S. imports around 11-15 million barrels per day. According to the U.S. Dept. of Energy, in 2009 we imported an average of 79,000 barrels per day from Libya. For comparison, we imported 75,000 barrels per day from Azerbaijan, and almost double that from the Netherlands. I just counted 23 countries from which we import more oil per day than from Libya. In 2009 we imported 0.61% of our daily oil from Libya. Libya is not important to our petroleum consumption.

    According to the Factbook, Italy buys 37.65% of Libya’s exports; Germany is second at just over 10%; and France is third, at 8.44% of Libya’s exports. I have not yet found what percentage of France’s oil imports come from Libya, so I do not know how important Libyan oil is to France, but from the above, I would guess it is not extremely important. So I do not think we are involved in order to protect the oil interests of allies either.

    I agree with your main point, and had a similar reaction to this new conflict, but I am skeptical of the somewhat popular opinion that this is about oil. Iraq may have been about oil, but the numbers don’t add up to the same conclusion in Libya. I suspect there are political issues we don’t know about, but this doesn’t seem to be simply about oil (though it obviously could be a contributing factor). The idealist in me wants to believe that our involvement really is ultimately about preserving an organic democratic movement and protecting citizens from bombing by their own government. But the cynic in me is waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    I’m also a little skeptical of the idea that we can kiss and make up with Gaddafi if this goes his way. We fired missiles into his residential compound (even though he warned us he was using human shields). We fired freaking missiles into the man’s house. How can we try to play both sides, politically, after that?

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