If you listened to John McCain or the radical progressive left (that used to adore Russia), the Russians aren’t acting in America’s best interests. That may be true – or it may not be true, depending on how you look at it.
Russians in Libya
Russians in Libya
Armed Forces Spokesman Colonel Ahmad al-Mismari, the spokesman of the Libyan armed forces, which are affiliated with Libya’s official parliament based in Tobruk, said that his forces have taken the oil-rich areas of Ras Lanuf, Sidra and Ben Jawad.
He said the armed forces, known as the Libyan National Army (LNA), launched an offensive earlier on the 14th to capture the oil sites that had been seized by the al-Qaeda-linked Benghazi Defense Brigades (BDB) on 3 March. On 7 March, the BDB handed over control of the ports to the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG), which is affiliated with the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA).
On the opposing side, the head of the Petroleum Facilities Guard of the Government of National Accord, Idris Bu-Khamadah, appealed for international support for imposing a no-fly zone over the region. “The air strikes are intensifying,” he said. “We face the risk of the destruction of the petroleum tanks if the international community does not intervene.”
You may recall that Libya has three “legitimate government” administrations. You can’t tell the players without a program.
(1) A pro-al-Qaida faction merged with a UN-backed Government of National Accord operates in Tripoli. This national unity government was supposed to help reunify the country, end the civil war and stop the refugee and migrant waves from Libya to Europe. It did none of those tasks. Its control does not extend beyond Tripoli. It has support from some tribal militias in western Libya.
(2) A jihadist regime affiliated with the Islamic State administered Benghazi until recently. Benghazi was the Islamic State’s third major stronghold city.
(3) The internationally recognized Libyan House of Representatives government is installed in Tobruk. For ease of use, we’ll call that the Tobruk Government. For a time, it was associated with the Government of National Accord, but ended that association last year.
The Tobruk government appointed Khalifa Haftar (also spelled Hifter), who lived in the US for 20 years, to head the military forces in the east, which included remnants of the Libyan Air Force. Since 2014, when he launched Operation Dignity, most of Haftar’s energy has been devoted to defeating the Islamists and jihadists in Benghazi and taking the nearby oil fields. In late January, Haftar’s Libyan National Army finally gained control of most of Benghazi for the Tobruk government.
In March, the pro-al-Qaida forces affiliated with the regime in Tripoli executed successfully an operation to seize Ras Lanuf and other oil fields in the so-called Petroleum Crescent. In reaction, Field Marshal Haftar mounted the successful operation to liberate the oil fields.
Haftar is either having a run of good luck or is being provided outside military assistance (by the Russians) sufficient to influence the tactical situation in the civil war. The Egyptians, Jordanians and the United Arab Emirates back Haftar.
A recent analysis argued that Russia is attempting to do in Libya what it achieved in Crimea and in Syria – stabilize the conflict on terms favorable to Russian strategic interests.
Details: Field Marshal Haftar and the Tobruk government appear to be the beneficiaries of Russia’s new interest. Haftar has traveled to Moscow for meetings three times in the past year. He has met Russians in Algiers at least twice. He was a guest aboard the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetzov on 11 January. Wounded Libyan National Army soldiers are receiving treatment in Russian hospitals. One expert argued that Haftar has plenty of weapons, despite the UN arms embargo. His ally, Egyptian President, former Field Marshal, al Sisi helps with weapons and ammunition. Haftar needs advisors, trainers and technicians. If this is the case, then the Russian special forces, training and advisory operations in Syria would appear to be a fitting template.
The Syrian Model – Applied in Libya
Haftar reportedly compares his situation to that of Syrian President Asad. With a little boost like the Russians gave Asad, Haftar supposedly judges that he can win the civil war. The Russians appear to favor Haftar, but have made no firm commitment.
The Russian intervention is intriguing. Once again, Putin is filling an international leadership vacuum. The Admiral Kuznetsov’s port call at Tobruk signaled some of what the Russians want – access to a mid-Mediterranean port and airfields. The Russian end game appears to be a pro-Russian bloc of strong-man governments that extend from Tripoli to Damascus, in the original analysis.
Algeria’s role in supporting the Russians and Haftar has been under-reported. The pro-Russian bloc actually would run from Algiers to Damascus. The common goals are the final destruction of the Islamic State and the defeat of Islamic extremists. The formation and management of this bloc would justify Russia’s investment in upgrading the naval facility at Tartus.
There is an appeal to what the Russians are trying to do. Are they worse than the jihadis? My sense is that if the US is too timid to finish the jihadi situation, the Russians are welcome to it. Let them waste blood and treasure and if they’re successful, let Vlad keep Robert Kraft’s Super Bowl ring. Americans are concerned about civil rights. American judges in Hawaii and Maryland extended the Bill of Rights protection to everyone on the planet last week. That doesn’t square well with putting ordnance on target or killing people for a living, which is what the military is tasked to do. Those things don’t keep the Russians up at night. They have a different approach that is time tested and it works.
Astana Talks and the Kurds
The Syrian government accused Turkey of breaking its commitments to the talks because Syrian rebel groups backed by Turkey boycotted the third round of meetings. The head of the Syrian delegation, Bashar Jaafari, said that, as a guarantor of the ceasefire, Turkey bore responsibility for delivering the rebel delegation.
A political leader in the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army said that Turkey did not push the group to attend the talks. The Free Syrian Army is the primary Turkish proxy fighting the Islamic State in northern Syria.
The non-attendance by the Turkish proxy means that Turkish President Erdogan and Russian President Putin failed to reach an understanding on the future of the Syrian Kurds. Russia has steadfastly insisted that they have representation in peace talks. Turkey has been equally insistent that they are all terrorists.
The Turks were determined to liberate Manbij from the Syrian Kurds, who dominate the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. Russian, Syrian and US forces blocked the Turks and frustrated Erdogan’s policy.
Erdogan may be relied on to project a tough guy image in the next month because of the referendum on the amendments to the constitution that will create a strong presidency in Turkey. He cannot afford to look subservient to the Russians, or the Americans, before the mid-April referendum. He also genuinely considers the armed Kurds to be terrorists.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia
A senior Pakistani military source confirmed that Pakistan has responded positively to a Saudi request for combat troops to assist with operations against the Houthis in Yemen. Planning for the deployment reportedly has begun.
The source stressed that Pakistani troops would “not go across the border” into Yemen. Instead, the source said troops would be kept on standby in case of any major internal security threat or terrorist incident.
This request indicates that the Saudis are in trouble in Yemen. They need more and more effective manpower to defeat the Houthis. The deployment of a Pakistan Army brigade to the border could enable military leaders to shift possibly 5,000 Saudi soldiers from border defense duties to combat operations inside Yemen.
The Saudis also need better leadership for the Yemen operations.
Over the past two years, Pakistan has refused Saudi requests for combat forces, citing Pakistan’s own internal security problems. However, Pakistani leaders, including retired Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, promised Saudi leaders that Pakistan would send combat forces in the event of a threat to the Kingdom. Apparently, the Saudis are calling in that marker.
The brigade deployment might coincide with the arrival of General Sharif as the commander of the new 40-nation Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism. Managing a Pakistani field force near Yemen might be Raheel’s first task and the Alliance’s first mission.
It is doubtful that a single brigade held in reserve will change the situation much. On the other hand, a Pakistani brigade with effective air support probably could capture the Houthi capital at Sa’dah.
Facing a bread shortage that creates long lines the Venezuelan government responded this week by detaining bakers and seizing business establishments.
In a press release, the National Superintendent for the Defense of Socioeconomic Rights said it had charged four people and temporarily seized two bakeries as the socialist administration accused bakers of being part of a broad “economic war” aimed at destabilizing the country.
The government said the bakers had been selling underweight bread and were using price-regulated flour to illegally make specialty items, like sweet rolls and croissants.
Bakers have been found to be the latest foot soldiers in the economic war waged by the US against the Maduro government. They pose a threat to national stability and the proof is in the sweet rolls and croissants. The Maduro government, however, did not ban bakeries.
Socialist authoritarian governments always must find someone or something to blame for their incompetent policies. (Animal Farm, Orwell) The blame game involves climbing and descending a ladder of blame for the inevitable failures in a statist economy. The Maduro administration is on the bottom rung.
The lowest rung of the ladder is people. Things don’t work because the people include unreformed segments of the population and the business community. They are always supposedly venal and in need of indoctrination. They are responsible for the crisis. That is why Venezuelan authorities arrested the bakers.
Bakers are not responsible for the flour shortage, which is the real problem. Thus, arresting bakers for price gouging is good street theater, but avoids solving the shortage problem. That is how authoritarian systems politicize the most harmless acts.
The next rung of the ladder is the administrators of the policy. They get blamed and replaced if things do not improve after the crackdown on exploiters and the ignorant, because the program and the policy are sound.
The third rung of the ladder is the program. At this level, national leaders tinker with the programmatic features of a bad policy to make it more acceptable or less burdensome. Programmatic changes always require new administrators. Tinkering and high-level personnel replacements are the signs a government has reached the third rung.
The fourth rung of the blame ladder is the policy itself. Few authoritarian leaders ever admit that a policy is wrong because that constitutes a self-indictment. However, Kim Il-sung did in December 1993, when he abolished North Korea’s Seven Year Plan and the planning bureaucracy as failures. He died before he could reform the economy. Lots of socialist planners were sent to other work.
Bad policies seldom die. Kim’s grandson, Kim Jong Un, resurrected the Five-Year Plan and the North Korean planning bureaucracy in May 2016.
National leaders may go up and down on the bottom three rungs of the blame ladder for a long time — cracking down, tinkering and changing administrators — before they accept that the policy might need to be changed.
The top rung of the ladder is the system itself is wrong. That realization most often is manifest in popular uprisings, as occurred during the collapse of communist regimes in eastern Europe and Russia. The leaders of the system never admit the system is wrong.
Venezuela is still on the bottom rungs, but no bread riots have occurred to force systemic change. If and when they do, President Maduro will sacrifice some of his minions, but will not change the policies or the system. The economic situation is ripe for a revolution (i.e., systemic change), but Venezuelans still do not seem ready to take the security risks.