Monday, March 7, 2011

Televised Revolutions as the Newest Form of Reality TV Show

One hundred and fifty years ago, the United States had just sworn in its new President, Abraham Lincoln, while seven states had declared themselves no longer a part of that country and had already sworn in their own President, Jefferson Davis of Mississippi. The United States was already preparing for a civil war that would last for more than four years while the European powers watched from a distance with varying degrees of political, military, and economic interest. The Prussian military dismissed this war when it began as the clash of armed mobs that offered no insights or important new knowledge of war and warfare and thus not worth their attention.

This is approximately the situation now confronting the two sides in Libya. The Libyan Armed Forces, such as they were, have fragmented. Qadhafi has introduced the use of non-Libyan mercenaries to back up his selected units made up of tribal supporters and others with a vested interest in the regime's survival to beat back the growing armed popular revolt. The rebels are made up of angry young men and elements of the fragmenting Libyan armed forces that have defected to the rebels.

In essence, we are presented with two armed mobs confronting each other. The Libyan military, with limited capabilities before this uprising, have some slight advantage in that they are still generally organised and equipped according to the Army table of equipment. This means that they should have the communications, intelligence gathering, and logistics support normally part of the functioning of a regular army. Their weaknesses are that these will not really be fully effective nor fully integrated and linked across the full spectrum of pro-Qadhafi forces.

The rebels in their turn will have only the advantage of larger overall numbers and youthful and/or revolutionary enthusiasm. Unfortunately, they are still a good ways from being able to operate effectively as military forces even at a limited level equivalent to that of the pro-Qadhafi forces. They lack sufficient trained military leadership, reconnaissance, logistics, communications, heavy weapons, and most importantly air support. That said, their numbers, determination, and enthusiasm suggest that ultimately they can and should win this conflict.

The most important need and potentially the one must susceptible to a favorable resolution is the rebel need for effective leadership. Right now it appears that the Libyan revolutionaries/rebels are dependent upon the historical pattern in which previously unknown and unrecognized leaders will emerge on the battlefield as the militants continue to clash with Qadhafi loyalists. These leaders will not fit a single profile, but are likely to be a mix of both trained military officers who have defected to the rebels and previously unsuspected charismatic leaders with a knack for the kind of knockabout combat that will make up most of the conflict.

The biggest challenge for both the rebels and for outside powers wanting to support or at least recognize these anti-Qadhafi forces is that the battlefield leaders that emerge are less likely to have the political skills essential to the creation of a new regimen and political order. This lack will prolong the period of real uncertainty as to the ultimate direction of Libya's revolution. While it will be difficult for the Libyan rebels to pull off a battlefield victory and then a political success in the face of this and other challenges, it will be even more challenging for interested outside powers to make an early identification of these emerging leaders and then to work with them as this new political order itself develops. It's likely to be along process with numerous steps backward and forward as the situation develops first on the battlefield and then in the political arena. It's outcome is not likely to be successfully predicted by either Libyans or the interested powers.

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