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Max Boot-Free Military Moves in North Africa

The Sudanese uniforms must have noticed when Algeria’s army boss, Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah, pushed his president out the door, politely as these things go, a couple weeks ago, because they lost little time fomenting the same fate for their man, Omar el-Bashir, Sudan’s 30-year incumbent. In Libya, which geographically is between Sudan and Algeria and whose coastline faces Italy, an insurgent army fights to bring down the UN-backed Government of National Accord.

Evidently, though reporting is sketchy, the Libyan National Army, led by General Khalifa Haftar, is supported by Arab aviation — Saudi, Emirati, Egyptian. Plus he is a U.S. citizen. But the wheel’s still in spin. It has been spinning in Libya since 2011, when Haftar’s erstwhile comrade in arms and then mortal enemy, Moammar Gaddafi, went down.

Bashir one-upped Abdelaziz Bouteflika by a decade, the Algerian having been in the presidential palace in Algiers only since 1999. Col. Gaddafi was in charge of Libya for nearly 40 years, prior to being murdered in 2011. To put this in perspective, Mobutu Sese Seko was the supremo of Congo for 32 years, and Paul Biya, president of neighboring Cameroon, recently was re-elected to the post he has held since 1982. Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 to 1876; Queen Elizabeth II has worn the same crown for 66 years so far. However, though no less eminent than her ancestress, she was not Empress of India as well as Queen of England.

So let us not jump to conclusions. But it is a safe bet that if you polled historians and others who take an interest in these matters, Victoria and Elizabeth would score well, whereas these other long-termers, we must admit, most likely would flunk.

Stalin — aka Joseph Djugashvili and “Uncle Joe” and “Little Father of the People” — was First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for less than a quarter century, and while he might flunk too, there are many people — including in American politics and academia! — who might say he deserves some consideration, though for what they rarely can say.

General Haftar, the Gaddafi comrade who turned against him, is even as we write closing in on Tripoli at the head of the Libyan National Army. His aim is to bring unity to the ravaged and disunited country, a former Italian colony, that such strategic geniuses as Max Boot and his French homologue Bernard-Henri Lévy thought was ready for reform and regime change some years ago. He — that would be General Khalifa Haftar — may yet pull it off, seeing as how he is an American and Americans are can-do. Moreover, he lived in Langley for 20 years and is rumored to have clout among the spooks.

Has anyone in the press corps asked John Brennan for the inside poop? He was an intelligence and security man during the Arab Spring, circa 2011, prior to serving as President Obama’s CIA chief, so he ought to know where the inside poop is buried.

In 2011, Haftar emerged from his Virginia retreat — who paid for his trip to his childhood home in eastern Libya? Does Brennan know, and when did he know? — to take part in the overthrow of the cross-dressing colonel whom Ronald Reagan had bombed some 30 years before, but whom George W. Bush had made a truce with in return for giving up his nuclear weapons program. Barack Obama turned against him, with reluctance according to what the principal players have suggested, but at the strong urging of his foreign policy inner circle, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, and Samantha Power. And what was their argument? The pirate of Tripoli was preparing a “humanitarian catastrophe” — a bloodbath — in the rebel city of Benghazi, located near guess whose home town? Haftar.

This does not prove anything either way about having women in charge. Women do not necessarily panic over alleged bloodbaths. However, it may suggest, not prove, something about listening to intellectuals. Messrs. Boot and Lévy had their connections, and they knew, to use a famous French phrase out of respect for the latter, c’est le sang des autres that flows, the blood of others, when their preferred policy ideas turn nasty.

Gaddafi was a pretty bad egg, and sooner or later, he had to have it coming, but he usually knew when he was licked. We had him in our sights for commandeering deadly terrorist attacks on U.S. soldiers in Germany and for many other crimes, notably the infamous downing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. After the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq he made overtures that were heard by Bush II’s foreign policy team, which led to talks with Condoleezza Rice and Elliott Abrams which were not unproductive. He promised to give up terrorism, wars of conquest in the Sahel, and other acts offensive to civilized peoples, as well as his nuke program, which we knew could fall into evil hands.

Nevertheless, both Condoleezza Rice and Elliott Abrams supported the Obama administration decision to join with the Anglo-French in an intervention when, taking their cue from their neighbors in Tunisia, anti-Gaddafi’s in eastern Libya tried to break away. Regime change was in the air (still, and notwithstanding the by-then decade-long records of democratic success in Afghanistan and Iraq). The U.S. contribution excluded boots on the ground.

Libya was several territories that the Italians had brought together as a rather low-rent colony. But this sort of mishmash was true of many ex-colonies. No one in policy circles or allegedly advising same, for example the democracy missionaries at the taxpayer-supported unelected National Endowment for Democracy, bothered with the observable fact that in ex-colonies, “democracy” usually means you support it as long as your tribe or region wins, because you really have no allegiance to the others.

Naturally Gaddafi, a son of western Libya, sent security forces against the insurgents, leading to a human rights emergency (according to B.-H. Lévy), which gave French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British P.M. David Cameron the pretext they needed to go to war. Just what they expected to gain from war in Libya has never been clear. At any rate, after a brief moment of self-congratulatory rhetoric, everybody pulled out, leaving the place a total shambles, which led to a true human rights emergency and vastly contributed to the million-man (woman and child) refugee movement into Europe. The blood of others.

Omar el-Bashir came to power in a military coup in 1989, and over the years he played whatever cards he had to keep himself there. He began with a strong Islamist base, and he protected Osama bin Laden’s for several years before a falling out between Bashir and the Sudanese Islamist leader Hassan el-Turabi convinced the Qaeda chief to accept the hospitality of the Taliban then running Afghanistan.

Bashir’s domestic policies included massacring people in his own country, particularly the western province of Darfur, and continuing the civil war with the southern half of Sudan that had started as soon as the Anglo-Egyptian colonial consortium granted the country independence in 1956. The south is populated by non-Arab and non-Muslim majorities. The Bush II administration helped these finally gain independence for what became South Sudan, but freedom (including the interruption of the slave trade which Bashir, in keeping with longstanding historical custom, protected) did not bring stability or even peace, as the rival national liberation leaders led their respective tribes, Dinka and Nuer, into a fresh round of civil war.

At least in Mauritania, on the other end of the Continent, the incumbent, who, too, got his job by way of a military coup followed by an election, is respecting term limits and is preparing to step down, with a member of his circle running to take his place against a divided opposition. The NED, mind, had no part of this; maybe that is why it is working.

The downfall of Omar el-Bashir was announced yesterday by the defense minister (in uniform if television pics do not lie), Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf. The “street” was making the army nervous, apparently, and as in Algeria they decided to pre-empt the protests. But as in Algeria, the protesters in Khartoum, who include large numbers of women and have remained admirably calm despite security forces coming down pretty hard on them, are by now demanding more than the representative of the system step down. They want real change, without being too clear as to what this means,  for which you can scarcely blame them. During the American Revolution, the focus was getting the colonial power out, then there was a regime that failed, and only after that a Constitutional Convention.

And again as in Algeria, it is not at all clear if the people, or the people standing in for the people, will persuade the military tops to step aside when the transitions. including new presidential elections, take place, assuming they do. In Algeria, elections are already scheduled for July 4. The junta in Khartoum has said it will run the country for a two-year transition period.

By the reckoning of many observers, “post-colonialism” was the revenge of wicked men on their fellow ex-colonial subjects. It is surely more complicated than that. Outside meddling does not seem to help much; and indeed, it just muddies things. Already Italy and France, led by men who hate each other’s guts, are taking opposing stances on Libya, with France apparently throwing its support to General Haftar while Italy insists on defending the Tripoli government and its national accord mandate.

Napoleon Bonaparte made his early marks in Italy; but it is too early to suggest the Libyan intervention of 2011 so eloquently supported by such thoughtful men as Max Boot and B.-H. Lévy, will finally produce another foray of French glory across the Alps.

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