After having been driven back from the town of Bin Jawwad on Tuesday, the rebels retreated through the oil hubs of Ras Lanuf and Brega on Wednesday en route to the strategic city of Ajdabiya, fighters reported. Rebels in a motley assortment of vehicles raced eastward on both lanes of the coastal highway toward Ajdabiya after coming under shelling in Brega from the more heavily armed Gaddafi forces, witnesses said. ~The Washington Post
Time has an interesting item on Bin Jawad from earlier today:
Bin Jawad, however innocuous it may seem in the sunshine, is not a town that Gaddafi intends to lose. And indeed, it may prove to be a trickier battle zone than the previous towns the rebels have conquered. The reasons may run deeper than Gaddafi’s heavy weapons. “Bin Jawad didn’t want to support us from the beginning,” says Fayez Mohamed Zwei, a fighter from Ajdabiyah. “The whole east was with us except Bin Jawad.”
Indeed, Bin Jawad may be the first town in the rebels’ westward push where many of the townspeople are not on their side.
It seems it was just the other day that pro-rebel enthusiasts here in the West were celebrating the rebel advance. Oh, right, it was just the other day, because the rebels cannot hold territory once they come under attack.
Sorry, did I say rebel advance? I meant to say glorious triumph of the “liberation movement.” When I see someone write enthusiastically about a foreign “liberation movement,” I ask myself what he is trying to sell me, because there are few more loaded and propagandistic ways to describe an insurrection than that. There are few words in political discourse more abused than liberation, especially when it comes to rebellions. Just eight years since we heard endless cheers for the “liberation” of Iraq, I cannot believe that otherwise reasonable people would resort to such language. When some war supporters use this language, it does help to distinguish between the people who approve of the original purpose of the intervention as authorized by the Security Council to protect civilians against attack and those that are intent on having the U.S. and our allies prolong and escalate the conflict (which the Security Council did not authorize) to achieve a certain political result. There is no satisfaction to be taken from any of this. It is a reminder that outside governments plunged into an internal conflict on the losing side without a plan.
The Bin Jawad anecdote caught my attention. There has been a fairly concerted effort on the part of supporters of Western intervention to minimize the extent of support for Gaddafi and/or neutrality among most of the Libyan population. The Libyan civil war isn’t so much a civil war between competing factions, they want to tell us, but an uprising of “the people” against “the regime.” One side is assumed to have broad backing, and the other very limited popular support. Of course, if that assumption is wrong, almost everything else about the case for intervention collapses. The rebels are presumed to possess some greater political legitimacy because they are opposed to Gaddafi, but that doesn’t follow at all.
Certainly, Bin Jawad is just one small town. It may not be representative. What continues to amaze me is the confidence that war supporters have that people in eastern Libya who hail from a different region than Gaddafi and have more reason than most to hate Gaddafi are representative of most Libyans. Do most Libyans want a less repressive and brutal government? That seems clear. Do most of them want to achieve that end through armed violence backed by outside governments? That’s much less certain.
Meanwhile, we should be very wary of applauding anyone in this conflict. Here is another part of Bin Jawwad report on the “liberators”:
The rebels did not take chances with a town they could no longer trust. After pushing back into Bin Jawad on Tuesday afternoon, the rebels quickly set about searching the streets and homes of the town for hidden troops, mercenaries and traitors. “Alley to alley, house to house,” shouted one man at the fighters as trucks veered down Bin Jawad’s unpaved, bumpy side streets. He used Gaddafi’s own words — an infamous threat from an earlier speech that is often repeated in the rebel-held east. It’s meant to mock the Colonel; it’s even graffitied on the walls. But as the rebels tread into unwelcome territory, they seem to mean it in much the way Gaddafi did — in a kind of unrelenting and paranoid door-to-door campaign to rout their enemies. “Search the houses,” another man shouted, as fighters ran down Bin Jawad’s alleys and took up position behind walls. Gunfire and the explosions of rocket-propelled grenades reverberated from within the town. At least one house was set on fire after rebels located a suspected Gaddafi loyalist there [bold mine-DL].
Brutal reprisals are part of many civil wars, but what I still don’t understand is why the U.S. should want to be associated with any of this.
Now that our government has been needlessly entangled in this conflict, it would be far better to halt military operations and seek a negotiated settlement. Perhaps using Turkish or African Union mediation, it is worth exploring whether a cease-fire and amnesty for rebels could be negotiated. The alternative is a military stalemate enforced by our planes and a prolonged conflict that will continue to displace and harm civilians.
Update: It appears that the rebels have begun retreating from Ajdabiya as well.