Col. Muammar Qaddafi is digging his heals in. The Libyan despot has shut off his country's internet and his troops continue to gun down protesters in the streets. Now, as army defectors and volunteers coalesce into a rebel army, the specter of a blood-soaked stand-off looms. As the international community ponders its next move, here are some of the doomsday scenarios pundits and policy experts are alerting the public to:
Qaddafi Uses Mustard Gas on His Own People U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Qaddafi has about 14 tons of mustard gas he could use against his people. The gas is a "highly toxic sulfuric compound that can blister and burn the skin," The Washington Times reports. "It can cause internal and external bleeding, and disrupt breathing and digestion." The specter of Qaddafi using chemical weapons on his own people has led Western leaders to threaten military intervention in such a scenario.
The International Criminal Court Convinces Qaddafi to Fight Until the End The ICC has already announced an investigation into alleged war crimes by the Libyan dictator. But, as The New American Foundation's Brian Fishman warns, this could do more harm than good.
An ICC investigation is an excellent way to hold dictators accountable, but laying the groundwork for such an investigation today is somewhat dangerous. The international community's imperative today is to stop the bloodshed, which means convincing Gadhafi to abdicate. Announcing an ICC investigation is likely to have the opposite effect on Gadhafi and encourage him to fight until the bitter end because of the possibility of an international trial.
The U.S. Imposes a No-Fly Zone and Becomes Embroiled in War Foreign Policy's Tom Ricks, a vocal critic of the proposed measure, lays out the the potential risks involved:
1. Imposing a no-fly zone is an act of war. For example, it would require attacking Qaddafi's air defense systems-not just anti-aircraft guns and missile batteries, but also radar and communications systems. We may also need some places out in the desert to base helicopters to pick up downed fliers. So, first question: Do we want to go to war with Qaddafi?
2. Hmmm, another American war in an Arab state -- what's not to like?
3. How long are we willing to continue this state of war? What if we engage in an act of war, and he prevails against the rebels? Do we continue to fight him, escalate — or just slink away? And what do we do about aircrews taken prisoner?
4. And if we are going to go to war with his government, why not just try to finish the job quickly and conduct air strikes against him and his infrastructure? In this sense, a no-fly zone is a half measure, which generally is a bad idea in war. Why risk going to war and losing? That is, if we are willing to do air strikes, why not go the whole way and use ground troops now to go in and topple a teetering regime? I actually would prefer this option.
Libyan Arms Could Get in the the Wrong Hands The country has large stockpiles of highly-sophisticated weapons including heat-seeking antiaircraft missiles. Today, the New York Times' C.J. Chivers examines the threat:
Photographs and video from the uprising show civilians carrying a full array of what were once the Libyan military’s weapons — like the SA-7, an early-generation, shoulder-fired missile in the same family as the more widely known Stinger — that intelligence agencies have long worried could fall into terrorists’ hands. They also show large groups of young men equipped with a complete suite of lightweight, simple-to-use and durable infantry arms, including assault rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, which have been a staple of fighting in Africa and Asia since midway through the cold war. Mines, grenades and several types of antitank missiles can be seen as well...
“The danger of these missiles ending up in the hands of terrorists and insurgents outside of Libya is very real,” said Matthew Schroeder, the director of the Arms Sales Monitoring Project at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington. “Securing these missiles should be a top priority of the U.S. intelligence community and their counterparts overseas.”
There are reasons to worry that al-Qaeda and its allies may be able to take advantage of the chaos in Libya more than it has in Egypt or Tunisa. First, Libya does not have functional institutions like the Army in Egypt or the bureaucracy in Tunisia. Thus, chaos is likely for a reasonably extended period even if Gadhafi abdicates, and that will give al-Qaeda types the ability to argue that democratic revolution is unlikely to bring substantive benefits.
Second, in the last three or four years, Libya has been a hotbed of jihadi recruitment, especially to participate in the Iraq war. There seem to be tribal or social networks in place that sympathize with al-Qaeda and they could form the backbone of a renewed jihadi organization in Libya. (The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group was a major danger in the 1990s.) Jihadis will always be on the fringe, but the fringe is a bit bigger in Libya today than elsewhere.