Sanctions on Libya really starting to hurt …

posted at 11:36 am on April 12, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

As NATO’s military efforts to keep Moammar Gaddafi in a box continue to fall short, at least the international sanctions are having a significant effect on the civil war in Libya.  Unfortunately, as the Washington Post reports, it’s not the effect the West intended.  Gaddafi has restructured his regime to withstand the effects of international sanctions, but the economy in rebel-held areas has struggled to stay afloat:

Forced on the defensive on the battlefield, Libya’s rebels are also struggling in the economic war of attrition with Moammar Gaddafi, despite the backing of the West.

Global efforts to isolate Gaddafi and cut off his economic lifeline have put significant pressure on his government. But President Obama and other NATO leaders may find that sanctions do not bring Gaddafi to his knees as quickly as they would hope, if at all.

The panic that gripped the Libyan economy at the height of the crisis has substantially abated, and the government has implemented a series of measures to cope with the sanctions and the loss of hundreds of thousands of foreign workers.

The economic situation appears more chaotic in the rebel-held east, with the collapse of much of the public sector and the shuttering of oil production.

We saw something similar during the twelve-year standoff in Iraq.  Massive economic sanctions on the Saddam Hussein regime brought reports of 5000 starvation deaths a month, one of the reasons the UN started the Oil for Food Programme.  The international community was supposed to ensure that the sale of Iraqi oil went to buy food and humanitarian supplies for the people; instead, corruption in nations such as France, Russia, and others put billions of dollars into the pockets of Hussein himself.

Sanctions are effective only in the context of waging war by economic means against another government.  Sanctions as humanitarian intervention makes as much sense as air raids for humanitarian intervention. Iran is a good example of this.  The sanctions there are not offered in humanitarian rationalizations, but for the stark reality of the mullahcracy’s march towards nuclear weapons.  We hope that this inspires the Iranian people to rid themselves of their oppressors (although we seem awfully disinterested when they try), but the obvious goal is much more straightforward and honest.

As long as the rogue government targeted by sanctions stays in power, the impact of sanctions will get spread to those victims whom the regime chooses.  At some point, the idea is that the pain will force the people to overthrow their despots, and that’s not an illegitimate goal, but it necessarily means that the world has to inflict even more misery on a nation in order to force that kind of change.  In the case of Libya, the sanctions are actually working against regime change to a certain degree by handcuffing the rebels and demoralizing the population under their control.  The war itself has done enough damage in these areas, and the sanctions are making it worse.

If the West truly wanted to intervene, then it should have done so decisively with a plan that actually addressed the stated objectives of the coalition.  Either that, or NATO should have stayed out of the conflict entirely — as they have done in Sudan, Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria.


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The noose is tightening. You heard it here first.

a capella on April 12, 2011 at 11:39 AM

Days, not weeks.

Electrongod on April 12, 2011 at 11:40 AM

If the West truly wanted to intervene, then it should have done so decisively

decisi-what?

with a plan

You’re allowed to have one of those?

mankai on April 12, 2011 at 11:40 AM

The noose is tightening. You heard it here first.

a capella on April 12, 2011 at 11:39 AM

On whom?

mankai on April 12, 2011 at 11:41 AM

The noose is tightening. You heard it here first.

a capella on April 12, 2011 at 11:39 AM

Yeah, but around whose throat?

pilamaye on April 12, 2011 at 11:41 AM

The economic situation appears more chaotic in the rebel-held east, with the collapse of much of the public sector and the shuttering of oil production.

Wait, is that because of sanctions, or because they have no government?
(Are we really applying sanctions to the rebel held areas? Are we really that backward?)

Count to 10 on April 12, 2011 at 11:42 AM

20 days after Bush finally decided that Hussein had to go, he was out of power. Now, the “West” has decided that qadaffi must go, and well after 20 days he is still there.
Tyrants of the world are watching this with glee.

redshirt on April 12, 2011 at 11:44 AM

Cuba is a good example of the incompetence of sanctions. Castro hasn’t gone without a meal.

fourdeucer on April 12, 2011 at 11:45 AM

You mean binding decrees that are voluntarily self-enforced have no bearing on entrenched and shameless wielders of power who use Bullets and bullion as currency?

Oh my…

abobo on April 12, 2011 at 11:46 AM

How much longer before Soetoro declares “peace with honor”, and helicopters start taking off from embassy roofs?

Rebar on April 12, 2011 at 11:48 AM

This article says nothing about the sanctions having a negative impact in the rebel-held east.

Mark1971 on April 12, 2011 at 11:48 AM

This is what happens when you wage war for political gain instead of strategic. We are going to pull out in defeat, there is an election coming up, dontcha know. I just pray that we lose none of our people in the process.

Mord on April 12, 2011 at 11:51 AM

Solid B+

KeepOhioRed on April 12, 2011 at 12:04 PM

Meh…

“Oh, timid men. Step aside! Yield to the boldness of women.”

Seven Percent Solution on April 12, 2011 at 12:06 PM

Kinetic.

FlatFoot on April 12, 2011 at 12:09 PM

Smart power at its finest…

Khun Joe on April 12, 2011 at 12:09 PM

This article says nothing about the sanctions having a negative impact in the rebel-held east.

Mark1971 on April 12, 2011 at 11:48 AM

You’re right. It appears the main problem is that most of the people in the east worked for the government, and attacks by the west have kept oil production shut down.

Count to 10 on April 12, 2011 at 12:11 PM

Meh…

“Oh, timid men. Step aside! Yield to the boldness of women.”
Seven Percent Solution on April 12, 2011 at 12:06 PM

Imagine if they weren’t all post menopausal.

fourdeucer on April 12, 2011 at 12:17 PM

Days, not weeks.

Electrongod on April 12, 2011 at 11:40 AM

We need commercials saying that everyday from now to election day.

Oil Can on April 12, 2011 at 12:28 PM

Progressive altruism always results in hurting those they try to help. Look at every progressive program ever enacted. Welfare etc.

csdeven on April 12, 2011 at 12:33 PM

As long as the rogue government targeted by sanctions stays in power, the impact of sanctions will get spread to those victims whom the regime chooses. At some point, the idea is that the pain will force the people to overthrow their despots, and that’s not an illegitimate goal, but it necessarily means that the world has to inflict even more misery on a nation in order to force that kind of change. In the case of Libya, the sanctions are actually working against regime change to a certain degree by handcuffing the rebels and demoralizing the population under their control. The war itself has done enough damage in these areas, and the sanctions are making it worse.

Economic sanctions can “inflict more misery on a nation” if applied to an ENTIRE nation, if the despotic government controls the entire nation. Economic sanctions didn’t work against Iraq, primarily because most supplies come into Iraq via the southern port city of Basrah, then transit up the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. If Saddam controlled Basrah, he controlled commerce for all of Iraq.

But selectively applied economic sanctions COULD work against Gaddafi in Libya, if any of the geniuses in the Obummer administration decided to look at a map. Libya is a rather one-dimensional country, with the vast majority of the population concentrated along the Mediterranean coast, with Gaddafi’s forces controlling most of the western cities (except Misrata), and the rebels controlling eastern cities.

Since Libya gets most of its imports by ship, if the goal is to topple Gaddafi and help the rebels, why not apply a trade embargo to Tripoli and other Gaddafi-controlled cities, while continuing trade with Benghazi and the rebel-controlled cities? Merchant ships in the Mediterranean can evade Gaddafi’s forces, especially if a no-fly zone is enforced.

At some point, the idea is that the pain will force the people to overthrow their despots,

If that’s the idea, let’s feed our “friends” and starve our foes, instead of starving everybody! Or am I missing something here?

Steve Z on April 12, 2011 at 12:43 PM

If that’s the idea, let’s feed our “friends” and starve our foes, instead of starving everybody! Or am I missing something here?

Steve Z on April 12, 2011 at 12:43 PM

Not sure we know which is which. If I might hazard a guess, I suspect it has to do with who can provide the most oil contracts to Europe.

a capella on April 12, 2011 at 12:50 PM

Ships are unable to obtain insurance going into such a “war zone” thus the rebels really cannot trade and have little if any cash reserves to purchase anything.

Kermit on April 12, 2011 at 12:52 PM

Wait. What?

We’re still messing around over there in Libya?

The mainstream media has quit reporting anything about Libya, so I assumed it was all over.

We won, Obama is awesome and the world is right again. Right?

ButterflyDragon on April 12, 2011 at 1:29 PM

Obama is henpecked and ends up a chicken.

Schadenfreude on April 12, 2011 at 1:29 PM

Meanwhile back in Libya, NATO adopts an odd form for the “rules of engagement” …

Even those who support the mission aren’t doing much about it. With a certain flourish, the Swedish parliament approved the deployment of Swedish planes abroad for first time in more than 40 years. Alas, the Swedish jets are allowed only to enforce the no-fly zone: That means they can shoot down Libyan government planes but cannot bomb ground targets. Since there aren’t any more Libyan government planes, this shouldn’t be too difficult.
But then, Dutch planes operate under the same restrictions. Norwegian planes, meanwhile, are apparently allowed to bomb air bases but nothing else. Italy’s planes have flown more than 100 missions but have not yet dropped a single bomb. The Canadians are doing a bit more, it is true — though Canadian politicians are bending over backward to avoid talking too much about it.

J_Crater on April 12, 2011 at 1:38 PM