Belmont Club

Hostage to Fortune

The Washington Post says that European air forces are running out of munitions in Libya. “NATO is running short of precision bombs, highlighting the limitations of Britain, France and other European countries in sustaining even a relatively small military action over an extended period of time, according to senior NATO and U.S. officials.”  The question is now whether the US must return to the fight for the fight to continue.

NATO officials said that their operational tempo has not decreased since the United States relinquished command of the Libya operation and withdrew its strike aircraft … but, they said, the current bombing rate by the participating nations is not sustainable.

“The reason we need more capability isn’t because we aren’t hitting what we see — it’s so that we can sustain the ability to do so. One problem is flight time, the other is munitions,” said another official, one of several who were not authorized to discuss the issue on the record.

European arsenals of laser-guided bombs, the NATO weapon of choice in the Libyan campaign, have been quickly depleted, officials said. Although the United States has significant stockpiles, its munitions do not fit on the British- and French-made planes that have flown the bulk of the missions.

But there may be another reason for Washington’s reluctance to throw its full weight behind its campaign to be “on both sides of history”. Simon Henderson, writing in Foreign Policy, says that the House of Saud may be on the verge of dumping Barack Obama. In fact, it has already tightened the oil valves on him to remind him of their power.  In retaliation, Obama is holding back on finishing Muhammar Khadaffi, who the Saudi King loathes.

With U.S. gasoline prices climbing and despite Riyadh’s promises to make up for lost Libyan hydrocarbon sales, the Saudis “throttled back production in mid-March,” according to the International Energy Agency. …

Having initially warmed to the newly elected U.S. president, Barack Obama — who in return offered apparently obsequious deference — King Abdullah feels let down by the White House on pretty well everything from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to Iran, and especially Iran.

However, the core of the Saudi Royal House is itself reeling from the scourge of age and mutual suspicion. Henderson reports that “King Abdullah cuts an increasingly pathetic figure. He underwent two operations on his back late last year … he can only manage two or three hours of official engagements each day, I am also told the burden of government is not easily shared.” In plain words the current Saudi leadership is dying of old age. The successors are none too happy with each other and nobody can say with certainty what happens next.

His notional successor, Crown Prince Sultan, is a vegetable, his appearance genial but his mind shot to shreds — a WikiLeaked U.S. diplomatic cable said he was “for all intents and purposes incapacitated.” The most likely next king is Interior Minister Prince Nayef, who runs the kingdom on a day-to-day basis but is currently vacationing abroad at an undisclosed destination, apparently sure of his power base within the House of Saud and the backing of the kingdom’s religious conservatives.

Meanwhile, the king sees dangers all around him. He takes little pleasure in the demise of Egypt’s Mubarak, a friend of Washington for 30 years who was cast aside in a mere 18 days. The man King Abdullah would like to see go to hell is Libya’s Muammar al-Qaddafi, who once tried to assassinate him — but Obama will not oblige.

However that may be, the Washington Post says that the Duck of Death is tightening his grip around the rebel city of Misrata, hitting it with scores of rockets and threatening to cut it off from access to the port. “If a massacre occurs in Misurata, what will be NATO’s position?” added Mohammed, who spoke via Skype. “It is now or never. Either they intervene immediately and bring in ground troops to protect the port or we will all regret this.”

Everybody has something to regret. The Europeans are probably regretting their lack of munitions. Washington is regretting, if ever it regrets, it’s lack of oil. And the Sauds are pining for the fjords, or something like it anyway. Maybe Obama is hoping that Abdullah will die before Misrata falls, or perhaps the British and the French can start up a production line to build more bombs. Whoever said that life was perfect.

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