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The War Nerd / March 25, 2011
By Gary Brecher


You can feel the war in Libya shifting today. This is what it must be like to go to a stage play and wait around between scenes while they wheel the props off and drag in the new ones. The next act is coming up, and it’s pretty clear what it’s going to be: PR war, tribal deal-making war.

From the start, and except for the first few hours after NATO planes jumped on Qaddafi’s convoys, this has been a typical late-20th/early-21st century war: not much going on militarily because the real fight is in the gloopy mess of PR, networking, bribery and media-escort servicing.

Very few rulers or rebels outside of Africa are willing to go all out now. Nuclear powers who could scrape the planet clean if they used everything they had use bush weaponry in firefights with little gangs. It’s an odd moment in military history. I can’t think of a time before 1945 when military powers didn’t use their best weapons, but that’s the situation now.


Libya’s been like this “war” scene in the Looney Toons classic “Rabbit of Seville”: Elmer comes after Bugs with an ax. Bugs grabs a bigger ax; Elmer comes back with a revolver, and so on until Elmer shows up with a huge cannon that looks like a Parrot gun. You think Bugs is going to find an even bigger cannon, Big Bertha or something–but he pulls the ultimate tactical surprise by popping up with a box of candy and a big diamond ring. Elmer’s so touched he just goes all starry-eyed and next thing you know, he’s in a wedding dress—a really horrible sight–and Bugs is ready to con him again.

That’s pretty much how it’s gone in Libya. Protesters show up with AKs and RPGs, Qaddafi responds with tanks and his pitiful imitation of an air force. NATO squelches that with real air power, and now it’s time for the box of candy. Which arrived today in the form of another “Green March for Peace” by Libya’s largest tribe, the Warfalla. (“Warfalla”? Somebody always stealing my tag.) The Warfalla have been paid big to put on a show for the news crews, marching to Benghazi for “peace,” in the sense of “Qaddafi stays in power and takes his revenge quietly and peacefully in soundproofed cellars.”

Benghazi is the heart of the revolt, and there’s a tribal angle to that too: Benghazi is where the Zuwayya, the tribe of the King who was deposed by Qaddafi, hang out. So there’s a whole tribal dimension to the Libya mess nobody really wants to deal with. Might start people thinking there’s no good guy here, which there isn’t. That’s no good for journalists; they got to have a good guy, and they’ll make one up if they can’t find one. (Never a shortage of bad guys, you’ll notice. Finding bad guys is like sending those Amazing Race people on a challenge to find asphalt—not that much of a challenge.)


These Warfalla are going to march with flowers and candy, just like Bugs, and on Qaddafi’s orders, because he’s lost the purely military struggle. But once again, this is our weird little era when “purely military” just doesn’t settle things. We’re in an era where the Children’s Crusade might just have worked. That’s how much things have changed.

Qaddafi didn’t come up with the idea for a “Green March” by unarmed civvies. The Moroccans have the patent on that. I’ve been saying for a long time that the most important battle of the late 20th century was the Moroccan Green March in 1975. I hate to quote myself, but I’m gonna, because nobody else has picked up on how important this stuff is:

“What was the most important battle of the late 20th century? You could argue it was the one that took place on the southern border of Morocco on November 6, 1975. Of course, we’re not talking about another Stalingrad here. In fact, what happened that day isn’t usually called a battle at all. Its official name is “The Green March.” On one side were 350,000 unarmed Moroccan civilians carrying green (Islamic) flags, and on the other — miles inside the border, because they were hoping not to have to confront any of the marchers — was a shaky, demoralized token force of Spanish troops pretending to defend a former Spanish colony, the Spanish Sahara.” (“War of the Babies,” 2008)

The Moroccans took a whole territory that day without weapons; the Spanish who had weapons didn’t have the cold will to fire into that crowd. Qaddafi is betting that this new “Green March” is the most effective form of human shield, because it moves where he wants it to. NATO planes would have a hard time hitting a Qaddafi convoy that was floating in the middle of a bunch of Warfalla pseudo-hippies handing out flowers and waving signs. Once the convoy gets to Benghazi, of course, it’s time to kick those dirty hippie peaceniks off the hood and zoom off to start quietly shooting people.

But it’ll have to be done quietly. You have to see the strategic picture, which at this stage is not military but media. The Green March is Qaddafi’s media offensive, with a stealth military purpose under it. If NATO steps wrong and blows up a bunch of Warfalla civilians sitting on a tank, NATO loses and Qadaffi gets ten times more freedom to start cleansing troublemakers. But if Qaddafi’s people do something bloody and cinematic in front of a news crew, like bomb a school or kill some nice-looking well-dressed people in good lighting, then it’s a license to napalm his compound.

Hey, I don’t make these rules. I think Bono does. Takes me back to my dream: Bono and Nkunda alone in a cell with a panga halfway between them. And may the taller man win.

Would you like to know more? Gary Brecher is the author of the War Nerd. Send your comments to Read Gary Brecher’s first ever War Nerd column by clicking here.

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Add your own

  • 1. Mr. Bad  |  March 25th, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    FINALLY WE HAVE OUR NERD BACK! Great post, but Qadaffi is just playing with the lives of his subjects, as always, and what may look interesting to Western eyes will be laughed off as an obvious stratagem (which you rightly point out) by Johnny Reb. I still think you forgot to include the “x” factor, which is Obama, Qaddafi is his trophy and his alone, a long sought head to spit on the pike for all the Reaganites he loves to court, so will he have it? I think so. JMO but Qaddafi is dead meat, if I’m wrong this county is FUBAR, at least Bush had the gall to pay the butcher’s bill.

  • 2. Korman643  |  March 25th, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    “Takes me back to my dream: Bono and Nkunda alone in a cell with a panga halfway between them. And may the taller man win.”

    If you let me decide the soundtrack – Killing Joke’s “Tension”, best machete soundtrack ever – it’s a deal, I promise I’ll organize the match.

  • 3. Korman643  |  March 25th, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    “Nuclear powers who could scrape the planet clean if they used everything they had use bush weaponry in firefights with little gangs. I”

    You seem to forget the most important question – why? Simple answer – because scraping the planet would mean scrape themselves, literally. Pulling a “Man in the High Castle” (come on JD, you know that book as well as I do) on Africa now would mean to throw America or Europe back 2000 years, LITERALLY (not trying to make some kind of bogus artsy metaphor here). Just ask yourself the hard question – why did the Mongols not try to sterilize China when they – in theory – could have?

  • 4. postman  |  March 25th, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    Dear Gary Brecher,

    Welcome back! We missed you!

    Gaddhafi operates with a “Tribal Code of Honor”, and if any member of any tribe commits something, that means the whole tribe is responsible for the action and deserves punishment. So the rebels have crossed the Rubicon.
    Yep, the rebels are not “pro-democracy” fighters, ready to kill and to die for an election in every four years with multiple parties to choose from, giving minority rights to enemy tribes based on the moral values of secular liberal democracy…
    And the PR, the Media BS seems like more important than actual bloodletting, which is pretty depressing. Gaddhafi’s troops may avoid machine-gunning pregnant women and little kiddies with puppies in their laps, but if the Media wants to sell us such horror stories to make Gaddhafi look bad, the Media will fake the pictures and videos and news stories so we will be manipulated to be outraged at such barbarism which is not really happening…

  • 5. matt  |  March 25th, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    There’s the war nerd we know and love. The awful depressing heart of the matter.

    That said, in response to “I can’t think of a time before 1945 when military powers didn’t use their best weapons”

    If I may quote the exiled with regards to chemical weapons “mustard gas. The sickest weapon of WW I. Even the Nazis never [used it]”.

    But except for that one item, this seems like genuine war nerd.

    In summation: It’s good to have you back. If I was there with you, I’d pour you a shot of Finlandia you glorious bastard.

  • 6. David  |  March 25th, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    Still no correction to your erroneous claim the GBU-12 carries a HEAT warhead?

    What the fuck man?

  • 7. Michal  |  March 25th, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    This is incredibly disheartening. I really hope Gaddafi won’t get to pull this shit off. This is just absurd. I wonder if there are any chances of turning the “civilians” back with tear gas – but probably not, considering tear gas is nowadays a chemical weapon too.

  • 8. Flatulissimo  |  March 25th, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    I thought if there was going to be a post every day, they would be short, like little War Nerd Facebook status updates or some shit like that. Instead, they are nearly full-sized articles! I can’t keep up. Didn’t check the site for a couple of days, and now I’m fallin’ behind. Too much War Nerd is a good problem to have.

  • 9. RanDomino  |  March 25th, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    The only decent outcome seems to be a de facto partition of Libya between East and West.

  • 10. Coriolan  |  March 25th, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    I was going to post a comment here, but then I realized that I’m a retarded fucking amateur who should shut my stupid fucking internet-commenter mouth, and take my rightful position at Mr. Brecher’s feet.

  • 11. Bobby  |  March 25th, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    It would actually be most strategic for Qaddafi to have fire squads already set up in high rises and hills near Benghazi dressed up as rebels just in case the real rebels are able to resist temptation.

    Ensures optimal results.

  • 12. Duarte Guerreiro  |  March 25th, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    Beware what people expect of you Gary, don’t pull a Tim Burton, endlessly vomiting the same content with a different backdrop. Losing your ability to reframe different conflicts for a daily blog that (even if still cool) keeps hitting the same buttons would be more tragic than the usual waiting you make us suffer.

    That being said, your input is always appreciated, though I can’t get excited over these recent conflicts. Everything looks dirty, shitty and low intensity, with a disappointing outcome. Just like Qaddafi fucking, I imagine.

  • 13. Soj  |  March 25th, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    As I said on “day zero”, my money’s on Gaddafi! He’ll be dancing in his dashiki long after Obama’s gone.

  • 14. allen  |  March 25th, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    Yeah, I wonder just how wily Qaddafi really is? Is the whole nut bar act just his own little “Vinny the chin” act? Granted, walking into the French’s little Toyota war trap wasn’t too bright; but a guy who has been in power for four decades has got to have something going for him. Maybe he thinks it’s better to be underestimated.

    &The possibilities to fuck with the West here are endless. This little march thing is classic, for one. It shows he knows how to play the game.

    Meanwhile he pulls his troops into defensive positions, flies in more and more mercenaries and weapons for clueless tribal people from the desert he can probably tell anything, and dares the West to expose itself. That is — to expose the fact that they’re not really there to honor the “responsibility to protect” civilians so much as provide close air support for rebels, which might not sell as well back home … less R2P more so R2CAS (for who we like).


    Though I will say that part of the whole game of Western foreign policy I’ve never liked is the never ending condescension, pretense, and hypocracy.

    Why can’t they just say something along the lines of — “Hey! Prospective Arab democrats (maybe), neat! Let’s back them. Interfering in a sovereign nation’s affairs you say? Quaddafi wasn’t elected. Why does he get to own Libya? Plus this guy isn’t a strategic ally that it might really fuck up our domestic day to mess with, and he doesn’t have a very threatening military — fuck it, we’re green! easy hit! Hey, and we might even get oil contracts!”

    I mean that’s what I take them to be saying anyway. I guess they just (rightly) think a lot of people in society are too dim to catch it.

  • 15. Hannibal Gaddafi  |  March 25th, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    Single professional WM, NS,tenant looking for room to rent in St. Tropez area. Non-smoker, no pets, has own prayer rug, enjoys quiet evenings at home.

    Call my cell now – 011 + 218 + 92 + 21 + 923-1111. Aksk for Tyrone. Anxious to relo.

  • 16. spaceman_spiff  |  March 25th, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    We made a horrible mistake when Reagan sent those crappy FB-111A bombers from Lakenheath England, which only killed Gaddafi’s daughter. We should have sent a squadron of B-52’s from Barksdale (like we did in the first Gulf War) and bombed the fucker into a pepperoni-pizza consistency.

  • 17. az  |  March 26th, 2011 at 12:13 am

    Also the geniuses supporting the rebels right now probably knew the above tidbit but decided to help the Fallujah boys anyhow.

  • 18. Hannibal  |  March 26th, 2011 at 12:20 am

    Hey Brecher, don’t forget Cote-d’oeuvres, or however the fuck you spell it. Maybe you can illuminate the situation for us dumb fucks out here in retard-ville.

    Also, I read a hilarious piece in FP written by the Ugandan president; he’s hilarious:

    “Qaddafi, whatever his faults, is a true nationalist. I prefer nationalists to puppets of foreign interests. Where have the puppets caused the transformation of countries? I need some assistance with information on this from those who are familiar with puppetry.”

    ‎”… if the Libyan opposition groups are patriots, they should fight their war by themselves and conduct their affairs by themselves. After all, they easily captured so much equipment from the Libyan Army, why do they need foreign military support? I only had 27 rifles. To be puppets is not good.”

  • 19. Korman643  |  March 26th, 2011 at 1:00 am

    @Spaceman that would have simple made Ka-daffy’s daughter (liked that one JD!) the most expensively killed collateral damage in warfare history. Q-daffy wasn’t simply there when the attack came.

  • 20. Eddie  |  March 26th, 2011 at 2:46 am

    The rebels have a score to settle. They have not forgot about the Abu Salim prison massacre. Some of their best guys where wiped out in that one.

    Also, since France recognized the rebels it is very clear that a deal has been made. Sarkozy is no Bush, he would never risk a war for some bullshit African savages if the reasons where not airtight. Maybe a little oil, perhaps a nice victory to make him look good. Whatever it is it’s not human rights.

    Whenever you use a weapon you set a precedent. Once you have used it, you are in a sense responsible for all the evil that follows from it’s usage. Think of it like an arson, you may think that you are just touching grandmas cabin but you end up barbecuing most of the neighborhood. This principle has been codified in international law(a joke in itself), and people in high places know about this. They know that once you nuke those savages with a low yield nuclear device(to save time) you may one day find yourself in front of a criminal court being hold responsible for the supreme international crime. Being pointed to like an ogre, the one that started it all. This is definitely a bad career move.

  • 21. Eddie  |  March 26th, 2011 at 3:13 am

    Also you may end up loosing the weapon to begin with. The way politics work today it is not out of the question that a massive protest movements spawns up against the usage of this weapon. In fact I would be very surprised if it didn’t. People will be enraged and lobbying the representatives to boycott products from the country who detonated the nuclear device. They would burn canned food from that country, chanting songs about never buying from X again. This is all a nightmare for businesses in country X. They would use some of that cash to try to fix the problem. In short, you may end up in Hague and the weapons you had invested a good size of your GDP may be outlawed. This is the dynamics that you face if you use any of these weapons.

    They are in a sense too good to use.

  • 22. Karel  |  March 26th, 2011 at 3:27 am

    ‘flies in more mercs’…

    his supply lines are too long unless he can float stuff down the great man-made river he can only use what is in position already.

    Will France be criminal enough to bomb the water lifeline … depends how bad they need the humanitarian crisis

    Gadafi just does not have enough material in place like Iran, Hezbolla (400 rockets a day x 90 days) or Iraq, Afghanistan and do not have the know how to re-purpose from conventional to asymmetric like Saddam – the genius of the man.

  • 23. Eddie  |  March 26th, 2011 at 3:36 am

    Check out what real estate the rebels are looking for. This morning they took the oil town of Ajdabiya. With the help of Nato air of course. Also, France is pushing for supplying the rebels with weapons. It’s not hard to see what Nato is worried about, namely losing some of that important oil infrastructure.

  • 24. JoMama  |  March 26th, 2011 at 4:46 am

    Look at that pic. I’d do her. She’s foogly
    but I’d do her anyway…

  • 25. thomas  |  March 26th, 2011 at 5:35 am

    This makes sense of the throwback to medieval warfare in Cairo earlier: both sides desperate to win without making themselves look strong and unworthy of sympathy.

    My heart was aching for the return of pole-slings, but actually anything tactically effective beyond the most desperate improvisation would probably have cost the protesters too much strategic support.

  • 26. wYSeGuy  |  March 26th, 2011 at 6:49 am

    Good to see you agree Nkunda deserves to be in a cell.

    I have no trouble locking Bono in there with him.

  • 27. Tyler  |  March 26th, 2011 at 7:19 am

    Daughters are sold by the dozen in this part of the world. He would have been more angry about his image after that than actually morning his daughter.

  • 28. Eddie  |  March 26th, 2011 at 8:38 am

    Q has a long way to go before he understands propaganda. Not everyone is science illiterate.

    Rebels look to be in good shape to me.

  • 29. abc123  |  March 26th, 2011 at 9:38 am

    Korman643: No one knows what would happen with such a large use of nuclear weapons. It is very likely that the use of 200+ nuclear bombs against built up areas would not have any permanent effect on the earth.

    The whole “nuclear winter” is greatly exaggerated.

  • 30. postman  |  March 26th, 2011 at 11:09 am

    I just read the news that the party started up in Syria for good!
    Gary Brecher wrote this in 2003 on Syria :
    Let me quote his own words:
    “…this idea they have in DC: make a “crescent of democracy” stretching from Iraq to Syria and on to Lebanon, all the way from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. Now that democracy is bursting out in Iraq, all we have to do is franchise it out…”
    Does it ring a bell? “Crescent of Democracy” from the Mediterranean, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, all the way through Syria to Iran and the Persian Gulf! Very spontaneus revolutions to bring about secular liberal democracies, just as they were dreaming it up in DC! But it must be some weird co-incidence!!! LOL

  • 31. Kevin  |  March 26th, 2011 at 1:32 pm’s-mitchell-regurgitates-gaddafi-lies/

    “The old lie about Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s daughter supposedly being killed in a 1986 raid ordered by then-President Reagan is back.”

  • 32. my talkative ringpiece  |  March 26th, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    #24 she looks like my MOM after someone’s misplaced her sewing scissors. Go for it, dude!

  • 33. Korman643  |  March 27th, 2011 at 4:23 am

    @abc123 The problem is not nuclear winter, the problem is that, despite claims of the contrary, nukes are enormously aesthetically satisfactory and effective psychological tools (as they may terrify a non nuclear power into submission), but, at the CURRENT (big caveat here) state of art, they make for shitty weapons.

    The problem here is of scale. When they were first invented, the goal of nukes designer was to get bigger and bigger n-tonnage in a manageable warhead. Then it became just a matter to brag about the yeld they could produce, but it soon became clear (let’s say no later than 1958) that there was no real life use for these “things”. Because once a target is thermo-nuked, even a non-civilian one, two things happens 1) the target becomes immediately useless for at least two decades and 2) if you’re targeting another nuclear power you risk retaliation on your civil targets and/or even if you target a non-nuclear power, other nuclear powers will see you have the will to use the weapon, and act accordingly. Classic game theory stuff here.

    So from 1965 onward, focus of nuke design shifted to make the stuff smaller and less dirty, basically going back towards the the Hiroshima scale of things. But here technology has failed. Because below a certain scale, we’re much more better off using massive, concentrated “conventional” explosive rather than nukes, missiles make the stuff easy to use, effects on infrastructure are similar, and no radioactivity to deal with afterward – you make just conquer the place and use the resources. And no nasty propaganda side effects, less visibility, etc etc.

    That’s why the WN/GB/JD whatever is wrong saying “the Mongols wouldn’t have thought twice about using nukes”. Because they didn’t care about massive killing of course, neither about infrastructures, but making a place non-lootable for 20 years? Risking someone nuking their ancestral site or worse their pastures? No fucking way! Much better doing thing the traditional way they did – that means, despite claims of the contrary, 20% genocide and 80& propaganda (they had a public image to defend as any other world power) and bribery.

    However, I used “CURRENT technology” above because things are destined to change. One day or the other someone will invent some stuff that will have the same destructive potential and rapid delivery as nukes, but little of the undesired side effects. In limited wars as Libya they will be still difficult to use (because of the “visibility” issue), but should things really really really escalate, prepare yourself for one hell of a show. I believe that day the WN may begin to understand the whole humanitarian point of view! 🙂

    On a somehow related side note – the current Japanese crisis is, in my modest opinion, much more enlightening on the current state of warfare than the Libyan charade.

  • 34. Migeru  |  March 28th, 2011 at 2:43 am

    What are you doing illustrating your point about the tribal aspect of the Libyan conflict with a picture full of Moroccan flags? And with a picture of the Green March, to boot, which is a perfect example of astroturfing rather than of tribalism…

    [Love your writing, but I just saw your other post where you admitted to cheating on the blown turret pic so I had to give you a hard time on this one, too]

  • 35. derpotism  |  March 29th, 2011 at 8:00 am

    and if the rebels shoot at the warfalla NATO starts having 2nd thoughts about supporting the rebs.

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