Category Archives: Libya

Muslim Ban? Fragile States?


Here’s Trump’s list of banned Muslim countries in red, and the ones where he has business interests are in gold. The unlabeled one at the uper right is Azerbaijan.

Trump's Muslim Ban Countries

Trump’s Muslim Ban Countries

And here’s a fragile states index for the region.

Fragile States Worst

Fragile States Worst

The banned countries are places where the governments have basically collapsed. People are complaining about the relationship between Trump businesses and the presence or absence of a ban. I’m not justifying, nor am I criticizing, I’m just noting that here is some data that hasn’t commonly appeared in conjunction with the coverage of the issue.

This map originally appeared in Fragile States Index 2016.

Fragile States Index 2016

The Fragile States Index 2016 was just mentioned on beBee and I saw a nice dataset to visualize in Tableau. Here is the original high resolution image:


And here is the image that resulted from my very simple import of the data into a Tableau workbook:


The states of the Mideast, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa have been an interest of mine for the past several years. Here’s a nit with Tableau, but it’s probably a deficit on my part – the only way I could make Syria visible would be to suppress the appearance of Lebanon. Tableau also treats Western Sahara as Terra Nullius, when it’s an ongoing problem between Morocco which administers it and Algeria which hosts many refugees.


Here are the grimmest of the grim, seven states with fragility scores in excess of 110. Iraq is one bad summer away from joining them.


I’ve made a copy of the Fragile States 2016 workbook available. I really should start pulling in other data, but what I want here would be food and water security information, and that’s often scattered and dated.

Low Oil Prices, High Geopolitical Risk

There are times when an infographic is so compelling I take a screen shot of it. Previously such an image would have been the ‘seed crystal’ for an article here, but now I’ve found one I want to duplicate using Tableau. This came from a LinkedIn post entitled Welcome to the new normal. Clock’s ticking, Venezuela, by Eurasia Group.



So what are we looking at here? I see the following:

  • An X-Y graph of log population vs. years to deplete oil reserves AND sovereign wealth funds.
  • Pie charts of oil and other income per nation
  • Pies sized by government revenue in billions.
  • A dividing line separating those who are stressed from countries which are considered more robust.

There are some textual or implicit characteristics of this infographic:

  • Oil prices are $50/bbl over the long haul.
  • Each country’s break even cost per barrel known, but unstated.
  • Countries maintain export to internal use ratio, avoiding the Export Land Model trap.


There are some other issues that matter when considering the implications of $50/bbl oil. Sixteen years of oil prices and oil rig count are an instructive visualization.


The global oil industry has crashed hard, down to less than $30/bbl this spring. The reasons are more geopolitical than economic – Syria, Saudi Arabia, Russia – go nose around and see if you can detect the calculus behind prices and production volume.

Another interesting graph is the long term Baltic Dry Index, and we’re going to start watching the container oriented HARPEX, too. All we need for the moment is the BDI, which is a proxy for global trade. The DJIA is a measure of investor sentiment and we’ve all seen multiple bubbles in our lives, but it takes a really big one like 2008 to drag the BDI higher. As a rule, people don’t rent dry bulk freighters and pay in advance, hoping to rent them to others at a higher rate.



What does that infographic tell us? It separates those with small sovereign wealth funds OR oil that is costly to produce from those who are either savers or cheap producers. But I really question its accuracy, because …

  • Why is Libya in the safe zone, when it basically no longer exists as a country?
  • Oman’s government leans heavily on oil, but it’s diversified aggressively.
  • Why isn’t Algeria listed, because they’ve got ISSUES.

I’m not suggesting this is a bad infographic, to the contrary, it neatly sums up some serious issues from the perspective of an analyst that knows oil production. But it does show the hazards in trying to abstract nearly a dozen dimensions of information into a flat 2D representation.

My initial thought was to replicate this work, but having critiqued it, I’m not sure I’m willing to spend the time, given how quickly things are moving in the Ethereum realm.

Examining KGS Nightwatch’s Position On Benghazi

I started receiving the KGS Nightwatch updates a few weeks ago and the Nightwatch 2012-12-19 Benghazi Special Comment caught my eye. This is a companion to State Department Witch Hunt, posted earlier today.

Special NightWatch Comment: The most important finding of the Accountability Review Board (ARB) on the Benghazi tragedy is that al Qaida is alive and well and living in Benghazi. The rest is pretty much well known, with a few exceptions.

As harsh as the words of the ARB Report seem about high level failures in the State Department, no one is held accountable. The Board found that mistakes were made. The report is essentially a white wash. Three people at State resigned today, but that is not the same as facing legal proceedings for civil or criminal negligence in wrongful death. The Board gave everyone a pass.

This might be true in an objective world, but the Republican dominated House that is attempting to strangle the State Department, not out of wise policy choices, but out of a desire to harm Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential chances, is more and more looking like a disloyal opposition. They create the precondition for failures, the failure happens, then they blamestorm on those who were denied the resources needed to do the job? I’m not buying that.

A few things that are confusing in the Benghazi report.

1.The Board found that the ambassador was responsible for mission security and he should have pushed harder for improvements. The implication is the ambassador ultimately was responsible his own death. Hmm….The ambassador made at least three pleas for improved security, including the last on the day of his demise. Other parts of the report make clear that no amount of pushing to improve security would have made a difference with senior State Department leadership.

We need a rapid reaction force ready to deal with problems like this. We have a lot of naval assets in the Persian Gulf, but little in the Med? They had seven hours from the start of the trouble to the ambassador’s death. Sigonella Naval Air Station is about 500 miles from Benghazi, C-130s cruise at 336/mph. There are many issues in acting in this fashion, but if an embassy is going to be overrun? Seems like a fine time to send in Delta Force.

2.The Board found that mistakes were made. The use of passive voice means the Board refused to find anyone, except the dead ambassador, to blame for the mistakes. The message is that things went wrong; people were murdered, but it was no one’s fault. This is the core of the whitewash. This viewpoint evades questions of causality, incompetence, negligence and blame.

Again, if we had a loyal opposition this could be addressed. The House Republicans no longer fit that description, and an inquiry would become a witch hunt, just like that Fast & Furious nonsense.

3. Intelligence did not identify a specific threat at the time, the Board found. This finding betrays a shallow understanding of intelligence warning among the Board members. The 65-year history of US national security affairs since passage of the National Security Act of 1947 shows that waiting for last minute unambiguous warning before taking precautions is waiting to die. The report lists 20 security incidents and attacks against the consulate, but found that body of information insufficient for warning, even on the anniversary of 9/11. One clear issue not mentioned in the report, and an obvious blind spot of its authors, is insight about how intelligence warning empowers decision makers to keep them safe by averting harm or increasing readiness to receive damage. Neither happened in Benghazi.

Our intelligence sector is a swamp, rife with contractors who get paid when there are problems. So they find (or create) them, then get paid for remediation. My view here is very jaundiced, I don’t doubt the process needs improvement, but so does the process around that process, and correcting what’s going on there will be a Herculean task.

4.The Board made no finding about the importance of Allied cooperation in maintaining diplomatic security in Benghazi, according to the unclassified report. This is strange because the British, Turks and especially the Italians — all NATO allies and intelligence partners — had significantly more resources in Benghazi than the US, they said. They could have been consulted or requested to help rescue the US mission on short notice. British, Turkish and Italian foreign affairs officials said in public they were not consulted and their aid was not requested. They also said they would have responded if asked.

This is damning, at least on the surface. If we had friends in the area we could have called for a dust off, why didn’t we?

5.The Board found that the US military did all it could in the time available. Secretary Panetta made the point that there was nothing the US armed forces could do which would have made a difference during the time of the attack. The implication of this finding is that there is little point in positioning counter terror and emergency response teams in Italy and elsewhere in the Mediterranean basin within two hours of Libya because they apparently can make no difference in a series of terrorist attacks that lasted for seven hours. This finding looks like a disservice to the US armed forces personnel and units who train for these missions. Plus, the finding of virtual impotence is an intelligence windfall for terrorists in northern Africa.

Yes, Benghazi shows how painfully weak we are. See my above comments on C-130 flight times, and add a batch of littoral combat ships to the mixture. God save me, but this is a use case where an MQ-1C Gray Eagle on a long term observation mission might be just the thing.

6.The Board found that the chains of command and responsibility for the protection of the Benghazi mission were not clear and that agencies were stove-piped. This is curious because the central themes of the post 9/11 intelligence and national security reforms are integration, collegiality and collaboration. Apparently those messages, so vital to combat forces, have not reached those responsible for diplomatic security, eleven years after 9/11, and even for diplomatic missions in high risk areas.

Our procurement and intel sector is a mess – they seek to capture everything, but they fail to assign meaning. We’ve wasted enormous amounts of time sending FBI agents to check out pizza delivery drivers with Arab sounding names because they did something ‘odd’, like sending a family member back home a large wire transfer. Remittance from a family member working in the west is so pedestrian as it should hardly be noticed, but in our rush to never have another 9/11 we just piled on more layers of what wasn’t working in the first place.

The Board found all the things that State did wrong, but the Benghazi attacks expose basic problems in national security crisis management that run far beyond those at State. The entire national security establishment performed no better in failing to save the life of Ambassador Stevens in Libya than it did in failing to save the life of Ambassador Dubbs in 1988 in Afghanistan.

I do not know enough history in this area to comment on specifics. I am unsure if I have the time or knowledge needed to dig deeper. I will say that I expect things to get worse, for us to face more countries going the way Afghanistan, Somalia, and now Mali have done. We need better ways to see what is happening, and to respond quickly to problems.

Many things changed between 1988 and 2012, but the system performed no better when it counted most. That should have been the key finding of this report.

The problems our State Department will face are going to get more numerous and more complex, yet we had a 20% budget cut last year/

USS Bataan & Escorts To Libya, Rigged For Evacuation

USS Bataan

USS Bataan

The USS Bataan home ported in Norfolk, Virginia, is on its way to Libya, per the 27 May 2014 NightWatch. The Bataan is the first LHD purpose built to house women as well as men, with room for 450 total. The ship’s complement is 1,200 and it can carry about 1,900 Marines. Only a thousand Marines are aboard, leaving plenty of room for passengers.

This Wasp class assault ship has a well deck that can hold up to three LCACs. Only 15% of the world’s coastline is accessible to the traditional landing craft we’ve been using since World War II, while the LCAC can safely access about 70% of all coastline.

Landing Craft, Air Cushion

Landing Craft Air Cushion

Amphibious assault ships can carry a mix of helicopters, the V-22 Osprey, and the A/V-8B Harrier. Rebels reputedly captured Libya’s last surviving Foxtrot class submarine in Benghazi during the 2011 revolution, but there is no evidence that Libya has actual put any of their original complement of six boats to sea since 1984. The point is that anti-submarine patrol needs are low, the ship will have escorts that carry ASW helicopters, and the Bataan could be carrying as many as 20 of the Osprey or 40 helicopters.

There were eight attacks on U.S. diplomatic posts between 2002 and 2012. The Obama administration has been beset by claims of incompetence in the handling the Benghazi attack, despite the Republican dominated House cutting the State Department budget 18% the prior year. The other seven attacks all occurred during the Bush administration.

That Benghazi remained in the news for more than two Sunday’s worth of talk shows is the work of Groundswell, an effort by wealthy conservatives to regain some measure of control over the doings of the Tea Party. They were exposed last summer but the Benghazi smear and a related effort against the IRS continue to limp along.

Libya’s Reversal is a problem for the whole region. Algeria, Egypt, and Tunisia have all closed their borders to contain extremists while the Hifter government rounds them up.

The Obama administration is seeing the events unfolding in Libya as both a threat and an opportunity. They have to dispatch ships and troops, but a string of bold rescue operations five months before the U.S. election will leave anyone trying to promote the Benghazi smear in the uncomfortable position of having to discredit recent Marine Corps & Navy successes.

“Why do you hate our troops?” would be the very first thing out of my mouth to anyone from the fringe right who even tried such a maneuver, then I’d ask them about their support for the Muslim Brotherhood, as it would be easy to make the case that rapid, muscular extraction like back in 1967 was done so the new Libyan government could mop up extremists without them holding western hostages.

Tunisia Maps

Arab Spring‘s seminal event was the self immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi on December 17th, 2010. The Tunisian Revolution took just less than a month and left the moderate Islamist Ennahda Movement in power.

The May 21st NightWatch reports the following regarding Tunisia’s reaction to Libya’s Reversal

Tunisian reaction: A final trend is that neighboring countries are concerned that the continuing instability in Libya will drive extremists, militants and refugees to flee across borders. Tunisian authorities said they sent 5,000 soldiers to reinforce the border with Libya since the weekend. The Islamist Ennahda-led government in Tunis denounced Hifter for staging a coup.

Denouncing happenings in Libya as a coup, but closing their own borders to ensure that Libyan extremists do not flee to Tunisia, where they will presumably radicalize and discredit Ennahda, leaving the country vulnerable to external pressures to reverse their gains. Tunisia is quite a bit more homogenous than Libya and I suspect this is part of why a moderate Islamist movement arose there.

Tunisia Regional Ethnic Map

Tunisia Regional Ethnic Map

The non-Arab population of Tunisia is limited to a small number of Touareg in the desert.

Tunisia Population Distribution

Tunisia Population Distribution

Tunisia Vegetation

Tunisia Vegetation

Tunisia does have both gas and oil, but oil production was 91,000 bpd(barrels per day) in 2009 and this has gracefully declined to about 70,000 bpd with no major disruption due to the revolution. Libya’s peak oil production was twenty times Tunisia’s and their revolution brought production to a halt.

Tunisia Petroleum

Tunisia Petroleum

Tunisia is ethnically homogenous, less than 4% of the population are below the poverty line, unemployment is at 13%, and the economy is propelled by services rather than cursed with an excess of oil. All of the usual internal divisions and drivers that support radical groups are missing. The small amount of oil and gas produced is not enough to excite a foreign adventure.

Are 5,000 soldiers sufficient to seal the border with Libya? Can general Hifter manage a smooth transition to a new government? These are two big questions and for the sake of regional security lets hope the answer to both is yes.

Libya’s Reversal

Libya Hafter 2014 May

Libya Hafter 2014 May

Libya:Divide Within Divide(subscription) provided this map and the following update on General Khalifa Haftar’s Operation Dignity.

The introduction of Haftar’s “Operation Dignity” to the scene on 16 May 2014 under the banner of fighting Islamic Extremism presented a rally point for support by armed groups and militias historically opposed to Islamic extremist groups such as Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL). Violence in Benghazi followed by an assault on the Libyan parliament building resulted in close to 80 deaths and many more injured. A commander in Libya’s military police, Mokhtar Farnana, announced the suspension of parliament on behalf of Haftar. Farnana, speaking on a Libyan television channel on behalf of Hafter’s group, said it had assigned a 60-member assembly to take over for parliament. Farnana added that Libya’s current government would act as an emergency cabinet, but gave no further details. Haftar made his intent clear: He will not stop until Islamic extremists groups are “purged.”

Just three weeks ago in Decapitation At Home & Abroad I made mention of Egypt’s rollback of Arab Spring including death sentences for 683 supporters of former president Mursi, including many Muslim Brotherhood leaders. Now Libya joins that trend, and what was a hopeful map at the beginning of 2011 is beginning to look very, very grim. Nobody wants another Syria.

Arab Spring

Arab Spring

Libya is a production of the imperial partition of Africa a century ago. Having been an Italian possession Libya is quite different than the British and French colonies in terms of their relationship to the former colonial power. After NATO stepped in to help remove Gadaffi, the Italians were a first stop when reconstruction began.

Africa Partition-1885-1914

Looking within the artificial borders drawn by outsiders, Libya is a mix of four ethnic groups with longstanding disputes between the Arab and Berber tribes of Tripolitania (west) and Cyrenaica (east).

Libya Ethnic Groups

Libya Ethnic Groups

The oil map is largely self explanatory – capitol in the west, resources in the east, a recipe for enduring conflict.

Libya Oil Map

Libya Oil Map

Libya Breaking Up Just As Sudan Did was posted here on New Year’s Eve 2012, when it looked like the south of the country might slip from the grasp of the north. Now it looks like a common pattern for the Mideast and North Africa is playing out again – an authoritarian, majoritarian leader will bring the country back into some semblance of order.

Americans recoil at that last sentence, but the alternative in the region to the strong man isn’t the democracy we have after four hundred years of English liberal thinking, it’s what is happening in Syria. We have a fundamentally odd imperial history in this country – just one civil war, it involved uniformed armies, defined nation states, it had a relatively clean start/finish, and while it involved the fate of an ethnic group, black Americans were more the subject of rather than participants in the conflict. The U.S. Civil War is seven generations in the past and its echoes a century later are clear memories only for those of retirement age or older.

Libya is not Louisiana, flipped upside down and rotated halfway around the globe. Until America recovers some of the curiosity that we’ve flushed since the development of television, and the wisdom that comes with it, we’re going to continue to make grim policy blunders. The Ukraine and Syria are consuming the attention of American diplomatic efforts. Perhaps Libyans, left to their own devices, are about to return to a form of stability they recall from the recent past.