Monday, August 22, 2011

Collapse of Empire in Libya

It has surprised many to see how thoroughly the security forces of the former Libyan government have vanished in the face of an incoming citizen army. Just yesterday a military analyst told BBC that it would be difficult for an army to even get to Tripoli with a seasoned army defending the city. It was a reasonable view, but the same day, the popular army moved into the city meeting defending forces counted not in thousands, but dozens, along with the occasional rooftop snipers. The snipers’ presence might have been deadly, but was hardly a defending force; a single sniper can cover one street at most, and for no more than a few minutes at a time.

In military terms, the rapid fall of Tripoli speaks well for the strategy of giving the enemy time to flee. The events also serve as a reminder of the fragility of empire. Historically, it is the rare exception for an empire of any kind to be stable and reliable for a lifetime. The regime in Libya, which appeared more stable than most countries at the beginning of the year, was actually on the verge of collapse — otherwise, how was it defeated by an army of untrained fighters in pickup trucks, many of them unarmed? The same is true, or will be at some point soon, of other oppressive institutions around the world. It will not be necessary to bring the four horsemen of the Apocalypse to unseat them; they will all but unseat themselves.