The Long Green … Revolution

At the beginning of the month, Lunghu and a colleague shook hands on a sporting proposition in the tradition of Randolph and Mortimer Duke.  As you may recall, the last week in February was not going well for Col. Muammar Gaddafi:  several cities were in the hands of Libyan rebels, and the banner of freedom rippled proudly in the desert wind.  Suddenly it no longer seemed absurd to ask how long Gaddafi could hold on to power.  Could he hang on at all?

More importantly, how could smug American desk jockeys structure a wager that most suitably reduced the complex dynamics of Libyan civil war to a simple binary choice?  A basic yea/nay wasn’t enough —too many variables, and far too open-ended a scenario.   Where would the finish line be?   When would the final buzzer sound?  Revolutions and civil wars aren’t (yet) governed by FIFA, so there are no offside calls, no penalty kicks, and no injury time.   For a wager to work, it had to have a definite expiration date, like a soybean futures contract.  And it had to have some basic parameters that spelled out the conditions of success or failure.

Here’s what we came up with: a 90-day over/under for Gaddafi’s retention of power.   If, after June 1st, Gaddafi wasn’t dead or in exile, and still controlled (most of) Libyan territory, the “over” bet would win.   Otherwise, the “under” wins.

When pirates divide the spoils, one man arranges the portions and the other gets first pick.   Lunghu chose the over.   At the time, it seemed the contrarian choice, and Lunghu added a caveat:  Gaddafi would fail only if the Tunisian and Egyptian militaries sought to curry favor with their restive domestic populations by invading Libya in support of the rebels.   Didn’t seem likely, since they’re plenty busy at home.

Here was the thumbnail analysis behind Lunghu’s pick:

1]   The United States won’t intervene.  At this point (and for the foreseeable future) it would be a huge strategic mistake to attack or invade yet another Islamic country.  Team Obama seems to understand this, and the Joint Chiefs definitely do.  Republicans are trying to goad Obama into making exactly that strategic mistake, but their gambit is unlikely to succeed.

2]   Despite France and Britain’s fervent wishes, the Europeans won’t intervene because they don’t have the financial capacity to sustain the required military operations.  Germany won’t participate and won’t foot the bill.

3]   Arab states won’t intervene because they need their troops to guard their own palaces.

4]   Sanctions won’t work.  Never have.

5]  Libyan rebels are on their own and overmatched.  The endgame won’t be pretty.

Still, it’s early days.   Things could change yet again in the next 2 ½ months.   With diplomatic cover from the UN Security Council, Arab petrodollars  could finance French and British  air operations and Arab troops could act as the mop-up boots on the ground.  We’ll see.

Oh —what were the stakes in this wager?   Just a couple of hundred thousand lives.  This is one bet where there won’t be any winner, because bragging rights won’t be worth bragging about.

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