Saturday, March 05, 2011

The lion wants his juice back

By Pepe Escobar

You're Muammar Gaddafi, and you're sitting in your Bab al-Azizia bunker sipping green tea and surveying the odds of staying in power. Let's see. You control some neighborhoods in Tripoli; some cities in the far west, near the Tunisian border; your birthplace, Sirte. And that's it.

You may have lost like 90% of your country. You tried to get Zawiya (west of Tripoli) back and failed; those god-damned tribals betrayed you. You tried to get Misrata (east of Tripoli), and failed. You tried to get Brega - the second-largest processing and oil shipping terminal in Libya - and failed.

The Americans and Brits are dying to invade. "Experts" say you're boxed in and have only Zimbabwe as an exile destination. Venezuelan President "brother" Hugo Chavez wants to send a multinational delegation to negotiate. Negotiate what? This is your country. L'Etat, c'est moi - the state is me, King Muammar. Nobody can steal my mojo.

They froze your multi-billionaire assets from A to Z. They shut down your banks. But you've still got some dough. A whole lot of weaponry. A few (malfunctioning) jets. You have those thousands of black African mercenaries. You have the 10,000-strong special brigade led by your son Khamis. You got state TV.

So what do you do? You double down. And go for broke.

The lion sleeps tonight
Danger: the African king of kings in his bunker is like a lion resting under a tree. He knows that from the west the "rebels" - or in shorthand official narrative "al-Qaeda zombie youths on drugs" - haven't got a chance to hurt him unless they organize a very complex attack army out of many rag-tag bands with Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades in scattered towns.

He knows that the rebels in the east have to do the same - plus travel, unprotected, along an infinite desert highway just to get to Sirte, where they can be smashed by his jets and tanks.

So he knows they can defend - Zawiya, Misrata, Brega - but they don't have what it takes to attack. That gives him enough time to better plan how to go for the kill.

There's only one problem with this Lion King scenario. What if he runs out of oil?

No less than 80% of Libya's oil fields and refineries are now in the hands of those "al-Qaeda zombie youths on drugs". Gaddafi knows he needs to get Brega back - and quick. He'll go for it, again, and with a more lethal strategy. He still holds Ras Lanouf, 80 kilometers west of Brega - the refinery (220,000 barrels a day), the port and the airport. But he can't afford to lose Brega.

Brega is not exporting any oil. There are no tankers coming and going. Oil production in the southeastern fields that feed Brega has been downsized, from 90,000 barrels a day to just 11,000; there's nowhere to store them. There's no oil flowing at the Nafoora field, part of the Sirte Basin. Italy's ENI, the top foreign oil major, is repatriating all non-essential personnel. Libya's daily production dropped from 1.6 million barrels to 850,000, and will fall further.

More than this oil on storage, Gaddafi needs working refineries pumping out juice for his already cranky military machine. The crowds in liberated Benghazi say that they don't need oil money - because they never got much of from central government anyway in Cyrenaica. The problem is sooner rather than later they will need more weapons. Thus they will need oil money to buy them.

Benghazi is convulsed by rumors of Gaddafi's secret police infiltrated everywhere gathering local intel - even inside the courthouse which has been transformed into eastern liberated Libya's Revolution Central. No wonder al-Jazeera is reporting that people in Brega and Ajdabiya badly want a no-fly zone - to the horror of pan-Arab media.

It's stalemate time - and the lion is biding his time, never more dangerous when he maneuvers in the shade. Although the Algerian government has vociferously denied, officially, it is helping Gaddafi, Algeria, with 40% unemployment and across the board pent-up rage, is also on the brink. Frightful Fortress Europe, meanwhile, prays. While the Greenstream gas pipeline from Libya to Sicily is now closed (Italians are not yet freaking out), Spain dreams of the new US$1.4 billion gas pipeline from Algeria set to open in a few days.

Doomsday practitioners already visualize Algeria's oil production - 1.4 million barrels a day - soon going down the drain alongside Libya's. No wonder the head of oil research at Barclays Capital, Paul Horsnell, says things can potentially be worse than Iran 1979; "The world has only 4.5 million barrels per day of spare capacity."

Thus speculation will be king for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the lion sleeps, tonight and in subsequent nights, musing how he'll get his juice back while a sinister chill envelops Libya all over again.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at