For one thing, popular interpretations of civil war and rebellion tend to overstate the power of ideology as a motivating factor for combatants. In the present example, this manifests as the belief that widespread loathing of an authoritarian leader should logically translate into broad-based, geographically indifferent rebellion. A melange of motivations is evident in anecdotal reporting from the front (none better than what runs under the byline of prolific multi-platform star C.J. Chivers), though we'd be well-served to keep in mind that people aren't always fighting for the reasons they say they are. These accounts don't really answer our question, in any event: if the rebels of Brega and Benghazi are fighting for democracy, the Qu'ran, or anything but Qaddafi, then surely some in the west of the country would take up arms in the service of one of those ends, right? Here's Stathis Kalyvas (p. 46) on the subject:
An extensive body of research shows that combatants are usually motivated to fight not by ideology or hate or fear but by peer pressure and processes involving regard for their comrades, respect for their leaders, concern for their own reputation with both, and an urge to contribute to the success of the group -- in short, what is known as "primary group cohesion."*Chivers' account of one rebel straggler, too, puts paid to ideological explanations; Sgt. Abdullah Insaiti, a 13-year veteran of Qaddafi's army, defected to the opposition with his entire unit in February.
His unit, he said, had been scattered under fire in the fighting in recent weeks. He said he believed that eight of his friends had died, but offered that the number was probably much higher than that. Some, he said, had been blown apart in the shelling they had been subjected to out in the desert, where the forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi have been pounding the rebels with all manner of fire.
Asked if he knew where his unit was now, Mr. Insaiti gave a perplexed shrug.I'd be curious to see how many of this man's unit return to combat versus blending back into the considerably less dangerous routines of civilian life, but the tale is an instructive one either way: surely an entire platoon doesn't defect over ideology.
But regime security forces are a bit of a special case, to be fair -- this still doesn't really speak to the question of the west's relative quiet. But Kalyvas does, at least in a general sense. To boil a 400-page book down into a few sentences, let's put it like this: The Logic of Violence in Civil War argues that combatants are most likely to employ selective violence in areas where they are approaching, but have not secured, hegemony. To put it even more simply: the warring parties are most likely to kill people not in those places that either they or the opposing faction firmly control, but rather in those places where killing people might have a meaningful impact on defections and the supply of information. Here it is in the original Social-Science-ese (p. 13):
The theory bridges the meso- and microlevels and predicts the likelihood of violence as a function of control. On the one hand, political actors do not need to use violence where they already enjoy high levels of control and cannot use selective violence where they have no control whatsoever; having no access to information, they may use indiscriminate violence, but it will be counterproductive. Instead, they want to use selective violence in contested areas, where they have incomplete control. On the other hand, individuals want to denounce only where it is safe for them to do so; this is the case where their victims have no access to the rival political actor and, therefore, lack the option of counterdenunciation. In turn, this option is related to control: the higher the level of control for one actor, the lower the presence of the rival one, and, hence, of the option of counterdenunciation. The prediction is that violence is most likely to occur where one actor is near hegemonic, not where this actor is in full control or is being contested. Violence, in other words, is most likely where the organizational demand for information meets its individual supply.Now, if you're still awake: what does this mean for Libya? Well, Kalyvas doesn't directly address the question of sabotage and guerilla activity, but rather selective violence against neutral or undecided populations. We can, however, draw logical conclusions from his work, and the most meaningful of these -- widely known to students of insurgency but perhaps counterintuitive -- is that collaboration follows control. Conceptually inseparable from the belief that ideology drives rebellion is the commonly-held view that regime strength corresponds geographically (and demographically) with regime popularity; in point of fact, civilians are most likely to peaceably accede to the wishes of the government in areas where the regime's military power and physical control are at their peak.
All of which is just a long way of expressing a pretty simple hypothesis: it's entirely possible that few Libyans are rising up outside of the east and a few small pockets of rebel control simply because government control of the rest of the country just seems incontestable or insurmountable. (Kalyvas, p. 93: "The absence of alternatives often produces collaboration irrespective of the level of popular satisfaction or lack thereof," which come to think of it could've pretty much been the whole post all by itself.) As I mentioned to my friend, there may be other valid explanations related to ethnic or tribal politics, geographic history, and so on, and these would certainly be more effectively articulated by an area expert. But I'm not that guy, so this is what I've got.
*Why this should be so is a complicated question that's largely beyond the scope of what we're talking about here, but Kalyvas alludes to a number of biases that impact scholarly work on the subject. Notably: "There is a clear epistemic bias, at least in the sociological and historical traditions, in favor of the assumption that all (or most) participants in conflicts are motivated by ideological concerns. Because 'urban' scholars tend to be primarily motivated by ideology themselves, the often assign unambiguous ideological motives to participants, even if this is not the case" (p. 44).