This week there's been lots of ink on the disastrous affairs in the Middle East and North Africa and I'll discuss what I consider the best of the commentary, but if you want a Cliffs Notes on the issue, my friend Cecil Turner offers up something as good as anyone's:
One of the basic tenets of national policy is to make one's tactics and operations serve the larger strategy. It's difficult to discern the strategy with this crew, but unless it's to foster a resurgence of radical Islam, our operations don't seem to be supporting it.The trajectory of the Arab Spring is well known. The revolt against the established regimes began in Tunisia, spread to Egypt, then Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria. It's now manifesting itself in Northern Mali, and Nigeria may be next in line as nations fall like dominos. In each case, it appears that the hopes anyone entertained for a new order proved baseless. There simply were no democratic roots in that soil and quickly Islamists took advantage of the upended order to set their stamp on the new regimes. Days ago even Algeria suffered a major attack by Al Qaeda which had penetrated a large gas plant there.
The Tunisian revolt, I admit, looked promising for those who hope for a more open, democratic Moslem world. On January 14, 2011, Tunisia's kleptocratic dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled after a massive revolt spurred by an impoverished fruit vendor decrying corruption. Today, violence and intimidation from Tunisian extremists -- Salafists and outfits calling themselves Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution -- threaten any move toward a free and democratic Tunisia.
Eleven days after Ben Ali fled Tunisia, 18 days of protest began in Egypt's Tahrir Square. President Obama publicly abandoned support for Hosni Mubarak as he did shortly later for Moammar Gaddafi. Mubarak was tried and imprisoned; Gaddafi was murdered. In Tunisia, the Islamists (Annahda) gained control through the vote, and in Egypt the Islamist Moslem Brotherhood did as well. In Libya they did not. Nor did the Shia revolt in Bahrain prevail against stronger Saudi forces, though the situation remains unstable. Yemen sacked Ali Abdullah Saleh but it remains the site of secessionist movements. Faoud Ajami describes it as follows:
"This is Afghanistan with a coastline, al Qaeda's new frontier"
About the same time that Ajami was warning about Yemen, Yemeni forces intercepted a ship heading there from Iran carrying explosives and weapons including anti-aircraft missiles.
In Syria, where Democratic Senators like John F Kerry , Nancy Pelosi and Jay Rockefeller once beat a path to curry favor with its leader Assad, and Vogue's Anna Wintour, Obama fundraiser and almost Ambassadorial nominee, fluffed up the regime's image, the internal war grows only bloodier:
As the rebellion approached its second anniversary, an estimated 60,000 people had been killed. In the north, the ancient city of Aleppo was reduced to rubble. Several hundred thousand Syrians had fled to neighboring countries. The rebellion has not been able to topple the regime, and the rulers have not been able to crush the rebellion. The very future of Syria -- its borders and territorial unity -- has been called into question. Clearly, this was not the place for a peaceful, democratic transformation. This was the forbidding landscape of an unsparing religious war. A rebellion that is answered by fighter planes and cluster bombs and Scud missiles bespeaks of a country with a pathology all its own.In Egypt mass starvation beckons as a country which even in better times could not feed its people has now devolved into such chaos, it has killed off a major form of income, tourism.
This week President Mohamed Morsi declared a state of emergency in three major cities because of the widespread uprisings.
Spengler sounds the alarm. People have to eat, he observes and argues that even if Egypt manages to survive it will be as a "failed state."
"The foreign policy establishment told us that the Arab Spring was the dawn of a glorious new era of democracy in that part of the world. The establishment was dead wrong. Now it tells us that Western taxpayers have to bail out Egypt - a $22 billion annual bill, according to Bloomberg News. [snip]
On the contrary: I believe that the foreign policy establishment (snip) is engaged in a hapless and counterproductive effort to save the unsalvageable. That is my assessment as a specialist in country risk with thirty years' experience, including a stint as Bank of America's global head of bond research.[/quote]
And if we bail out Egypt and keep it functioning even in a most minimal way for a bit longer, what is to be when Syria falls as it surely will? And Mali, which may as well, though U.S. and French forces are there fighting to keep the Qatar-fundedIslamists from claiming yet another victory?
I appreciate Ajami's reminder that we were more patient about the nascent governments which followed the fall of Soviet tyrannies and that it is silly to indulge in what he calls "Gaddafiphila." Gaddafi was, after all, a monster. Still, the quick kick he sustained from the administration when there was little to support civil government in Libya then housing lots of loose armaments and Tuareg fighters loyal to Gaddafi, seems directly responsible for the chaos that facilitated the murder of our Ambassador and other Americans in Benghazi.
And the consequences of that ill-timed abandonment may well include the murder of even more Americans in Algeria. S.A. Aiyar of the Times of India:
Barack Obama's triumphal second inauguration as US President has been tarnished by Al Qaida's attack on an Algerian gas plant that killed 38 foreigners. US analysts may ignore the connection, but the Libyan chickens have come home to roost.It hardly will make me sleep easier knowing that the head of the Department of National Intelligence and the nominee to head the CIA both view the Moslem Brotherhood and related Islamist groups as benign. Unfortunately they are not the only still deluded members of the Administration: Caroline Glick writes:
A major Obama achievement is supposedly Gaddafi's overthrow in Libya. Yet a line of direct causality runs from Gaddafi's overthrow to the rise of Al Qaida in Mali and attack in Algeria.
Paranoid about the possibility of an internal coup, Gaddafi hired mercenaries from many African countries. These included Tuareg soldiers from Mali. . . .
After Gaddafi's overthrow, his Tuareg mercenaries took their heavy weapons back to northern Mali. They joined hands with local Tuareg secessionists and an Islamist group, Ansar Dine. The Islamists soon came to dominate the new Tuareg combination. They linked up with Islamists in neighbouring countries to form Al Qaida of the Maghreb.
Mali had been a democracy for two decades. But after the Tuareg revolt, the Mali army staged a coup in Bamako. Under pressure of sanctions, the army allowed a partial restoration of civilian rule, but basically remained in charge. So, the NATO intervention in Libya, widely trumpeted as a triumph for democracy, actually ended up destroying both ethnic unity and democracy in Mali.
It is clear that the insidious notion that the Muslim Brotherhood is a moderate and friendly force has taken hold in US policy circles. And it is apparent that US policymaking in the Middle East is increasingly rooted in this false and dangerous assessment.