Obama's Contribution to the Emerging Middle East Landscape

The dramatic events of recent weeks give rise to the question; what will the landscape of the Middle East look like in the years to come? It will clearly not be the landscape of recent decades characterized by strong, long-tenured, often despotic, leaders. Mubarak is gone. Many of his cohorts will follow. 

In an ideal world flourishing new democracies would take root but in the arid, blood-stained soils of the Middle East the establishment of even a single, marginally-functioning, pluralistic democracy is unlikely. Democracies may sprout spontaneously but they are unlikely to mature if the support they receive from the United States is not coupled with a requirement to fully embrace the principles of a modern democracy.  To be successful, we must make it clear that United States supports the departure of despots but not their replacement with warlords, rogue regimes, religious zealots, and tribal chieftains.

Unfortunately, the policies of the Obama Administration are all but ensuring the regional geopolitical landscape that is far from the ideal. Perhaps a more likely outcome is the replication of Lebanon, circa 1978.

The Lebanon of mid-1970's was marked by the lack a credible, pluralistic, unified national government. Living within its borders, but outside its economic and social fabric, was a very large Palestinian refugee population. (The term refugee is loosely used here as the majority of the Palestinians in the country were born and raised in Lebanon). The militarization of this refugee population, and the internal and external responses to it, resulted in a societal collapse unprecedented in recent history. The infrastructure of the country was demolished by anti-aircraft guns fired at building on opposite sides of the Green Line. Schools, homes, and civic buildings were pulverized under the onslaught of urban warfare. Private armies were assembled and deployed.  Muslim and Christian communities were purged of non-believers. Neighboring countries occupied large regions without resistance. The basest traits of primitive societies ruled the day.

Could the devolution of Beirut, from the Paris of the Middle East in the late 1960's to a ravaged, lawless city of 1978 happen elsewhere? It could, and the policies of the Obama Administration may be contributing to it.

The Obama administration has selectively provided moral and, more recently, material support to the "dissidents" and "rebels" in Egypt and Libya. What the administration has not done is articulate a clear, consistent, and strong policy regarding what must happen next. The removal by force or persuasion of the Mubarak and Gaddafi governments will be the easy part. Their replacement with secular, pluralistic, democratic governments will be much more difficult.  President Obama seems to be content with accomplishing task one and indifferent to what happens thereafter.

The vacuum that is left behind will be filled. It will be filled with the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood, al Qaeda, tribal sheiks, warlords, and other zealots and terrorists. It will be filled by the opportunistic Iranian and Syrian governments seeking to expand their influence. The rise to power of these elements will create an environment not unlike that of Lebanon in the late 1970's.  A similar devolution of society may follow.

With all its resources and power, the United State cannot single handily shape the new geopolitical landscape of the Middle East, but it can and should play a leading role in influencing it. The great tragedy is that the Obama administration has chosen passivity, timidity, and a desire to be controlled by the weak will of the international community, rather than providing resolute, principled, leadership. The unfortunate result may be replication of Lebanon-like states as the new norm in the Middle East.
The dramatic events of recent weeks give rise to the question; what will the landscape of the Middle East look like in the years to come? It will clearly not be the landscape of recent decades characterized by strong, long-tenured, often despotic, leaders. Mubarak is gone. Many of his cohorts will follow. 

In an ideal world flourishing new democracies would take root but in the arid, blood-stained soils of the Middle East the establishment of even a single, marginally-functioning, pluralistic democracy is unlikely. Democracies may sprout spontaneously but they are unlikely to mature if the support they receive from the United States is not coupled with a requirement to fully embrace the principles of a modern democracy.  To be successful, we must make it clear that United States supports the departure of despots but not their replacement with warlords, rogue regimes, religious zealots, and tribal chieftains.

Unfortunately, the policies of the Obama Administration are all but ensuring the regional geopolitical landscape that is far from the ideal. Perhaps a more likely outcome is the replication of Lebanon, circa 1978.

The Lebanon of mid-1970's was marked by the lack a credible, pluralistic, unified national government. Living within its borders, but outside its economic and social fabric, was a very large Palestinian refugee population. (The term refugee is loosely used here as the majority of the Palestinians in the country were born and raised in Lebanon). The militarization of this refugee population, and the internal and external responses to it, resulted in a societal collapse unprecedented in recent history. The infrastructure of the country was demolished by anti-aircraft guns fired at building on opposite sides of the Green Line. Schools, homes, and civic buildings were pulverized under the onslaught of urban warfare. Private armies were assembled and deployed.  Muslim and Christian communities were purged of non-believers. Neighboring countries occupied large regions without resistance. The basest traits of primitive societies ruled the day.

Could the devolution of Beirut, from the Paris of the Middle East in the late 1960's to a ravaged, lawless city of 1978 happen elsewhere? It could, and the policies of the Obama Administration may be contributing to it.

The Obama administration has selectively provided moral and, more recently, material support to the "dissidents" and "rebels" in Egypt and Libya. What the administration has not done is articulate a clear, consistent, and strong policy regarding what must happen next. The removal by force or persuasion of the Mubarak and Gaddafi governments will be the easy part. Their replacement with secular, pluralistic, democratic governments will be much more difficult.  President Obama seems to be content with accomplishing task one and indifferent to what happens thereafter.

The vacuum that is left behind will be filled. It will be filled with the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood, al Qaeda, tribal sheiks, warlords, and other zealots and terrorists. It will be filled by the opportunistic Iranian and Syrian governments seeking to expand their influence. The rise to power of these elements will create an environment not unlike that of Lebanon in the late 1970's.  A similar devolution of society may follow.

With all its resources and power, the United State cannot single handily shape the new geopolitical landscape of the Middle East, but it can and should play a leading role in influencing it. The great tragedy is that the Obama administration has chosen passivity, timidity, and a desire to be controlled by the weak will of the international community, rather than providing resolute, principled, leadership. The unfortunate result may be replication of Lebanon-like states as the new norm in the Middle East.

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