March 27, 2011
Why Gaddafi? -- the U.S. and the March of Folly
At the beginning of her highly acclaimed bestseller, The March of Folly, Barbara Tuchman asserts the following:
A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests. Mankind, it seems, makes a poorer performance of government than of almost any other human activity.
The U.S. administration under President Obama has proven no exception. Obama's domestic agenda may be dictatorial, but his foreign policy is exactly the opposite: appeasing, oblivious, hesitant, and undetermined. This means that our world -- an anarchical world where might makes right and disorder and instability reign -- is left with no one to make order out of all the chaos.
The anarchic disruption in the Middle East signals the advent of forces which could result in a sweeping victory of Islam over the rest of the world. And the Middle East crises of 2011 have brought neither honor nor respect to the U.S. The ill-named "Arab Spring of Nations" -- which advocates more chaos and anarchy, not democracy -- has led Washington to spout many confused and contradictory messages. Through its confused policy of first doing nothing and then doubling down on what is wrong, the U.S. under Obama has lost not only its credibility, but also its ability to work out a comprehensive policy for a better world.
Perhaps one might say that the last thing the US administration wanted was to open a new front against Islam. Perhaps it would have been convenient for the U.S. to leave the leading role in the Libyan crisis to France and Britain. Perhaps this is the reason for the war coalition the U.S. has organized against Libya, and perhaps the U.S. still very much wishes to see as many Arab states participating in the war against Gaddafi as possible. But without a coherent message from Washington, none of these guesses can be confirmed. And the American president is no help. Obama has continually reversed his mistaken policy just to reverse it again...and always in the wrong direction.
The question is this: why Gaddafi's Libya? If the military operation aims to punish oppressive patrimonial leaders like Gaddafi, then this policy should be applied to just about every Middle Eastern leader. What makes Gaddafi worse than other Middle-Eastern leaders who butcher and massacre their own people -- some of them leaders with regimes even harsher and more oppressive? Are the U.S. and the European states sure that the Gaddafi's opposition is any better than Gaddafi himself concerning Libyan politics? That Gaddafi is a reprehensible leader does not automatically turn his opposition into credible, reliable democrats worthy of American support.
It is crucial to identify the central and unique role of the ruler in ME politics. History and current Arab-Islamic political culture clearly demonstrate that the strong, coercive, oppressive, and even brutal leader is a pervasive phenomenon. Take him out, and you weaken the regime, whereupon anarchy prevails. This is the history of the ME, established by Arab tribal politics and institutionalized by Islam. It is shown by this Arab proverb: "better forty years of tyrannical coercive rule than one day without a ruler."
Cries for "democracy" notwithstanding, is the U.S. considering the possibility that those who follow the current Middle-Eastern despots be perhaps worse concerning human rights and freedom? What if the opposition is radical Islamists or anarchists -- will the U.S. return to Libya to make amends? What if in reality the rebels are tribalists or jihadists, or regionalists cornered in Cyrenaica who wish to cleave Libya into two states? Is it not true that the U.S. fighting Gaddafi encourages all manner of anti-democratic opposition forces to rise up against their respective regimes?
The legal perspective here is important, if only to expose how Obama administration operates. American military operations stem from the Constitution and are meant to be authorized by the Congress. (The U.N. Security Council has no standing in these matters.) Obama's war on Libya, for its part, has no basis in the U.S. Constitution. Obama said on March 19:
I authorized the Armed Forces of the United States to begin a limited military action in Libya in support of an international effort to protect Libyan civilians. That action has now begun. In this effort, the United States is acting with a broad coalition that is committed to enforcing UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which calls for the protection of the Libyan people.
The West says that the goal of military operations is not to overthrow Gaddafi; as U.S. Vice Admiral William Gortney has promised, the objective is to "deny the Libyan regime from using force against its own people." Yet the imposition of a no-fly zone and attacks against Libya's command-and-control centers are not out of the question, and these could easily lead to an invasion and occupation of Libya. The goal, unspoken but well-understood, is regime change -- displacing Gaddafi's regime and replacing it with a new one built around the rebels.
James V. Capua in "Obama and the Libya decision" claims that Barack Obama finally has a war he can believe in. The war may indeed be Obama's personal interest, but is it in the U.S.'s best interest? Is it morally right and politically justified?
In 1991, the U.S. led an impressive international coalition for a just cause with an important message. In 2011, the U.S. is half-dragging a much smaller coalition into nebulous and morally questionable operations. That is why the editor of al-Sharq al-Awsat has declared that "[t]he U.S. has no clear picture of Middle East situation; in her statements, Clinton sounds more like the Iranian Foreign Minister than like the U.S. [Secretary of State]." In the words of Caroline Glick (Jerusalem Post, March 22, 2011), America is embarking on a "descent into strategic dementia."
While a Western-led military intervention in Libya is dominating the headlines, the crisis in Yemen is rapidly escalating, and its implications for stability in the Persian Gulf should turn heads. Yemen, like Libya, is a tribal society at its core, with a regime dependent on the tribal framework. Protests intensified dramatically across Yemen as tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the town squares to demand the resignation of President Saleh. With key military and political figures defecting to the opposition, Yemen is falling into a state of utter crisis that threatens its political existence.
Meanwhile, strategists identify Bahrain as prime target for covert takeover by Iran. King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa said that a foreign plot against his kingdom had been foiled, and he thanked troops brought in from neighboring countries to help suppress the increasing unrest. He also declared that Bahrain has arrested opposition leaders who support foreign countries.
It is clear enough that Saudi Arabia is a target for destabilization by Iran, with the latter nation fomenting unrest in eastern and southern Arabia (Bahrain and Yemen, respectively). In fact, most Gulf States are arming and preparing for major war with Iran, with Bahrain being perceived as the first target on Iran's map.
The United States' Libyan adventure might exacerbate tension and increase turmoil throughout the Middle East. Perhaps it has slipped the Obama administration's mind, but regime changes in the Middle East can beget only three winners: the various Muslim Brotherhood groups, Iran, and al-Qaeda. These three entities dominate the map, from North Africa in the west through Sudan and Yemen to the Persian Gulf in the east. This means that Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the two principal enemies of both Iran and al-Qaeda, are surrounded -- and there are already clear signs of increasing power, influence, and activities among the Islamist movements in the Arab states.
It appears that the U.S. is promoting the interests of Iran and al-Qaeda, if perhaps unintentionally. The Obama administration's march of folly could well effect the Talibanization of the Middle East, with the consequent miasma of feuding tribes and clans -- or even worse, a horrific Shiite-Sunni political-religious struggle for regional hegemony. In this Sunni-Shiite apocalypse, Iran consistently expands its influence and enlarges its axis of evil to include Syria and Turkey, and then Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority.
This is where the Gulf States expect U.S. intervention and assistance. This is why the situation in Yemen must attract the U.S. to the strategically crucial Horn of Africa. This is why Saudi Arabia and Egypt are in need of political support against their enemies, from Iran to al-Qaeda.
But President Obama would rather visit Brazil than pay these issues any mind.