Posted tagged ‘arab spring’

President Obama’s Unintended Consequence

February 13, 2014

When Barack Obama campaigned for President in 2008, he pointed to the inadequacies of the Bush Administration and said “we can do better”.  Historians will have to decide whether President Obama has done better than former President Bush given the world events and political situations that President Obama had to face.  I wonder, however, whether historians and pundits will point out how Obama innocently brought many of the hurdles on himself.

The Obama Administration inherited two wars and a near financial catastrophe.  In combination, these events forced President Obama to prioritize his efforts in a way quite differently from his campaign promises.  In foreign affairs, Obama (like most other pundits) did not see the impact the Arab Spring would have, but at the same time, its is unclear what better path existed for him to follow.  The President had just announced his intention to “pivot” from the Middle East to the Far East but thanks to the Arab spring, has found it difficult to extract the US from the Middle East.  Israel has been no help for quite selfish reasons.  Historians will have a lot to sift through.

I wonder whether historians or political pundits will point out a strange “unintended consequence”.  Is President Obama a prime driver for the rise of the irrational conservative right?

A first response might be, “of course, President Obama is a socialist”.  Hmmm.

I would counter and say that President Obama is probably our most centrist President in years.  His middle of the political spectrum position has boxed Republican opponents into a strange place.  In order to define themselves as sufficiently different, Republicans have had to march far to the right and into extreme ideological territory.  Republican leaders must understand that various extreme positions do not go together and as such, will not support a broad enough platform necessary to govern.  Never the less, Republicans have been forced to pander with sources of money which have only narrow focuses on the future.  This unholy alliance has escalated into the “just say no” GOP approach.  Gridlock.

It is almost a hoot to think that had President Obama actually been more progressive in his positions, responsible Republicans would have much more area to propose sensible centrist approaches to the major domestic issues (like infrastructure, educations, transportation, and true job creation).  With the President squarely in the middle ground, the only place for the GOP was to move farther right.

Who would have thought?


Pay Back Time?

February 22, 2012

The news reports coming out of Syria are disheartening and troubling.  In another country which most Americans know little and think of as homogeneous, the supporters of President Bashar al-Assad are mercilessly killing anyone thought to be opposing the government, street protesters or civilians.  Man’s inhumanity towards fellow man seems as predictable as Newton’s theory on apples.

Today’s Syria is a mess like most other countries in the Middle East.  It is like a bottle of hot gases getting hotter.  It has enough oil that it is worth the Alawi minority to control the 74% Sunni majority.

Assad has paid attention to the other Arab Spring awakenings.  He does not want the unpleasant outcomes he has seen in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.  So, it is not hard to understand the heavy hand that Assad is laying upon his opponents.

This situation could present an intriguing set of possibilities for Israel.  Syria’s hand has been only slightly veiled in its support of Hamas and Hezbollah.  Could the current situation provide Israel a chance to even the score?

There are reports that the West is considering taking part in a proxy war by supplying arms and munitions to Assad’s opponents.  At first blush this looks justified on humanitarian grounds.  On consideration, however, there is no way to predict that following the fall of Assad, the sun will shine and flowers bloom and life will be good in Syria.  Why should Syria be different from the other Middle East countries who have experienced regime change?

The West could view this geopolitically and conclude that there is no good reason for Russia to be intervening.  With visions of the former cold war, justification of supplying the rebels is not a big leap.  Supplying the rebels will clearly lead to a lot more destruction and killings, and may after a long blood bath lead to regime change.  But still, why do it with no brighter outlook?

Israel, however, has different motives.  In addition to striking at the Hamas and Hezbollah safe houses, should Israel elect to attack Iran’s nuclear sites, Syria offers a direct flight route.  A Syrian government tied down fighting a well supported uprising could not present much of a threat to Israeli planes.

Summing this up, the West has little more than humanitarian wishes to end the violence.  Intervening with troops or even a Libyan air assault will simply leave an infected wound.  The West should see it has no legitimate business in any Middle East country and has a history of leaving seeds for despotic governments, all for oil.

Israel, could act as a conduit and supplier of arms.  Israel could decide to take the chance that a new Syrian Government might act more even handed towards them.  While this outcome may be problematic, a new Syrian Government is unlikely to treat Israel less friendly than Assad’s.

The Middle East’s Muddled Message

February 10, 2012

The Middle East is a mess.  This is not new news.  It was that way when President George W Bush invaded in 2003.  Some people just don’t need facts or background to commit other people’s children to war.

Now people are saying the Arab Spring has cast the Middle East in a somewhat different light.  We are told “look what the power of social media can do.  People thirst for democracy and freedom.  If given a chance, they will throw out the tyrants and…”

If you look at the details, however, it really is the same picture.  Most of these countries are dirt poor and poorly educated.  Governments cling to power with behind the scenes deals with Muslim leaders.  The first function of these governments is to ensure the leaders and their bureaucrat supporters get a privileged cut of the meager national resources.  Keeping their citizens poor, uneducated, and dependent upon the government, works well and has been a well practiced formula.

With Iraq today, we are seeing that you can put a new dress on but that doesn’t change the person inside the dress.  Iraq has traded a Sunni tyrant in Saddam Hussein for a sharply partisan, ineffective Shiite lead government whose main interests are in garnering as much power and wealth as they can.  This time, Shiites rather than Sunnis, see the wealth as their right.

Tunisia was the first Arab Spring country to topple its tyrant in 2011.  Not much has changed there but things also have not deteriorated.

Egypt followed with a dramatic ouster of Hosni Mubarak.  The West chose not to support him.  Democratic elections have followed and Islamic groups have gained a large majority in their legislature.  In and of itself, this is not a problem.

What is a problem is that these new elected officials want the military (the former power behind Mubarak) to cease interfering with the daily administration of government.  Again why should this be a problem?  The answer is that the military controls revenue producing businesses and that means money.   Trying to take this money away from the military will have unforeseen consequences.

Libya was home to the next worst despot, Muammar Gaddafi.  When uprisings began the West intervened.  “The west thought it could help these brave people gain freedom and democracy”.   After a protracted, but one sided fight, Gaddafi was ousted, and later killed.  Hurray, democracy had won and Libya was better off without Gaddafi.  (Sound like Dick Cheney and Iraq?)

Oh, wait, Libya is currently splintering into numerous armed militias all trying to gain enough power and land to ensure they receive a generous share of oil money.  Different land but the same story.

Syria now commands the front pages.  The Arab spring one year later has engulfed Syria.  No surprise, Bashar al-Assad was not sleeping during the Arab Spring.  He saw what happens when a government loosens its power and even more clearly, what happens to that county’s leaders.  Backed by Russian help, the Assad government has adopted exceedingly strong measures to put down those who want a new government.  The cruelty with which the resistance is being subdued is appalling.  The alternative for Assad would not be pleasant either.

So what is the message here?

Intervention can achieve short term goals.  Longer term, however, a different group of chickens may come home to roost.  US foreign policy with respect to the Middle East better be pragmatic and short on idealism.

Arab Spring Brings Israeli Showers

September 10, 2011

The changes that have swept the Middle East from Bahrain to Tunisia have been greeted by many as a sign that democracy and individual freedom always wins.  They may be correct in their observations but I wonder on what time frame they are predicting?

It is hard to argue that these popular uprisings are not good for the long term.  In each of the Arab countries where there has been an uprising, the government was about one thing.  Keep the citizens poor and the leader and his friends wealthy.  Good deal if you can get it.

Along the way these despots made deals and learned at times to look the other way.  US and European handouts came at the cost of leaving Israel alone.  Deals with Islamic fundamentalists and radicals kept them in power providing they allowed a little Hamas and Hezbollah smuggling here and there.  Go along, get along.

Everyone’s “poster child” were the Palestinians.  But not because anyone loved them.  The Palestinians represented an economic plague with a destitute and partially occupied land, and thousand upon thousand of displaced persons living in other countries.  It was both popular and sensible to lobby for a Palestinian homeland where all these refugees could be put.  The only step in the way was Israel.

For many reasons, none either wise or prudent, Israel could not find a way to make peace with the Palestinians.  Hamas and Hezbollah made many peace approaches impossible with suicide and deliberate civilian attacks. A lack of imagination and real Israeli desire stopped others.

The line between poor Israeli policy and understandable Israeli reluctance to make peace with a snake has become blurred.

These missed opportunities, however, are becoming mute.

Yesterday, following “prayers”, an Egyptian mob rushed the Israeli embassy.  They overwhelmed the protective walls and entered the embassy.  A clear and provocative act with no productive purpose.

Under Mubarak, Egypt provided Israel with a safe neighbor.  While not 100% perfect, Egypt kept the smuggling along the Sinai-Gaza boarder to a manageable level.  Things look like they may change.

Israel is now awakening to the fruits of the Arab Spring.  As the showers begin to fall, Israel will have time to ponder the wisdom of their East Bank policy of settlement construction.

It is also possible that the US will get to wonder whether it should have been more forceful in dragging Israel to the negotiating table while the sun was shining.