Posted tagged ‘tunisia’

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.

Things They are A-Changing

April 30, 2011

The Middle East is a mess.  Well, that ‘s not new news.  What is news, however, is where it is becoming messier.   US foreign policy is between a rock and a hard place.  Our past 12 years of Middle East policy seems will produce an unexpected and unwanted outcome.

Tunisia and Libya are inching towards civil war.   Somalia could be their model in time.  Syria is killing their own citizens.  The numbers are rising each day.  Yemen is fighting a civil war quietly and spilling blood in their streets in order to quiet protesters.

Egypt has now raised its hand.  It says it will open its communications with Hamas and open the boarders with Gaza.  Potentially this can have devastating consequences to Israel.

For sure it will show what bad things happen when religious views are mixed with affairs of State.  Israelis will see what a huge mistake they have made by not having negotiated in good faith and reached an agreement with the Palestinians long ago.

Iraq is currently not involved.  They are so far content to count the days until American troops are fully withdrawn.  Iraq will wait and see what happens.  Iran’s shadow will drive the Shiites and Saudi Arabia will quietly fund a Sunni resistance.  Every so often, both sides will delight in killing each other and taking shots at Israel.

All of this is made possible by the abundance of oil and the unresolved issue of Israel’s right to exist.

The West should know by now that we cannot understand the Muslim faith or why they fight amongst themselves.  The West should just stand back.  This is their fight and when it is over, we can see what might be possible.

Israel is another story.  The West cannot abandon the Jews again.  This time, however, there must be reasonable conditions.  For example, fundamentalist Jewish groups cannot be allowed to hold a peace process captive because they claim god gave certain pieces of land to the Jewish people.  This is ridiculous on the surface and totally impractical at the bargaining table.

If the West steps in to protect Israel (including supply of arms and money), then Israel must take reasonable measures at concluding a peace.  If Muslim groups choose not to cooperate, and instead fight, then force should be authorized to defend “reasonable” Israeli boarders.

What a mess.

Don’t Meddle

April 13, 2011

The budget debate, and in particular, reducing the deficit, is getting all the news these days.  And while this is a worthy subject, there is another set of events, not totally unrelated, taking place right now too.  Check out the Middle East.

Libya is the poster child for why intervention is usually an unwise action.  Colonel Gaddafi has been in power 40 years and there must be a reason.  Make no mistake, Gaddafi is not a kind and generous person.  He does not worry about the well-being of Libyan.  He worries about himself, his family, and his supporters.  This is clear and easy to understand.

Gaddafi doesn’t just worry, he is a man of action.  He is cruel and vindictive.  He rules absolutely.  And for 40 years, he has remained in power.  So what do you expect he will do now that a rebellion has broken out?

The same can be said, in varying degrees of ruthlessness for the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen.  So, intervention is hardly a predictable course of action.  Yet American politics demand a perfunctory speech about democracy and human rights.  And there you have it, the US has taken a side.

By US standards, it is not hard to speak out against the rulers of Tunisia, Libya, and Syria.  They have a well known record of running repressive regimes.  When it comes to Jordan, Bahrain, and Yemen quite different American interests motivate our Government to look the other way.

Egypt stands out as a particularly difficult case.  Egypt has acted as a center of Arab moderation.  It has also cooperated with the US in both overt and covert operations.   During George W Bush’s term, he called for open elections in Egypt.  What he witnessed was a resurgence of Islamic fundamentalists until President Mubarak put an end to that.  President Obama called for Mubarak to “stand aside”.  Mubarak did so and now is under house arrest and in danger of prosecution.

Here is why America should keep out.

  • There is no Middle East Arab country capable of living by democratic principles.
  • There is no Middle East Arab leader who does not, or will not divert vast amounts of the local economy for his personal wealth.
  • There is no Middle East Arab country where clever Islamic religious leaders cannot put forth a better story about aiding the poor.

America needs to wake up and realize the real lay of the land.  If we feel compelled to support regime change, we owe a safe exit to the previous ruler (had this person been a friend of the US).  This language will be understood.

The best language with respect to the Arab Middle East is the language of silence.