Monday, June 18, 2012

Updating the Arab Spring

If you, as I, don’t have the time or the inclination to study the Middle East in depth you need to know who to trust. Otherwise you get lost in the spin.

For my purposes I have granted special credence to the views of Fouad Ajami, George Friedman, Spengler, Caroline Glick and Leslie Gelb.

They do not all share the same politics, but they have consistently offered objective appraisals of events.

The Arab Spring was arguably the Obama administration’s most important foreign policy challenge. As of today it is turning out to be a major foreign policy debacle.

This morning Leslie Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, surveys the Middle East post-Arab Spring and makes some sobering observations.

First, he counsels humility:

Only American foreign-policy experts who know only “policy” and nothing about actual countries would dare to choose sides in Mideast killings and turmoil. Only such experts would dare to suggest U.S. military intervention as the solution. And they do. But to stare Mideast realities in the face is to understand that we don’t understand where events are leading—save toward more conflict and more blood.

In Egypt the military has just dissolved a democratically elected parliament and the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi, candidate just won the presidential election.

Writing prior to these events, Gelb predicted: 

If Morsi prevails, the military will clamp down on him, and chaos is almost certain to erupt. In any event, Egyptian-Israeli relations will continue to worsen, and shootings can’t be excluded.

He added:

And if the Islamists reign, the peace treaty with Israel will fall, whatever Muslim Brotherhood leaders now promise. It has to be remembered that for decades, they’ve been preaching Israel’s destruction. Without that treaty, the whole Mideast region reverts to its old razor’s edge.

Now, let’s move on to Syria.

In Gelb’s words:

Be realistic: the ruling minority Alawites hate and fear the 75 percent Sunni majority, and vice versa in spades. Bashir al-Assad, the ruler, knows, along with his co-religionists, that if they lose power, the Sunnis in all probability will slaughter them. So the Alawites will fight to the bitter end. There is no compromise for them or for the Sunni rebels who realize that if they lay down their arms, they too will lose their heads. So, forget about a brokered deal.

For those on both the left and the right who want us to intervene militarily, Gelb raises the caution flag:

There is the usual group of senators and humanitarian interventionists who’ve never met a humanitarian intervention they didn’t like, who now propose U.S. airstrikes and more. But I’ve yet to hear actual military experts maintain that such strikes could do more than kill more Syrians of all stripes. And what of Syria’s potent air defenses? Oh, sure, the interventionists insist, we’ll take care of those easily. But what happens when airstrikes don’t end the fighting? Do we insert ground troops? These interventionists never seem to think about what comes after failure, though when it comes, they always propose more force.

If we need to think about what comes after failure, we also need to look at what comes after “success.” How are things in Libya today after  the great “success” of NATO’s Libya policy.

Gelb describes the scene in the newly liberated Libya.

Having helped the Libyans rid themselves of the evil Colonel Gaddafi, democratic-loving Europeans and Americans and humanitarians worldwide now find themselves confronting a Libya in dictatorial free fall, run by more than 60 different militias. Boy, have we helped the Libyan people into a new, free, and democratic life. Let us see how much of the oil-rich and strategically located country comes to be dominated by al Qaeda and its allies. Libya’s liberators never thought for a moment about the effects of their triumphs on the neighbors. The Tuareg mercenaries who were helping Gaddafi took themselves and the advanced weapons into their native Mali and have declared a new Islamic state in the north. Did the liberators ever even hear of the Tuareg?

And then there were the foreign policy naïfs who thought that the new Obama administration could “reset” our relationships with Russia and China.

Today, the Russians and the Chinese are now getting directly involved in the Middle East, happy to exploit the chaos and anarchy that the crack Obama-Clinton foreign policy team has helped engender.

Gelb makes the salient point:

Another consideration has not gained sufficient notice: the Mideast has become a diplomatic (and sometimes arms-sales) battleground between Washington on the one hand and Russia and China on the other. That the big powers are on opposite sides of many Mideast conflicts like Syria makes it all the more impossible for the United States to gain the upper hand, let alone get anything useful done. Washington will have to straighten out relations with these major powers before it has a chance of exercising effective power in their region.

“Straighten out relations...?”

This tells us that for the past forty months the Obama-Clinton team has failed to straighten out relations. It has been putting on a show… a show without substance.

It’s been a case study in how not to manage a foreign policy crisis.


Anonymous said...

Gelb misses a thing: the Egyptian military was built as a bulwark against islamic radicalism after a military faction killed Sadat during a military parade. The Egypt military hit the reset button on the elections. It was the best outcome. Let me put it this way: If the military doesn't kill out the islamic nuts, the nuts will blow up the Sphinx and the Pyramids as the Taliban blew up the Buddhas. The Egyptian military doesn't want to go to war with Israel (again). They want more tourist money to buy cool weapons. The military stepping in was a Good Thing. We must support them.

I've got some background on this; I've been in US training with Egyptian Officers. They are the Good Guys.


Stuart Schneiderman said...

I'm sure you're right about the Egyptian military... I think Gelb was trying to say that once you allow people to vote and you decide to take to ignore the vote you are fomenting civil unrest on a major scale. And now, as I recall, the Obama admin has been telling the Egyptian military that it should hand over power to the Muslim Brothers or risk losing its financial aid.

I recall posting at the beginning of the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt when a lot of people were saying that this was going to be like the liberation of Eastern Europe that we would do better to look at what happened in Algeria a couple of decades ago.