Visit Barry Rubin’s blog, Rubin Reports.
Yahoo highlighted two “amazing” stories shortly after the murder of five American diplomats in Libya and the attack on the U.S. embassy in Egypt that tell us a lot about the intersection between American reality and Middle East reality.
The first article insisted that American officials thought the terror attack on the U.S. embassy was planned (yeah, I don’t think the terrorists were passing by and just happened to have a rocket with them). The other asked tentatively whether maybe the “Arab Spring” hadn’t worked out so well. It’s almost the end of 2012 and these people are still in kindergarten!
Libya tells the story with a terrible irony but we should understand precisely what is going on and how the situation in Libya differs from that in Egypt. For it is proof of the bankruptcy of Obama policy but perhaps in a different way from what many people think.
So far the U.S. ambassador, four diplomats, and two U.S. soldiers trying to rescue the rest of the staff have been killed. According to a Libyan officer whose unit was helping the American rescue effort, the terrorists seemed to know precisely where the staffers were hiding. Might they have been tipped off by sources in the Libyan government or military? Probably, yes.
What happened in Libya has nothing to do with an obscure video from California, it has everything to do with the question of which side rules Libya. And the relationship of the attacks to the September 11 anniversary was meant to show that the Libyan terrorists supported September 11 and wanted to continue that battle.
In one sentence: the problem in Libya is that Obama got what he wanted and thus set off all the usual Western policy dilemmas—that he always denounced—which had existed in the region for a century. But Obama is not only ill-equipped to deal with these problems, he either cannot even recognize them or interprets them in ways disastrous for U.S. interests. For whatever reason you would like to attribute, he wants to make nice with people who want to destroy his country. That might have been a forgivable naivete in early 2009 but by this point it is clear that Obama will never change, and that four more years in office will not improve him and his administration by one millimeter.
Obama decided, although only after what we are told was a titanic inner struggle, to kill Usama bin Ladin because bin Ladin launched a direct attack on American soil. But he sees no need to battle those trying to take over the Middle East and crush its people (including women, Christians, homosexuals) and wipe Israel off the map. Nor does he see the need to wage effective struggle with governments that stand and deliberately do nothing while the American embassy is invaded or the American ambassador is murdered.
President Barack Obama and U.S. NATO allies got rid of a terrible dictatorship in Libya. Of course, there were dreadful murders and human rights’ abuses by the rebels—even racist murders of people because they had black skin, and were thus presumed to be supporters of the old dictator!–but Libya was too obscure a place and the mass media either didn’t care or wouldn’t hold Obama responsible for these things.
Then Obama had a second success in the election, where his client politician won over the Islamists. True, the new regime gives lip service to Sharia law but it is not a radical regime but precisely the kind of government, given the limiting conditions of Libyan society, that the West would want in Libya.
And now the problem begins. For the great “anti-imperialist” Obama has set up a classical “imperialist” situation. In Iran, for example, the Eisenhower Administration helped an existing, legitimate regime stay in power in 1953 and this supposedly led to Iranian radicalism and seizure of the U.S. embassy a quarter-century later. In Libya, the process may just take a few months.
The Islamists of various factions, ranging from the Muslim Brotherhood to al-Qaida supporters, loathe the new government and the fact that the United States is behind it. In other words, Obama has just done what he has been denouncing his whole life: he interfered in another country and “bullied” it into submission to America’s will. Now he has sent two American warships to Libya’s coasts. Obama’s friends call this “gunboat diplomacy.”
One special feature of this situation, of course, is that some of those he helped were anti-American terrorists, armed and trained by NATO. Some of these people have entered the new military, others are now trying a stage-two revolution to overthrow the regime and institute a real Islamist revolution.
Otherwise, though, it follows the usual pattern. The Islamist revolutionaries have not accepted the status quo and hope to seize state power and drive out the Americans.
Obama has fallen into precisely the trap he has denounced in all his books and speeches. True, America is not claiming Libya as its territory but Obama’s friends call this “neo-colonialism” and “post-colonialism.” He is now the patron of the Libyan government. If it is incompetent, corrupt, or oppresses the people, Obama shares responsibility.
Moreover, as it does all these things and refuses to implement serious Sharia law lots of Libyans will blame those arrogant, imperialist Americans. Why shouldn’t they want to kill the American diplomats who “supervise” the status quo and prevent them from turning Libya into Afghanistan under the Taliban; Iran; Gaza under Hamas; or, somewhat more mildly, Lebanon under a mainly Hizballah government, and maybe what will happen in Syria at some point in the future.
What are the Libyan government’s options? It can try to appease the opposition by more Islam. But that won’t work really. It can try to appease the opposition by distancing itself from the United States, but given its weakness that won’t work. And it can try to repress the rebels but since it cannot depend on its own military forces–which are riddled with jihadists–that won’t work either.
That is the real lesson in Libya. For once, Obama took sides against the revolutionary Islamists. We are seeing in Egypt and the Gaza Strip that appeasement doesn’t work; we are seeing in Libya that engaging in conflict has its high costs, too. Obama claims to have “liberated” Libya but to many Libyans he has enslaved it to infidels.
So what next? American military aid to the Libyan government and U.S. military advisors? An endless war against the jihadists? And what if the government in Libya, which is pretty fragile and cannot fully depend on its own military, starts to fall? In Somalia, the local al-Qaida branch didn’t win only because Ethiopia and other African nations sent in thousands of troops. In Bahrain—a complicated situation in which there is a mistreated Shia population whose opposition has both moderates and radicals—the government was only saved by Saudi troops and against the will of the White House.
Treating what has happened in Libya as an isolated tragedy misses the point. Viewing it as generalized proof of Obama’s terrible policy doesn’t get us to the solution. There is a battle going on in the Middle East that will continue for decades. Obama has largely helped the enemy side. In Libya while he gave some help to the Islamists, his basic policy supported the moderates for once. Now the price must be paid or one more country fall to revolutionary Islamist rule and U.S. influence and credibility decline even further.
This is a war, not a misunderstanding. It is a battle of ideologies and a struggle for control of state power, not hurt feelings over some obscure video.
PS: I have a lot of friends in the Foreign Service, now and retired, and I was very upset about the deaths of five American diplomats and two American soldiers in Libya. I know this person was a colleague, too. But my goodness, how horrifyingly revealing is this quote:
“They got the wrong guy,” said a friend of the slain Ambassador Christopher Stevens at the [notoriously anti-Israel, BR] U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, “If there was someone who cared about the Arab and Muslim world, it was Chris,” who had previously served there as chief of the political section. “He spoke Arabic, he was dedicated to the cause of the Arabs.”
Perhaps this diplomat should give al-Qaida a list of approved Americans they should be assassinating. In other words, what? It would have been better to have killed a Foreign Service officer more friendly to Israel? To have murdered some Republicans or Jews? I’m afraid that this is very frankly how these people think. And what is “the cause of the Arabs?” Which Arabs? To wipe Israel off the map? To have radical nationalist dictatorships? To have Sharia states? At least define your “Arabs” as the genuine moderates, genuine democrats, genuine liberals or even–since there aren’t so many of those people–those who feel their self-interests basically coincide with those of the United States.
I find this person’s statement even more shocking than the apology over the mysterious little you-tube film. And yes I have heard this before in private. OK, an anecdote. I’m sitting with about a dozen U.S. military officers doing a briefing a couple of years after September 11 and my co-briefer–a medium-high State Department official in the Middle East section–starts visibly panicking as he’s speaking. “Other issues might threaten you,” he tells them looking really scared, “but only the Israel issue can endanger your life.” I can only report that the looks of contempt on the face of the officers made me proud of the U.S. army.
Note: I don’t mean this as a criticism of all Foreign Service Officers. There are many good ones. But this reaction from a Jerusalem-based American diplomat to the death of Ambassador Stevens, plus four diplomats and now two U.S. soldiers rescuing the rest of the embassy staff is all too revealing. Perhaps he’s just too confused about what country’s capital he’s in.
Visit Barry Rubin’s blog, Rubin Reports.Barry Rubin
About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.
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