The French are in Mali now, being shot at by Islamists armed with the very same weapons that France airdropped into Libya. Either those or the weapons that France sold to Gaddafi in the preceding period when European countries were competing to be his arms dealers. The joke is equally bleak, either way.
It used to be that decades would have to pass before a bad policy unraveled, but these days it only takes a few years to go from arming a tyrant to arming the rebels to shooting at the rebels.
In less time than it takes a pop star to go from fresh faced to train wrecked, Saif Gaddafi went from the toast of European academics to a mass murderer, Gaddafi’s opposition went from Al Qaeda terrorists to brave rebels, then the brave rebels, many of whom were actually Iraqis, Tunisians and Jordanians, shot up an American diplomatic mission, hooked up with some of Gaddafi’s Tuaregs to take over Northern Mali, shot them up and began carving out their own Islamist Emirate.
In barely two years, Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt, went from screaming that Egyptian children “must feed on hatred” to the toast of foreign diplomatic circles as the same geniuses behind the invasion of Libya try to make the best of handing over the most powerful country in the region into the hands of a terrorist organization.
In that same period, Syria’s Assad went from the pages of Vogue and meetings with John Kerry to being the most reviled man in the world. But two years from now, if he survives the worst that the Syrian rebels, most of whom are Al Qaeda or wish they were, you might well find him meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry while his family gets another four pages in Vogue Magazine.
In two years, the evil ruthless dictators who kill and torture their own people have been replaced by ruthless democratically elected dictators who kill and torture their own people. In Egypt and Tunisia things are worse now than they were under the “dictators” and unsurprisingly the one thing that they can all agree on is that it’s America’s fault.
The press can’t be expected to pay much attention to these events. The media will provide the obligatory coverage of Muslim Brotherhood torture chambers in Egypt and the labor riots in Tunisia. But it would really like to spend its time lamenting Israel’s fall to the far right by covering the rise of a political party which holds the shocking and outrageous position that the twenty year old peace process has failed and should be wrapped up and put away.
It seemed like only a few weeks ago that the cognoscenti were enthusiastically predicting a new Middle East, sending reporters in droves to be kidnapped and molested at the celebrations of freedom and democracy. And now the new Middle East looks a lot like the old Middle East.
Columnists still pen the occasional column urging patience. Rome wasn’t burned down in a day, they say, all revolutions take time. Look how long it took Germany, Russia and Japan to stop killing millions of people and get down to the business of making engines, accidents and wristwatches. They stop by Doha, take in the stores packed full of the finest French and Italian luxury goods, the terrified Filipino maids and the surly Thai workers and proclaim that the Middle East is just like Europe.
Arab Spring fever got the U.K. and the U.S., both of whose leaders had replaced unpopular predecessors associated with unpopular Middle Eastern wars, and France, which had been the poster brat for not going into Iraq, so fired up that they decided to bomb Gaddafi in the name of democracy.
Since the U.N. wasn’t about to approve their regime change operation, the Libya liberators bombed the country’s air force and then its armored vehicles in the name of protecting civilians. France got so caught in the excitement of protecting civilians, that it began airdropping assault rifles, RPGs and anti-tank missiles, despite the arms embargo. When asked about it, their spokesman explained that the French government was just helping civilians protect themselves. And an anti-tank missile certainly packs a lot of protection.