Originally published at Rubin Reports.
It is amazing how events in international affairs that would have been easily and accurately understood decades ago are now surrounded by obfuscation and misunderstanding. Such is the case with Libya and the U.S. role there. Forget Obama’s Cairo speech and all that bowing, apologizing, appeasing, and empathy. All of it is meaningless now.
The facts are clear. Along with its NATO allies, the United States helped overthrow the dictatorship of Muammar Qadhafi in Libya and installed a new regime. This government, non-Islamist, technocratic, and led by defected old regime politicians or former exiles, won the election and is now in power.
What does this mean? Simple. Libya is now a U.S. client state. In the eyes of many Arabs and Muslims—especially the radicals but not just them—Libya is now an American puppet state. Most important of all it is not an Islamist Sharia state. The revolutionaries—a group including the Muslim Brotherhood, radical small groups, and the local al-Qaida affiliates–want to change that situation.
How do you do that? One way is to attack the regime’s institutions, including raiding police stations to get weapons. Another way is to assassinate officials. A tempting way to build popular support is to murder Americans.
The killing of the ambassador and five other Americans (a Foreign Service reserve officer, two bodyguards, and two Marines) has nothing to do with a video made in California. It has everything to do with the Libyan Islamist revolution. This revolution will go on for years and will become increasingly bloodier. It is nothing short of amazing that U.S. leaders don’t seem to recognize this.
Let’s sum it up in a slogan:
Bush occupied Iraq and Afghanistan; Obama occupied Libya and killed Usama bin Ladin. Have no doubt that the revolutionaries—including the Muslim Brotherhood—and a lot of others view Obama as just as bad as Bush. Obama’s attempts at appeasement have further convinced them that America is finished and easily bullied. In his speech of September 2010 calling for revolution in Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammad al-Badi explicitly said that.
In Iraq, a combination of factors has defused the situation directly, though resentments born years ago still are part of the package of genuinely popular but also Jihadi-stimulated anti-Americanism. The surge won the war and the long-planned withdrawal was implemented by Obama. A government exists which is hardly a model of democracy but sufficiently stable for the foreseeable future. The Sunni have basically given up trying to take over the country; the central government accepts the Kurds having a de facto state in the north. A lot of people are still being murdered by terrorism.
Afghanistan, because it isn’t an Arab country, has a relatively small impact in the Arabic-speaking world and eventually the U.S. forces will withdraw from there as well. The Taliban, treacherously aided by forces including official government agencies in Pakistan, will go on trying to overthrow the U.S.-sponsored government and might succeed. But that’s a problem for the future.
As for bin Ladin, obviously his death is a cause for al-Qaida to seek revenge. But, of course, they’d be attacking Americans and U.S. installations even if he was still alive. It’s a myth that al-Qaida has been defeated. Precisely because it is so decentralized, the group’s local affiliates are quite active in North Africa, Yemen, Egypt (especially the Sinai Peninsula for the first time ever), the Gaza Strip, and increasingly in Syria.
Others who are not al-Qaida and never saw bin Ladin as their leader will opportunistically use the U.S. killing of the September 11 architect to stir up anger. They will also use inevitable periodic incidents like this You-Tube video. There will always be more such incidents. Jihadis are surfing the Internet looking for some obscure incident or writing to promote. That’s what happened with the video, which some of them translated into Arabic and widely circulated. And when there is no real such incident the revolutionaries will fabricate one, as they have been doing against Israel for decades.
Aside from everything else, Libya has two special factors. First, it is beset by tribalism and regionalism which create a complex web of conflicts. Despite its oil wealth, this factor makes Libya extremely hard to govern. Some tribal and regionalist forces will remain interest groups; others will adopt a revolutionary Islamist ideology. There is no way of resolving these issues. Any Libyan government will have to go for massive repression—which Qadhafi did and the current government won’t—or engage in a constant juggling game.Barry Rubin