OBAMA’S LIBYAN WAR, THE ARAB REBELLIONS, AND ISRAEL
Finally, after weeks of indecisive hesitation, and with Col. Khaddafi’s forces about to conquer Benghazi, the Libyan rebels’ last strong-hold, American President Barack Obama agreed to support a Libyan intervention.
In a hurried press conference, before ostentatiously leaving in mid-crisis for Brazil (which had just abstained onintervention in the Security Council) Obama—who weeks earlier had dramatically said Khaddafi “had to go”—informed the world that America would be part of a UN coalition imposing a “no fly” zone on Libya. Obama quickly added that the allies, not the U.S., would lead, there would never be American “boots” on the ground, and Obama proudly added, even the Arab League was supporting the venture. This did not, however, include key states with strong armies, like Egypt, Jordan, or Saudi Arabia, and it soon turned wobbly when the bombs began to fall.
Yet despite the U.S. President’s transparent, and telling, cloaking of the move in internationalist bafflegab (and now the reference to the Libyan colonel’s departure had disappeared), America’s key military role, begun on the very day marking the beginning of the Iraq war’s ninth year, soon became clear.
So too did the confusion issuing from the President’s weak leadership and incoherent policy—what was initially touted as only a “no fly” zone to protect “civilians” morphed, on day one, into a “no drive” zone, a direct assault on Khaddafi’s ground forces, including what seemed an attempt (failed) to assassinate him by bombing his presidential palace in Tripoli.
Khaddafi, of course, is far from defeated. His anti-colonial (and anti-”Christian/infidel” hype) has evidently already weakened the Arab support Obama initially trumpeted. He can also hope to divide the weak Western allies (Germany, as well as Russia and China, opposed the venture) internally (Sarkozy and the French were already being blamed for being too self-seekingly aggressive, the Turks were balking at tactical bombing, and everyone was arguing about who or what will head the NATO mission Obama has now jiggered up to replace direct US leadership).
The Colonel may be counting, too, on Obama’s losing his nerve under public and Congressional criticism (already being expressed by a united Republican front and the President’s Democratic-left “base”).
The Libyan intervention may well prove a partial, if not unmitigated, disaster. Obama has repeatedly framed it as lasting days, not weeks; but if Khaddafi endures it may well (like the initial Iraq “no fly” zone) turn first into months and then years. And if the “rebels” themselves—an amorphous, heterogeneous, and largely unknown collection with no clear leadership—splinter, or if Libya is functionally partitioned, largely along tribal lines, with Khaddafi king of Tripoli and points west, and the weak rebels dominating the east, how will the U.S. avoid ownership of a third war in a Muslim land?
A cornered Khaddafi could, as he has threatened, blow up his oil fields (which supply Italy and much of Western Europe), or launch a series of terrorist strikes against Europe and the U.S. (we should never forget that Libya provided the bulk of the foreign Sunni terrorists in Iraq, and that Khaddafi’s repeated invocation of his opposition to al-Qaeda is not entirely empty rhetoric). And even if Obama does succeed in killing Khaddafi (his and Hillary Clinton’s euphemism is “make him go away”), his sons may well continue on.
Finally, all of the imponderables of “Obama’s war” (and the Arab “revolutions” around it) bear on Israel’s security and well-being. First, Obama’s initial hesitations about confronting Khaddafi, a real Arab murderer and thug, throw an inverse light on the political values revealed by his consistently hostile stance towards democratic Israel. Secondly, in regard to the practical utility of his pro forma verbal assurances about defending Israel, we should recall his rapid jettisoning of Hosni Mubarak, America’s firmest, and oldest, Middle East Arab ally, at the beginning of the Egyptian “revolution”, his dangerous vacillation in regard to another old ally still facing “protesters”, the king of strategically-crucial Bahrain, and his hesitations about the increasingly precarious (but anti-al-Qaeda) president of Yemen, Saleh.
The Egyptian “revolution” is now safely over and in the hands of the military, which evicted the “protesters” from Tahrir Square and controls a constitution-making process marked by an ever-stronger Moslem Brotherhood (see the recent constitutional amendments vote). The Saudis, well-aware of their own security interests and explicitly rejecting Obama’s imprecations, have invaded Bahrain and put down the revolutionary pro-Iranian Shi’ite “protesters” there. (Meanwhile, President Saleh, who is being allowed to twist slowly in the revolutionary wind, may well not survive.)
And now—mirabile dictu!—sudden popular protests have broken out even in Syria, only to be bloodily suppressed, and this despite the presence of the recently-returned American ambassador, put there without Congressional approval by Obama notwithstanding Assad’s literally murderous anti-U.S. role in Iraq and Lebanon. (Secretary of Defense Gates has rejected “regime change” in Syria, and Secretary of State Clinton tells us Bashar Assad is a “reformer.”)
In short, as the Arab rebellions spread dangerously around the only regional island of stability, Israel, Barack Obama and his Administration are a foreign policy disaster, stumbling from one improvised policy to another. Marked by a leftist-anti-”colonialist” mentality (read the Cairo Speech), a weakness for “re-setting” relations with dictatorships (Russia, China, Iran, Syria), and facing a severe domestic social and economic crisis, Obama’s neo-isolationist tendency is, especially in the Middle East, increasingly evident, and for Israel nothing short of a disaster.
Obama’s brief two years in office have seen the reversal of long-standing American Middle East and Persian Gulf policy, and the collapse, actual or imminent, of key traditional American allies. And as the brief hope of a truly democratic “Arab Revolution” dims, what looms ominously in its stead is prolonged chaos and reinforcement of Islamist movements (from the Moslem Brothers in Egypt and Gaza to Al Qaeda in Yemen and, possibly Libya), as well as growing Iranian Shiite influence (in Bahrain, and with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.)
The only “bright spot” at the moment is, paradoxically, Syria, where popular Sunni elimination of the minority Alawite Assad regime would weaken Hamas, Hezbollah and, behind them, their Iranian Shiite sponsor, and might even re-spark the Iranian “Green” revolution against the mullahcracy.
Under such dangerous and unstable circumstances, and given the Obama Administration’s illusory, and dangerous, “peace process” pressures (which may well increase precisely as Obama meets defeats elsewhere) Israel must look to its own basic security. And above all, the current focus on the rebellions and their implications must not lead us into taking our eyes off the elephant in the room, the major and continuing threat to Israel of the Iranians’ nuclear program.
Given this, Israeli diplomacy must do everything it can to ensure, to minimize, to the extent possible, that the Jewish state’s international isolation, while we here in North America, the last redoubt of public support for the Jewish state, must remain united and committed to ensuring continuing, strong public and governmental backing for the Jewish state.
(Prof. Krantz is Director of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research,
and Editor of the Isranet Daily Briefing)
EVERY REVOLUTION IS REVOLUTIONARY IN ITS OWN WAY
Simon Sebag Montefiore
NY Times, March 26, 2011
A revolution resembles the death of a fading star, an exhilarating Technicolor explosion that gives way not to an ordered new galaxy but to a nebula, a formless cloud of shifting energy. And though every revolution is different, because all revolutions are local, in this uncertain age of Arab uprisings and Western interventions, as American missiles bombard a defiant Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya, as the ruler of Yemen totters on the brink and Syrian troops fire on protesters, the history of revolution can still offer us some clues to the future.
The German sociologist Max Weber cited three reasons for citizens to obey their rulers: “the authority of the eternal yesterday,” or historical prestige; “the authority of the extraordinary personal gift of grace,” or the ruler’s charisma; and “domination by virtue of legality,” or order and justice. The “authority of the eternal yesterday” is especially important because in the Arab world even republics tend to be dynastic.
Before his ouster, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was grooming hereditary heirs. Before his death in 2000, Hafez al-Assad, the long-reigning Syrian dictator, handed over power to his son Bashar. Colonel Qaddafi has long ruled through a phalanx of thuggish dauphins, each playing a different role—one the totalitarian enforcer, another, the pro-Western liberalizer—and each vying for the succession. Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh similarly is safeguarded by special forces commanded by sons and nephews.
Yet “the life span of a dynasty corresponds to the life span of an individual,” wrote Ibn Khaldun, the brilliant 14th-century Islamic historian-statesman. All these Arab “monarchies” have rested on the prestige of a religion (Saudi Wahhabism or Iranian Twelver Shiism), a personality (in Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the revolution; in Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, the memory of the most popular Arab ruler since Saladin, President Gamal Abdel Nasser; in Saudi Arabia, the founder-king Ibn Saud) or a heredity link (Jordan’s King Abdullah II’s descent from Muhammad). But “prestige…decays inevitably,” ruled Ibn Khaldun.…
The generational difference between…wizened pharaohs and the Twitter-obsessed youth worsened the [current] crisis, which may yet mark the end of the ancient paradigm of the Arab ruler, the wise strong sheik, el Rais, the Boss. A dictator who is regularly mocked by the young for his Goth-black dyed hair and surgically enhanced cheekbones, and whose entourage features as many nurses as generals, is in trouble—he has lost “the personal gift of grace.”
Such dictators are often so sclerotic that they do not even realize there is a revolution until it is upon them. In 1848, Prince Metternich, the Austrian chancellor, was so old that he literally could not hear the mobs outside his own palace. When the riots started, I imagine Colonel Qaddafi or King Hamad al-Khalifa of Bahrain had a conversation something like this one:
“So what is it? A riot?” asked King Louis XVI in Paris in 1789. “No, Sire,” replied his confidant La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, “it is a revolution.”
Leaderless revolutions without organization have a magically spontaneous momentum that is harder to crush. Lenin had just reflected that the revolution would never happen in his lifetime when in February 1917, hungry crowds in Petrograd overthrew Nicholas II while the revolutionaries were abroad, exiled or infiltrated by the secret police.…
Once the crowds are in the streets, the ability to crush revolutions depends on the ruler’s willingness and ability to shed blood. The more moderate the regimes, like the Shah’s Iran in 1979 or Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, the easier to overthrow. The more brutal the police state, like Colonel Qaddafi’s Libya, President Saleh’s Yemen or President Assad’s Syria, the tougher to bring down. Iran has brutally repressed its opposition—it helps to not be an American ally and to exclude the international news media, as it’s much easier to massacre your people without being restrained by the State Department or CNN.
“Very pleasing commencements,” wrote Edmund Burke, observer of the French Revolution’s spiral from freedom to terror, “have often shameful, lamentable conclusions.” Look at Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution against Syria and its ally Hezbollah, which has ended with a Syrian-backed, Hezbollah-dominated government. The first success of revolution creates the exuberant dizziness of democratic freedom that we saw in Cairo and Benghazi. In Europe in 1848, in Russia in 1917, there were similarly exhilarating springs.…
The [initial] fiesta does not last long. The disorder, uncertainty and strife of a revolution make citizens yearn for stable authority, or they turn to radicalism. Certainly, extremists welcome this deterioration, as Lenin, that laconic dean of the university of revolutionology, expressed it with the slogan: “The worse, the better.” (At that point, extreme solutions become more palatable: “How can one make a revolution without firing squads?” asked Lenin.)
At this stage, leadership becomes vital: Lenin personally drove the Bolshevik coup in October 1917. Khomeini was decisive in creating a Shiite theocracy in Iran in 1979 just as Nelson Mandela ensured a peaceful transition in South Africa. But there are no clear opposition leaders in Libya, Yemen or Syria: a ruthless security apparatus has long since decimated any such candidates.
In 1848, the democratic spring did not last long before outside intervention: Czar Nicholas I of Russia crushed the revolutions in the Habsburg Empire, earning him the soubriquet “the gendarme of Europe.” The Saudi intervention against Shiite rebels in Bahrain suggests the Saudis are the gendarmes of the Gulf; in Yemen, President Saleh has also begged for Saudi help, which they have so far withheld. In Libya, of course, the reverse has happened: the West is backing the rebels against Colonel Qaddafi’s onslaught. Each case is different; all revolutions are local.
Whatever happens next in the Arab world, it will not simply be a reversion to Mubarak-ish military pharaohism. After the upheavals of 1848, strange political hybrids, modern yet authoritarian, emerged from the uncertainty: first Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, the so-called prince-president and later emperor, in France; and, later, in the 1860s, Otto von Bismarck in Prussia. In complex Egypt, the result of the Arab revolutions is likely to be a similar hybrid, a new democracy, with the military in a special role of Turkish-style guardianship; in repressed Libya, it may simply be a return to tribal rivalry.
Libya, strafed by British and American planes, may be in the headlines but it is a minor country.…
Lesser countries, however, can hold the key to major ones: Syria is the old Arab heartland. The uprising in Syria could encourage resurgent revolution in its patron, Iran, which faces the challenge of exploiting the uprisings that undermine American allies without succumbing to its own unrest. Change in Syria could also liberate Lebanon from Hezbollah; the fall of the Bahraini king could infect the Saudi monarchy—just as Nasser’s overthrow of King Farouk in 1952 in Egypt led to the liquidation of the Iraqi monarchy a few years later. And we should always remember that however liberal these Facebooking revolutions may be, the rivalries between Shiite and Sunni are far more potent than Twitter and democracy.…
No single American doctrine can or should fit this newly kaleidoscopic, multifaceted universe that is the Middle East from Iran to Morocco. We must realize this will be a long game, the grand tournament of the 21st century. We should protect innocent lives when we can—with limited airpower, not boots on the ground. We must analyze which countries matter to us strategically, and after the Facebook party dies down and the students exit the streets, figure out who is really controlling events in the places important to us.
The wisest judgments belong to statesmen who knew much about crushing and making revolutions. “Old Europe is at the beginning of the end,” reflected the ultraconservative Metternich as he was beset by revolutions, “but New Europe however has not yet even begun its existence, and between the End and the Beginning, there will be Chaos.” Lenin understood that the ultimate question in each revolution is always the unfathomable alchemy of power: who controls whom. Or as he put it so succinctly: “Who whom?”
THE SPEECH OBAMA HASN’T GIVEN
Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2011
It all seems rather mad, doesn’t it? The decision to become involved militarily in the Libyan civil war couldn’t take place within a less hospitable context. The U.S. is reeling from spending and deficits, we’re already in two wars, our military has been stretched to the limit, we’re restive at home, and no one, really, sees President Obama as the kind of leader you’d follow over the top. “This way, men!” “No, I think I’ll stay in my trench.” People didn’t hire him to start battles but to end them. They didn’t expect him to open new fronts. Did he not know this?…
Which gets me to Mr. Obama’s speech, the one he hasn’t given. I cannot for the life of me see how an American president can launch a serious military action without a full and formal national address in which he explains to the American people why he is doing what he is doing, why it is right, and why it is very much in the national interest. He referred to his aims in parts of speeches and appearances when he was in South America, but now he’s home. More is needed, more is warranted, and more is deserved.…
Without a formal and extended statement, the air of weirdness, uncertainty and confusion that surrounds this endeavor will only deepen. The questions that must be answered actually start with the essentials. What, exactly, are we doing? Why are we doing it? At what point, or after what arguments, did the president decide U.S. military involvement was warranted? Is our objective practical and doable? What is America’s overriding strategic interest? In what way are the actions taken, and to be taken, seeing to those interests?
From those questions flow many others. We know who we’re against—Moammar Gadhafi, a bad man who’s done very wicked things. But do we know who we’re for? That is, what does the U.S. government know or think it knows about the composition and motives of the rebel forces we’re attempting to assist?…
What happens if Gadhafi hangs on? The president has said he wants U.S. involvement to be brief. But what if Gadhafi is fighting on three months from now? On the other hand, what happens if Gadhafi falls, if he’s deposed in a palace coup or military coup, or is killed, or flees? What exactly do we imagine will take his place?…
The U.S. and the allies will have to provide the rebels training and give them support. They will need antitank missiles and help in coordinating air strikes. Once Gadhafi is gone, will there be a need for an international peacekeeping force to stabilize the country, to provide a peaceful transition, and to help the post-Gadhafi government restore its infrastructure? Will there be a partition? Will Libyan territory be altered?
None of this sounds like limited and discrete action. In fact, this may turn out to be true: If Gadhafi survives, the crisis will go on and on. If Gadhafi falls, the crisis will go on and on.…
Mr. Obama has apparently set great store in the fact that he was not acting alone, that Britain, France and Italy were eager to move. That’s good—better to work with friends and act in concert. But it doesn’t guarantee anything. A multilateral mistake is still a mistake.…
And what, finally, about Congress? Putting aside the past half-century’s argument about declarations of war, doesn’t Congress, as representative of the people, have the obvious authority and responsibility to support the Libyan endeavor, or not, and to authorize funds, or not?…
America has been through a difficult 10 years, and the burden of proof on the need for U.S. action would be with those who supported intervention. Chief among them, of course, is the president, who made the decision as commander in chief. He needs to sit down and tell the American people how this thing can possibly turn out well. He needs to tell them why it isn’t mad.
OBAMA AND LIBYA: THE PROFESSOR’S WAR
Washington Post, March 24, 2011
President Obama is proud of how he put together the Libyan operation. A model of international cooperation. All the necessary paperwork. Arab League backing. A Security Council resolution. (Everything but a resolution from the Congress of the United States, a minor inconvenience for a citizen of the world.) It’s war as designed by an Ivy League professor.
True, it took three weeks to put this together, during which time Moammar Gaddafi went from besieged, delusional (remember those youthful protesters on “hallucinogenic pills”) thug losing support by the hour—to resurgent tyrant who marshaled his forces, marched them to the gates of Benghazi and had the U.S. director of national intelligence predicting that “the regime will prevail.”
But what is military initiative and opportunity compared with paper?…
Yet Obama deemed it a great diplomatic success that the [Arab League] deigned to permit others to fight and die to save fellow Arabs for whom 19 of 21 Arab states have yet to lift a finger.
And what about that brilliant U.N. resolution? Russia’s Vladimir Putin is already calling the Libya operation a medieval crusade. China is calling for a cease-fire in place—which would completely undermine the allied effort by leaving Gaddafi in power, his people at his mercy and the country partitioned and condemned to ongoing civil war. Brazil joined China in that call for a cease-fire. This just hours after Obama ended his fawning two-day Brazil visit. Another triumph of presidential personal diplomacy.
And how about NATO? Let’s see. As of this writing, Britain wanted the operation to be led by NATO. France adamantly disagreed, citing Arab sensibilities. Germany wanted no part of anything, going so far as to pull four of its ships from NATO command in the Mediterranean. Italy hinted it might deny the allies the use of its air bases if NATO can’t get its act together. France and Germany walked out of a NATO meeting on Monday, while Norway had planes in Crete ready to go but refused to let them fly until it had some idea who the hell is running the operation. And Turkey, whose prime minister four months ago proudly accepted the Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights, has been particularly resistant to the Libya operation from the beginning.
And as for the United States, who knows what American policy is. Administration officials insist we are not trying to bring down Gaddafi, even as the president insists that he must go. Although on Tuesday Obama did add “unless he changes his approach.” Approach, mind you.
In any case, for Obama, military objectives take a back seat to diplomatic appearances. The president is obsessed with pretending that we are not running the operation—a dismaying expression of Obama’s view that his country is so tainted by its various sins that it lacks the moral legitimacy to…what? Save Third World people from massacre?
Obama seems equally obsessed with handing off the lead role. Hand off to whom? NATO? Quarreling amid Turkish resistance (see above), NATO still can’t agree on taking over command of the airstrike campaign, which is what has kept the Libyan rebels alive.
This confusion is purely the result of Obama’s decision to get America into the war and then immediately relinquish American command. Never modest about himself, Obama is supremely modest about his country. America should be merely “one of the partners among many,” he said Monday. No primus inter pares for him.… Yet at a time when the world is hungry for America to lead—no one has anything near our capabilities, experience and resources—America is led by a man determined that it should not.…