The “spring offensive” by the Taliban—in Kabul, the Afghan provinces and in the “daring” jail break of almost 400 Taliban militants in Pakistan—seems to confirm the report by a military “whistle-blower” who suggests that coalition forces are too weak to establish security over the whole of Afghanistan. Further, he suggests that Afghan security forces seem content to merely act in a defensive posture rather than seek out and destroy the Taliban insurgency on their own—because, as one Afghan commander incredulously told the whistle-blower, they might get hurt if they actually did fight. On the other hand, there is no doubt that the top brass in the U.S. military feel that making these doubts about the success of the Afghan war public gives the Taliban greater confidence that their insurgency is succeeding, and thus making the ground forces’ position more difficult. Of course, the U.S. and its allies might also ask if the Taliban is really the greatest threat to military success in the region; somebody must be supplying them with weapons to maintain their insurgency for nearly a decade. Is it Iran? China? Russia? Pakistan intelligence? Or perhaps infiltrators in the Afghan security forces? Without this assistance, the Taliban insurgency would have been a spent force years ago.
Note also there has been no equivalent of an “Arab Spring” in the Afghanistan, although even without Western military interference, it is unlikely that the weak institutions, infrastructure and urban development of the country would have provided sufficient support structures for such a move toward “democracy.” And while we are on the subject of the “Arab Spring,” how exactly are things going with “democracy” in such places as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya?
First Tunisia, where the “Arab Spring” began. For 23 years the country was ruled President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, before he was ousted in January of 2011. That seems like a long time ago, so there must have some progress toward democratization? That might include a constitution, but unfortunately there has been only incremental moves in that direction, not surprisingly due to the cross purposes of Islamists and everyone else. Human rights groups accuse the current process of being overly vague on protections of individual rights; weak human rights obviously benefits hardline Islamists and those who remember the police state fondly. Currently, the Islamists who dominate the government—essentially hijacking the process from “modernists” and unemployed who fueled the uprising in the country in the first place—want “democracy” on their own terms. This means establishing Sharia law in the country, which is inimical to true democracy; freedom of action, freedom of speech, and freedom of religious thought are only to be tolerated if they conform to Islamic “values”—which for Islamists include numerous barbaric punishments for “moral crimes”—usually those considered to be Western blasphemies (the opposition to Sharia law by majority Christians and tribal religions in south Sudan was a major cause of that country’s recent partition). In the meantime, almost nothing has changed in Tunisia, besides a changeover in power; until a few days ago, the Islamist-led government forbid protestors from assembling—the same ones who used the slogan “Employment, freedom, and national dignity” to oust the former president.
In Egypt, the “democracy” movement has been essentially whittled-down to a power struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military. As has been the case in all the uprisings, moderates and modernists started the protests, and Islamists reaped the benefits; the reasoning for this is not that Islamists are viewed as supporters of democratic principles, but because they are the most prominent people in their communities. Khairat el-Shater, the leading Brotherhood candidate for president until the High Election Commission struck him from the roles along with nine other candidates, last year expressed contempt for democratic principles—like voting—as “un-Islamic.” He may yet emerge again, and if elected there is the possibility he may follow the lead of the Nazis by passing laws that essentially create a single-party state. In the meantime, the farce that was the constitutional-composing assembly was being stacked with Islamists, with moderates and the Christian minority barely represented; that Coptic Christians in Egypt have been the target of increased violence since the fall of Mubarak—who outlawed the Brotherhood and other Islamic extremist groups—is again an “unfortunate” by-product of the Arab Spring. A court again blocked the extremists from dominating the constitution-writing process, but with the Brotherhood and their Islamist partners dominating the recently-elected Egyptian legislature, their claims to protect the various freedoms associated with democracy rings increasingly hollow.
Libya has been under the radar since the ousting of Muammar el-Qaddafi, but what has happened there is even worse from the democracy-building perspective. According to a recent story in the New York Times, “The militia leaders who have turned post-Qaddafi Libya into a patchwork of semiautonomous fiefs are now plunging into politics, raising fears that their armed brigades could undermine elections intended to lay the foundation of a new democracy.” For example, the airport in Tripoli is still controlled by a militia leader from the hinterlands, with 1,200 armed men. Central government control in Libya is still a figment of the imagination. This militia leader, like many others, intends on putting himself up as a candidate for public office; if he doesn’t get his way, violence may follow. In cities like Bani Walid, according to the Times, militias are preventing local citizenry from independent choice in their own government. Former members of Qaddafi’s military are forming their own slate of candidates, and the general impression is that armed bandits—in the absence of any national police or security force—will control the electoral process, and eventually lead to the “need” for another dictator.
According to the Times, Libyans are only too ready to abandon democracy: “Libyans appear to distrust democracy. In a poll of Libyans conducted in December and January by a research arm of Oxford University, only 15 percent of the more than 2,000 respondents said they wanted some form of democracy within the next 12 months, while 42 percent said they hoped Libya would be governed by a new strongman. Perhaps most worrisome: a significant minority, about 16 percent, said they were ready to use violence for political ends.” And who lies waiting in the ready to take advantage of this situation? Libya’s interim head of government, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, told reporters that "As a Muslim country, we have adopted the Islamic Sharia as the main source of law. Accordingly, any law that contradicts Islamic principles with the Islamic Sharia is ineffective legally." Not surprisingly, Libya has not even begun the process of writing a new constitution until after elections alleged to occur sometime in May; regardless if Islamists or militia leaders interested in gaining supreme power for themselves gain the upper hand, the process does not look as promising as in the “heady days” after Qaddafi’s over-throw.
History may have a lesson for us. The violent spasm of the French Revolution produced “leaders” who pledged “liberté, égalité, fraternité” while serving as de facto “benevolent” dictators; but their violent methods more or less wore-out their welcome, leading to one-man rule beginning with Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799—and around a brief “republican” period—until the overthrow of Napoleon III in 1871. But the European equivalent of the “Arab Spring” occurred in 1848, when democratic “revolts” erupted in Italy, Germany, France and Austria. Liberals, intellectuals and supporters of labor agitated all over Europe demanding new freedoms and unobstructed parliamentary elections; fearful government officials at first recommended to their royal masters to allow concessions to the reformers’ demands. For a brief time, it appeared that some form of constitutional monarchies (such as in Britain at the time) was inevitable. But the reformers over-reached; they were too disunited and too aggressive, and their egalitarian rhetoric panicked the middle classes who wanted stability. Seeing that the danger had passed as the reformers lost support, the concessions were just as quickly rescinded, parliaments dissolved, and life resumed as before. Only in France did a “republican” form of government survive past 1848; but even there, in 1852 France was ready to “elect” Napoleon’s nephew as there new “emperor” to restore “order.” It would not be until after World War I, whose bloodshed discredited crowned heads all over Europe, that democratic government again re-emerged as credible political option.