Friday, August 29, 2014

Libya and the never-ever changing world of the Middle East

Remember when the “Arab Spring” or Summer or whatever it was first erupted in Tunisia and spread elsewhere in the Middle East, and how this was represented as a “positive” development? How it was being spearheaded by citizens thirsting for “democracy”—government by the will of the people rather than autocrats and dictators? Creating an Islamic that finally joined the “modern” world?

Instead we see turmoil  and indications of a return of dictatorships—or worse, countries overrun by anti-West Islamist extremists; one gets the creeping suspicion that the West would  prefer to see the likes of former dictators Saddam Hussein and Muammar el-Qaddafi in power again, if only to close and reseal the Pandora’s Box of Islamic  insurgency and the refueling of terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda which they support.

Why did things go so “wrong”? What is happening in Libya these days explains everything. Remember when NATO decided to support the “rebels” after Qaddafi seemed to have the upper hand against them? How it sent in warplanes to bomb the hell out of government positions? How the dictator eventually fled Tripoli in “disguise” but was captured and killed on the spot—rather than stand trial like in a “civilized” country (remember it was U.S. troops who captured Saddam Hussein, and the U.S. made certain he received a “fair” trial). Remember all the “thanks” the West received for its assistance? How the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was burned down, and the  ambassador to Libya was murdered, likely “inspired” by Al-Qaeda  elements? 

The situation hasn’t improved in Libya, at least according to foreigners forced to flee the country everywhere in the past month or so due to ever escalating violence in Tripoli and elsewhere. In fact, things could only be worse if Islamists and their terrorist allies took complete control of the country, which is clearly their aim. The various militias that were never controlled by a “central” command, but by tribal strongmen with visions of personal power rather than the good of the country. Today, efforts to force the militias to disband have largely been unsuccessful, with the national “army” still a relative virgin at fighting. 

The struggle for power by Islamists and their opponents advanced to such extremities that a former Qaddafi general, Khalifa Hifter, attempted an anti-Islamist coup several months ago, following the military coup that overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt. Hifter continues to battle inconclusively against Islamists in the eastern portion of the country. Meanwhile, Arab countries that previously supported proxy elements in Libya are now providing “direct” aid. Qatar—which seems to have “good” relationships with various Islamist and terrorist groups—has provided military assistance to Islamist militias, while Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are said to providing direct (if "secret") assistance to the anti-Islamists. Recent secret airstrikes on Islamist positions have been blamed on the U.A.E. forces, although their effect on dampening the enthusiasm for war by Islamists have been unsuccessful so far, with a local anti-government group seizing control of Tripoli’s airport.

To be certain, there are genuine supporters of some form of democracy in Libya free from the restrictiveness of personal and political freedom sought by Islamists.  But to answer the earlier “why” question, the truth of the matter is that there was never any sort of “government-in-waiting” to take control of the country in case Qaddafi was successfully overthrown. Oh sure, there was a “council” of rebel representatives that provided a “united” front, but only in their efforts to overthrow Qaddafi. There was never any kind of “consensus” on what to do once the war was won. Differences between Islamist and anti-Islamist factions were subsumed for the “time being.” Some groups, like Al-Qaeda (remember when Qaddafi warned that the West’s support of rebels was hatching that egg in the country?), were already plotting what kind of government they were hoping to see. 

Chaos was the inevitable result.  Oh sure, there was sufficient responsibility on the part of some elements in Tripoli to form a “caretaker” government until an elected parliament could be formed, but its authority has largely been more surface than substance, with real power being in hands of local militia warlords who abide by government edicts only if it suits their interests. This is the result of all our meddling in Libya. Very little seems different than meddling in the affairs of Iraq and Syria.

When Gandhi was challenged by British authorities about how he and the nascent post-British government were going to deal with the problem of violence between Hindus and Muslims in India, he simply said that this was India’s problem, not that of the British—that is, don’t interfere. The Muslim-dominated portion of the country eventually broke away, becoming Pakistan.  We should have left well enough alone in Libya and elsewhere. Today there is far more violence and death in Libya than there ever was under Qaddafi. Under his regime, the Islamists and Al-Qaeda were at least kept on a leash. Qaddafi was not a “good” guy by any stretch of the imagination, but at least the West could keep an eye on him, and he was smart enough to avoid doing anything too antagonizing. 

But now that the bad genie is out of the bottle, or the conflagration out of the box, there is now only the “hope” that somehow sometime down the road that everything will “work out” in a way that isn’t a constant threat to the West. That may a forlorn hope, where once more the West didn’t learn from previous lessons. As Lord Palmerston, the British prime minister at the time of the American Civil War, once said, “To those who in quarrels interpose, will often receive a bloody nose.”  

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