Sunday, September 16, 2012

Bipartisan Dysfunction in the Middle East

     Although the major parties disagree on a number of issues, there seems to be widespread agreement on the policy of intervention in the Middle East.  In particular, both parties have embraced the George W. Bush doctrine of Regime Change, in which America is justified in taking military or other action in the Middle East if governments are immoral or overly oppressive.  This was invoked in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan after failing to find Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).  By providing these countries with constitutions based on the American version, the idea is that these countries will become friendly to the United States and the West.  

     Where do we get such ideas?  I've always thought that American oilmen like Bush and Cheney were overly impressed with their counterparts in the Middle East.  Namely, Middle Eastern countries are places where oil guys go to make millions of dollars, while also being wined and dined, complete with trips to harems and all kinds of wonderful perks.   But this kind of lifestyle is not representative of the country as a whole.  Life in a dictatorship or monarch is terrible for less fortunate subjects.  Average people hate their government and the rich people at the top.  

     This discontent does not mean, however, that they are pro-US or pro Israel just because they hate their own government.  This lesson was learned all too painfully in Iraq, where Saddam's ouster and execution did not lead to solving the long-term discord between Shi'ites and Sunnis.  Just imagine Ron Paul trying to live with Jane Fonda and you can get an idea of the difficulty. 

   Similarly, US politicians would love for the enemy to be defeated in Afghanistan, so that we could lovingly rebuild the country (at much cost to ourselves) and thereby provide a better life for the inhabitants.  Unfortunately, it seems that many Afghanistanis just do not think in those terms.  They have been fighting in those regions for centuries and they don't seem inclined to stop just because it would be convenient for American politicians to do so.  They are not following the script, and for that reason we are continuing the fight in Afghanistan even though bin Ladin is dead.  No one knows what will happen to signal to us that the war is over and that it is time to come home.  Both US major parties are determined to continue to fight for at least a while longer, with Republicans hoping that the war will continue even longer than the Democrats want.  

    Nevertheless, the Obama Administration has embraced the so-called Arab Spring movement(s) which resulted in the outster of Mubarak in Egypt, and more recently Gaddafi in Libya.  In the case of Libya, the United States and NATO provided military support for Gaddafi's overthrow.  At the same time, President Obama has called for the ouster of President Assad in Syria.  The hope is that these actions will lead to stable, progressive governments in those countreis.   

    But in Egypt, this has given rise to the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist Islamist organization.  Is this likely to lead to a pluralistic government friendlier to the West than the Mubarak regime?  I doubt it. 

   In Libya, for some reason Gaddafi became intolerable to the US, and we had to send the military there to provide air cover for the revolution.  Why is this?   Back in the day, President Reagan had similar problems with Gaddafi.  Although Reagan had the reputation as a warmonger compared to Obama's as a peacenik, the fact is that Reagan never found it necessary to overthrow Gaddafi, whereas Obama found the temptation to be irresistable.  Reagan did blow up Gaddafi's palace one time in order to get his attention.  But Reagan treated Gaddafi like a juvenile delinquent, and he was the Principal.  Throughout that time, Reagan and the US never had any illusion that Libya was a friend of the US, although we did buy their oil. 

 Reagan well undestood Gaddafi was a rouge dictator, and that the country was being misled by radical Islam, but did not feel that the situation would be improved by the US trying to install a new goverment there.  

    The available evidence shows that factions within Libya continue to hate their government.  After all, they have just completed a Civil War.  In America, we are still not over our Civil War after 150 years.  It may take a similar length of time in Libya to recover.  But they hate the US even more.    We are not just a foreign country.  We represent infidelism, or the opposition to the faithful submission to Islam.   Until they evolve away from those beliefs, nobody is going to be our pal in that world.  Particularly if we are so stupid that we think that we can back one faction in a Civil War and then have everyone like us when we are done.  

President Obama and Secretary Clinton have embraced the Bush doctrine of regime change.   (AP Photo/Jim Watson, Pool)

   Recent protests, triggered by an anti-Muhammad movie, show just how deep anti-US sentiment really is.  We should not be confused by the assassination of our diplomats in Libya, however.  That was an act of terrorism by a small group of people, and the entire population does not bear respsonsibility for that action.  Both actions may be very anti-US, but the vast majority of people involved in protests did not in fact willfully plot to kill the ambassador.  But the broader expression of anti-US sentiment is prevalent within the Middle East and indicates that the vast majority of the people are in fact against us.  President Obama and Secretary Clinton are quite naive if they expect anything resembling gratitude.  After the assassination, Clinton found herself asking, "“How can this happen in a country we help liberate, in a city (Benghazi) we helped save from destruction?”  Clinton is certainly correct in pointing out that the assasination of diplomats is the action of a few people, and that the vast majority of persons involved in protests against the US were not directly involved in conspiring.  On the other hand, a better question, is whether the anti-US hatred has changed in Libya or elsewhere because of our actions, and the available evidence is that it has not.  That should be obivous to Secretary Clinton and the Administration, but it seems not to be.   By interfering in internal politics in Libya, no matter how well intentioned, we probably can expect to earn fear, mistrust and hatred.  We have chosen to disrespect the principle of National Sovereignty in which foreign powers do not interfere in the internal politics of other nations.  Well, that principle has been thrown overboard.  Welcome to the new millenium, in which the United States expects to support groups aspiriing to rule in the Middle East, even to the point of sending air support and bombers to support the groups of our choice. 

    The Village Elliot questions whether the US is realistic to expect popular support in the countries in which it works to overthrow the government, whether by moral support (Egypt, Syria) or economic and military intervention and bombings (Libya, Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran).  And how about the calls in this election season to take military action against Syria and Iran?

     My favorite is Governor Rick Perry from Texas who during the Republican presidential debates, advocated invading Iraq yet again.  

     Yee haw!  Let's invade Iraq again!

      However, both the far right Libertarians and the far left Greens favor a policy of non-intervention.

 Jill Stein of the Green Party.

  Jill Stein is the Green Party candidate.  She says:  " We're going to see it's not over in Libya . You don't solve problems, you don't promote international stability and democracy by bringing in the army and the bombs. That does not create national stability. The humanitarian concerns were legitimate but those humanitarian aims were really cast aside very early. After NATO entered the fray it quickly morphed from protecting civilians to regime change. There was no legitimate international justification for that."   

 Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party. 

   Gary Johnson, Liberatarian presidential candidate, puts it thusly:  "In one corner, we have the U.S. apologists warning that -- after the murders in Libya and the attack on our embassy in Cairo -- we must be careful not to say or do anything that might hurt someone's feelings. In the other corner, we have the chest-thumpers demanding that we find somebody to shoot -- and shoot them.

     I have a better idea: Stop trying to manipulate and manage history on the other side of the globe and then being shocked when things don't turn out the way we wanted. As far as what we do right now in response to the tragic events of this week, it's actually pretty simple. Get our folks out of places they don't need to be -- and out of harm's way -- and cut off every dime of U.S. tax dollars we are sending to clearly ungrateful regimes."

   In the opinion of the Village Elliot, the so-called extremists are--in this case--making more sense than the supposedly centrist Democrats and Republicans.  I want America to quit trying to be everyone's friend in the Middle East.  Be willing to deal with an adversay as Reagan did.  Buy their oil if it's for sale, but do so without deciding to take over their country and spend billions "rehabilitating" them.  What we are doing in Libya and other parts of the unstable Middle East is nonsense and we need to stop it.

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