I am actually shouting at my television.
I am watching Fox News Sunday, and politicians and pundits with whom I normally agree — Newt Gingrich, John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and Bill Kristol — are all making me crazy with their advice on Libya. Each seems to believe that success in America’s latest foreign adventure is predicated on taking out Moammar Gaddafi, and they are all blaming President Obama and Secretary Robert Gates for failing to grasp the obvious.
So now I’m yelling: “Guys, the question is not what to do about Gaddafi — the question is what to do after he’s gone!”
Senator Lieberman seems to have this worked out. He echoes a sentiment I have heard regularly from lawmakers and journalists since January, when the “jasmine” revolution erupted in Tunisia. Once brutal dictators like Gaddafi, Mubarak, and now possibly even Bashar Assad in Syria are deposed, democracy will surely bud and bloom all over the Middle East. There is even a name for this awakening, “Arab Spring,” which I must admit has poetry to it. It would make a good show tune.
But as foreign policy, it is dangerously delusional.
Whether Gaddafi flees to Venezuela, barricades himself in his Tripoli fortress for a prolonged siege, or finishes toes up in a ditch, the vacuum he leaves behind in a country he has dominated for 40 years is what should concern policymakers. And the question they should be asking is this:
If freedom and democracy are waiting to sprout from Tunis to Manama, where are the seeds? Who exactly is doing the sowing?
Unlike that other fertile era when democracy flowered across central Europe before the Berlin Wall finally collapsed twenty years ago, there are no Lech Walesas or Vaclev Havels to lead the way to a totally new and unfamiliar system of self-governance. Instead, in Egypt — the country for which most analysts have the highest hopes — we are witnessing the triumphal return of Yusuf Qaradawi, probably the preeminent Islamic scholar in the world and the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. While he was living in exile in Oman, Qaradawi preached jihad regularly on Al Jazeera and encouraged the murder of civilians in Iraq. Now, when he prays in Tahrir Square, he can draw a million people.
The protesters who toppled Mubarak never exceeded a hundred thousand.
Meanwhile, we learn that one of the rebel leaders we are backing in Libya is Abdul-Hakim al-Hasadi, whose last tour of duty was fighting against U.S. troops in Afghanistan. His fighting force, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, is an ally of al-Qaeda and a fellow traveler with the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood and al-Qaeda have fallen out over tactics in the past, specifically over whether Bin Laden should have launched an attack on the West on 9/11 which killed Muslims. However, there is no disagreement over whether to kill infidels in Muslim lands: it is decreed in the Qu’ran.
Hasidi and his soldiers may be handy in a firefight right now, but what does the United States do if they want to hang around after the battle and help to write a new constitution?