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Spengler

Who Cares About Libya? Republicans Should Stay on Message

July 10th, 2012 - 7:12 am

So far, the Arab ballot box has given us Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, a supposedly moderate Islamist party in Tunisia, an Iranian-allied regime in Iraq, and… a putative success in Libya, celebrated by the Wall Street Journal editorial page with the pronouncement, “Once again, Arabs demonstrate their desire for self-government.”

UPDATE: Al-Ahram reported July 10, “Wartime rebel Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril took an early lead in Libya’s national assembly election, according to partial tallies released on Monday that pointed to a weaker than expected showing for Islamist parties. If confirmed that trend would set Libya apart from other Arab Spring countries such as Egypt and Tunisia where groups with overtly religious agendas have done well – although Jibril insists his multi-party alliance is neither secular nor liberal and includes sharia Islamic law among its core values.” (Emphasis added; hat tip to Andrew Bostom).

The “once again” part is dubious, for the WSJ does not mention where else this “desire for self-government” has produced the desired result. But the Republican establishment, having signed on to the Bush Freedom Agenda and its gigantic cost in blood and treasure, cannot gracefully back away from a discredited ideological commitment. While the obnoxious military and the unspeakable Muslim Brotherhood square off in Egypt, and the tech-savvy democrats of Tahrir Square disappear, the WSJ praises the one Arab election that appears to justify  the grand enterprise of exporting democracy. Why beat up on other conservatives? Because focus on the supposed Libyan success lets the Obama administration off the hook at a moment when Republicans should pillory the president for coddling a terrorist nest like the Muslim Brotherhood.

The WSJ editors wrote:

It’s fashionable these days to say that NATO’s intervention in Libya left that Arab country no better off, but tell that to the Libyans who joyously voted in free elections on Saturday. An election alone does not a democracy make, but Libyans understand it’s better than the tyranny of Gadhafi & Sons, Inc.

The vote for a new legislative body wasn’t perfect but went off better than expected. Armed groups in the eastern, oil-rich region around Benghazi stormed a couple of polling stations, and tribal groups in the south tried to sabotage the vote. Yet a majority—with an estimated turnout of 60%—defied the threats. The post-election celebrations around Libya were the most spirited since Moammar Gadhafi’s demise in October.

Preliminary results indicate a strong showing by a secular alliance headed by a former rebel leader, Mahmoud Jibril. The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists may also claim a large share of seats in the 200-member General National Congress once official results come out this week.

Libya has twice Egypt’s GDP per capita (about $6,000 vs. $3,000). It has no shortages of fuel or food. It has the world’s 10th-largest proven petroleum reserves. If there is a pie to divide, it is at least possible for sectarian and political factions to agree to divide it, and there is less incentive to extreme risks. Libya, moreover, has only 6.4 million people, less than half the population of Cairo. Its capital, Tripoli, has only 1.7 million, a tenth the size of Cairo. Libya is no more typical of the Arab world than is the Saudi monarchy, which remains in power because it has enough money to buy off any prospective opposition, at least for the time being.

With massive NATO intervention and a lot of money to spread around, it is not difficult to stabilize Libya (or, for that matter, Tunisia, with $4,300 GDP per capita and 10.4 million people). It is also easy to keep Saudi Arabia stable because the regime has enough money to buy off prospective opponents, at least for the time being. To compare Libya to Egypt is inappropriate. It is the sort of thing that “political scientists” who think in terms of “political models” might do. I avoid contact with such people in case whatever ails them might be contagious.

Egypt has some 82 million people of whom perhaps 40 million live on $2 a day. Nearly half of all Egyptians are functionally illiterate and perhaps two-fifths are unemployed or marginally employed. They live on subsidies from a government that is on the verge of bankruptcy, and (as I posted yesterday) have been kept from catastrophe by droplets of Saudi help. The Obama administration’s ideological obsessions and incompetence are driving the largest Arab country into a disaster. Republicans need to stay on message here.

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Related at PJ Tatler: Calls to Destroy Egypt’s Great Pyramids Begin

And from Andrew C. McCarthy: Happy Spring: Sharia Will Rule Egypt

Thumbnail and image courtesy shutterstock / Dudarev Mikhail

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