One of the most startling elements of the leaked platform (obtained by Politico) considered by the Republican National Convention this week reflects the received wisdom of John McCain/Lindsey Graham foreign policy wing of the GOP that believes the so-called “Arab Spring” to be a good thing for American interests in the region and the collapse of the Middle East into the arms of the extremist Muslim Brotherhood (McCain was against the Brotherhood before he was for it).
This is best expressed in the “American Exceptionalism” section of the platform, under the topic “The Challenges of the Changing Middle East” (page 14 of the Politico print out), where it states:
We recognize the historic nature of the events of the past two years – the Arab Spring – that have unleashed democratic movements leading to the overthrow of dictators who have been menaces to global security for decades. In a season of upheaval, it is necessary to be prepared for anything. That is true on the ground in the Middle East, and it will be equally true in the next Administration, particularly with a new President unbound by the failures of the past. We welcome the aspirations of the Arab peoples and others for greater freedom, and we hope that greater liberty – and with it, a greater chance for peace – will result from the recent turmoil. Many governments in the region have given substantial assistance to the U.S. over the last decade because they understood that our struggle against terror is not an ethnic or religious fight, and the violent extremists are abusers of their faith, not its champions.
There are a couple of things to take note of here.
First is statement that the “Arab Spring” has “unleashed democratic movements leading to the overthrow of dictators who have been menaces to global security for decades” (HT: Marc Lynch).
It’s unclear exactly who the RNC is talking about. Might that be our long-time U.S. ally in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, who despite his brutal grasp and dictatorial powers was a committed partner to keeping Egypt’s end of the Camp David Accords that maintained the peace with Israel? And then was replaced by Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi that has embraced Hamas in Gaza and called for the US to release the “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel Rahman, as he crushes dissent to his consolidation of power? We also see in recent days the ill omen of an increased militarization of the Sinai, with Egyptian tanks moving towards the border with Israel and the movement of terrorists groups out of Gaza through Egypt to attack Israel.
Or does the RNC platform committee mean Tunisia, where another Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government has replaced dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. While Ben Ali abused the freedom of the press, he also established one of the most Western-friendly Arab states, complete with legalized abortion and prostitution.
But under the new government led by the Muslim Brotherhood Ennahda Party, even Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki openly complained on Friday about the rapid consolidation of power by the Islamists in administrative and political institutions.
Meanwhile, women in Tunisia are protesting the rollback of women’s rights under the new government, and the media is protesting increased abuses, such as the arrest of a blogger for drinking during Ramadan and the arrest warrant issued by the government last week for the head of a TV station for a satire piece that aired recently, and journalists protested last Wednesday about the tightening press restrictions on Tunisian media. Sounds like things are even worse than they were under former dictator Ben Ali.
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney just a few weeks ago told an Israeli paper that the “Arab Spring” didn’t have to happen in Egypt and Tunisia if Obama had not derailed Bush’s “freedom agenda”, saying:
President [George W.] Bush urged [deposed Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak to move toward a more democratic posture, but President Obama abandoned the freedom agenda and we are seeing today a whirlwind of tumult in the Middle East in part because these nations did not embrace the reforms that could have changed the course of their history, in a more peaceful manner
Apparently, the RNC platform committee didn’t get Romney’s memo.
I suspect what they really had in mind is the overthrow and death of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi last year.
Undeniably, Gaddafi had given shelter to international terrorists and pursued a program to obtain weapons of mass destruction. He had also killed Americans in the Berlin disco bombing and the downing of Pan Am 103. But following the 9/11 attacks, Gaddafi had entered into an agreement with the U.S. to dismantle his WMD program and for actively cooperated with U.S anti-terrorism efforts.
[N.B. - John McCain pushed for military aid for Gaddafi just two years before he was congratulating Obama on Gaddafi's death, in fact saying we should have involved more military effort to aid Islamist rebels in Gaddafi's overthrow.]
Yes, Gaddafi had everything coming that he received, but what has replaced him is far short of the “Arab Spring” and democratic movement celebrated by the RNC platform.
Just last month the departing National Transitional Council said that any new constitution should be subordinated to Islamic law – and that the imposition of sharia in Libya should not be subject to a popular referendum (how’s that for democratic?). Such positions have emboldened Islamist forces, who this weekend bulldozed a historic mausoleum in Tripoli with a government unwilling or unable to stop them.
And who is leading these “democratic movements” celebrated by the RNC? One prominent figure is Abdelhakim Belhadj, a longtime leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (which is still listed by the State Department as a terrorist organization), who recently left his military post to take up politics. Belhadj, who was captured by the CIA in 2004 in Thailand and renditioned back to Libya, has started his own political party. So an Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist commander could play a leading role in Libya’s political future. And we overthrew Gaddafi (as much as he deserved it) for this? Meanwhile, Libyan arms are now fueling Islamist insurgents and terrorist groups across Africa.
But not content with the current catastrophe of the “Arab Spring”, the RNC Platform Committee would like to see this foreign policy failure extended to Syria, as they state:
We support the transition to a post-Assad Syrian government that is representative of its people, protects the rights of all minorities and religions, respects the territorial integrity of its neighbors, and contributes to peace and stability in the region.
That sentiment is admirable, but in reality it is pure fantasy.
A post-Assad government would undoubtedly be dominated by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which controls the rebel Syrian National Council (as I reported several weeks ago, is led by one of the Pentagon’s former top Islamic advisers) and has historically been one of the most violent Muslim Brotherhood affiliates in the world. Such a government might be an elected one, but it’s unlikely to protect the rights of all minorities and religions, respect the territorial integrity of its neighbors, or contribute to peace and stability in the region.
In fact, as reported by the Daily Beast on Friday, the Syrian rebels are already talking about installing a sharia-governed Islamic state while they already targeting Alawites, Christians and Shia. The instability of Syria has already prompted concerns by Russia of increase of Islamic extremism within its own borders, such as the terror attacks just 500 miles from Moscow reported on yesterday by the New York Times . Those concerns and the prospect of a hardline Sunni state on its borders presumably will draw Russia deeper into the Syrian conflict, destabilizing the region even further.
There are other troubling elements of this section of the RNC platform, such as the promotion of the Obama administration’s non-sensical “violent extremism” narrative. I’ll leave that for others to comment on.
Reading the rest of the “American Exceptionalism” there is much to commend. However, in light of the present situation in the Middle East and perhaps one of the greatest foreign policy disasters in America history, the RNC’s approach to the “Arab Spring” seems to be not just a continuation of the Obama administration’s perpetual blundering and appeasement and the GOP McCain/Graham wing’s two-faced, schizophrenic “he loves me/he loves me not” policy, but an escalation of the insanity.
No doubt my detractors will paint my criticism as some kind of love fest for Middle East dictatorships, but in point in fact, up until now that’s all we’ve ever had to deal with. There is no democratic and human rights tradition in the Middle East (save the exception of Israel – the one outpost of Western-style democracy the rest of the region wants to see destroyed), and the “democratic movements” we have supported have required the abandonment of our allies in the region. In their place we have supported the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, which openly states its objective to create Islamic states governed by authoritarian Islamic law, the reestablishment of a global Islamic caliphate, and pushing Western interests out of the region entirely.
Yes, the situation is complicated and the actors we have to work with range from very bad to even worse, but the experience of the US with Iran in 1979 warns against doubling-down on the failures of the Obama administration.
And as we see Iraq swing further into Iran’s orbit, and the complete collapse of our efforts in Afghanistan (in both cases, countries subordinated to Islamic law, not due to Al-Qaeda, but due to constitutions written by the US State Department during the Bush administration’s “freedom agenda” hailed by Romney), the US cannot continue to chase the mirage of the “Arab Spring” as envisioned by McCain/Graham and pursuing the utterly insane policy of aiding and abetting our sworn enemies in the rest of the takeover of the Middle East to the short and long-term detriment to our national interests.
In their approach to the Middle East, let’s hope that someone in the Romney/Ryan camp has better wisdom than the RNC platform committee. Or at least reads a newspaper.