Belmont Club

The Day of the Jackal

Hanin Ghaddar asks “Is the Arab Spring coming back to Lebanon?” That depends on where it’s headed. There is one fact and one question about the Arab Spring. The indisputable fact is that regimes are falling across the region. The question is in what direction they are falling? Kathryn Jean Lopez interviewed Barry Rubin at National Review and got a critical estimate of the way Western diplomacy has handled things so far. In his view the Obama administration may have enabled the bad guys and crippled the good guys. Administration sources on the contrary are claiming that the international community is being vindicated all around. First Rubin:

KJL: How would you rate U.S. leadership on all of this?

RUBIN: Terrible! For a number of reasons: mishandling Egypt; empowering the Muslim Brotherhood; failing to support democratic oppositions in Turkey and Lebanon, and waiting too long to call for the downfall of the Syrian government; failing to consult with moderate Arab allies and totally dissing Saudi Arabia; not giving Israel strong support at a time when its security situation is worsening; ignoring the increasing Islamization and repression in Turkey; actually acting to help the survival of Hamas in the Gaza Strip by forcing reduced sanctions and supplying funds indirectly; and being far too slow and weak to respond to the Palestinian Authority’s unilateral independence bid.

It is really amazing how badly they’ve done. And the above paragraph is not at all a partisan critique. Each of these factors is very obvious and visible even if they aren’t being covered in the MSM very much. It can be summed up as failing to recognize the revolutionary Islamist threat; failing to support allies; being too soft on enemies; and not showing American leadership.

Obviously, the jobs and the economy will be the number-one issue in the 2012 elections. But if crises in the Middle East blow up — as I think they will — and make Obama’s foreign policy look like a disaster, might that be the number-two issue?

But that is in stark contrast to David Cortright’s evaluation at CNN. He calls it a victory for the international community:

Never before has the international community demonstrated such immediate and forceful resolve in responding to government abuse against its own people.

Whether this action will serve as a model for other interventions against brutal regimes is uncertain. Some are asking if the Arab League and NATO should now take action to save the people of Syria from the murderous actions of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

That seems unlikely in the near term, but the apparent success of intervention in Libya may give pause to tyrants who claim the right to massacre their own citizens with impunity. The NATO-led action in Libya may signal a more active international commitment to opposing genocide and mass murder.

The president himself gave the “international community” center stage and pride of place, specially emphasizing his skill at avoiding putting troops on the ground. “And all of this was done without putting a single U.S. troop on the ground.” But he did not claim complete victory yet for two probable reasons. The first is because he doesn’t know how post-Gaddafi Libya will turn out. Second, he may want to avoid being asked for an encore.

As we move forward from this pivotal phase, the opposition should continue to take important steps to bring about a transition that is peaceful, inclusive and just. As the leadership of the TNC has made clear, the rights of all Libyans must be respected. True justice will not come from reprisals and violence; it will come from reconciliation and a Libya that allows its citizens to determine their own destiny.

In that effort, the United States will be a friend and a partner. We will join with allies and partners to continue the work of safeguarding the people of Libya. As remaining regime elements menace parts of the country, I’ve directed my team to be in close contact with NATO as well as the United Nations to determine other steps that we can take. To deal with the humanitarian impact, we’re working to ensure that critical supplies reach those in need, particularly those who have been wounded.

Secretary Clinton spoke today with her counterparts from leading nations of the coalition on all these matters. And I’ve directed Ambassador Susan Rice to request that the U.N. secretary general use next month’s general assembly to support this important transition.

For many months, the TNC has been working with the international community to prepare for a post-Gadhafi Libya. As those efforts proceed, our diplomats will work with the TNC as they ensure that the institutions of the Libyan state are protected, and we will support them with the assets of the Gadhafi regime that were frozen earlier this year. Above all, we will call for an inclusive transition that leads to a democratic Libya.

As we move forward, we should also recognize the extraordinary work that has already been done. To the American people, these events have particular resonance. Gadhafi’s regime has murdered scores of American citizens in acts of terror in the past. Today we remember the lives of those who were taken in those acts of terror and stand in solidarity with their families. We also pay tribute to Admiral Sam Locklear and all of the men and women in uniform who have saved so many lives over the last several months, including our brave pilots that have executed their mission with skill and extraordinary bravery. And all of this was done without putting a single U.S. troop on the ground.

What neither side has mentioned in the Arab Summer calculus is oil. The presence of oil is the major external variable which might explain the activist policy toward Libya and the passive one toward Syria.  Already there is expectation that Libyan oil production can be ramped up. Already the Chinese and the Russians are jockeying with the French and Italians for the rights to it.

Oil is to the Middle East as meat on the hoof is to the Serengeti plain.  The cameraman on safaris see the beautiful animals, but the players are thinking in other terms: “How much meat is there on that hoof?”

The West will go to the mat for oil. While the “international community” may portray this as a victory for “human rights,” the more tangible benefit will be to European economies which are teetering on the brink of recession. Oil is that commodity which America is supposedly always going to war for but which mysteriously winds up in the possession of someone else.

In all other cases — Egypt comes to mind — the policy appears to be opportunistic. If the “street” works up, the administration will be glad to provide verbal support. But only in the case of Libya would it invest real hardware — and even then, not much of it to achieve an outcome. This suggests that the “Arab Spring” isn’t going to have a single trajectory but several. For countries in the region with large oil reserves, the Obama administration can be expected to make some effort to preserve its flow. But in countries like Lebanon or Syria, the insurgents are largely on their own. If the democrats can win, the Obama administration will gladly take credit. But if the Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamist groups win out, they will live with that too.

The underlying logic of the West’s policy since the Arab Spring started has been that of the scavenger. Except where oil is concerned, it won’t bring down a kill and then only when it is truly starving. In all other cases, it will act as opportunity presents itself, stealing a bone here and there. But it will leave the regime-hunting on the Middle Eastern plain to forces native to the region.

The Obama administration has approached events in the Middle East not as a lion but as a jackal. It reflects the weakened position of the West and not its strength. What happens next in the Arab Spring will be less due to the initiative and genius of  Washington, but how it fares according to luck. If the Libyans turn against the West, will the president overturn the anti-Western elements in them? If  Assad continues to hold on, will Obama push him over? If Lebanon makes a move to free itself, will Washington aid it?

The probable answers are no, no and no. That would take too much effort. “All of this will be done without putting a single U.S. troop on the ground” is necessity masquerading as virtue.  It would be good if things worked out well for all concerned, but for now the West is hostage to both fortune and its own weakness.  It is scouring the region for political bargains. One senses that even in the case of Libya, they hardly believed they could be so fortunate.

But they should not congratulate themselves yet. Gaddafi is gone. But who comes next?

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