Belmont Club

Waiting For History

The Second World War, it is said, had one villain, one martyr, one heroine and one winner. These roles were filled by Germany, Russia,  Britain and the United States respectively. But in more recent conflicts, the scorecard is murkier. Who won in Libya? The Wall Street Journal describes one country that did win. Qatar.  Yes Qatar. The little kingdom is sponsoring an Islamic militant who was once a prisoner of the CIA for a leadership position in Libya

Qatar provided anti-Gadhafi rebels with what Libyan officials now estimate are tens of millions of dollars in aid, military training and more than 20,000 tons of weapons. Qatar’s involvement in the battle to oust Col. Gadhafi was supported by U.S. and Western allies, as well as many Libyans themselves.

But now, as this North African nation attempts to build a new government from scratch, some of these same figures worry that Qatar’s new influence is putting stability in peril.

At issue, say Libyan officials and Western observers, are Qatar’s deep ties to a clique of Libyan Islamists, whose backgrounds variously include fighting in Afghanistan in the 1980s and spending years in jail under Col. Gadhafi.

And now the little kingdom is going to reap the reward. Qatar sees itself as Saudi Arabia done right. Islamic but modern; able to bridge the gap between the Jihad and the media world of al-Jazeera.  They see themselves as uniquely able to shepherd the region forward. Even if one didn’t agree, it would be hard to find fault with Qatar fighting its own corner.

one of Qatar’s main goals in supporting popular uprisings in the region, say people familiar with its leaders’ thinking, is to promote its political vision—that in a Muslim-majority region, Islamic political figures can help build modern, vibrant Arab nations by being included in new democracies.

Qatar sees itself as a showcase for marrying Islamic ideals with modernity—a counterpoint to the more unyielding doctrine of neighboring Saudi Arabia.

While this development may prove to be good or bad it highlights one of the questions buried in simplistic depictions of the “Arab Spring”:  is America winning in this huge upheaval? Certainly America deserves to get something out of it; it provided the heavy muscle and yet for inexplicable reasons, “led from behind”. But it may in the end get neither credit, nor oil nor influence in the region, or at least one incommensurate with its effort.

Michael Totten reminds us that Egypt, after liberating itself from Mubarak, now has a new underground of sorts, consisting of liberals who are potentially anathema to the Islamists, doing their own thing. That indicates that the “Arab Spring” however it may come to be judged, is an unfinished thing. The Copts haven’t won; maybe the liberals didn’t either. In time we will find that someone did; and there is something pathetic about the State Department having to wait have a decade to find out if the revolution it endorsed didn’t wind up multiplying its enemies.

Beyond a doubt the United States has a lot of valuable assets in the area. For one thing it controls as a massive apparatus of Sudden Death From Above. According to the Washington Post the United States has established an network of killer drone bases all over Africa and the Middle East, operating in at least six countries, operating out of a seventh and in negotiations for expansion to an eighth.

The Obama administration is assembling a constellation of secret drone bases for counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as part of a newly aggressive campaign to attack al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen, U.S. officials said. …

The U.S. government is known to have used drones to carry out lethal attacks in at least six countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. The negotiations that preceded the establishment of the base in the Republic of Seychelles illustrate the efforts the United States is making to broaden the range of its drone weapons.

These weapons have an unparalleled ability to strike at targets but to what end? What is not clear is what that tremendous capability buys for America in political terms. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the US is not always able to get the forces on the ground to do its bidding and must now resort to cleaning up the mess from behind the scenes by sending in contractors. The NYT describes the problem of locating Khadaffy’s surface to air missile arsenal.

The State Department is sending dozens of American contractors to Libya to help that country’s fledgling efforts to track down and destroy heat-seeking antiaircraft missiles looted from government stockpiles that could be used against civilian airliners.

One can only wonder whether and to what extent the US is operating at cross-purposes with Islamists of the sort that Qatar has sponsored.  For it stands to reason that they would want the very surface to air missiles than the US is striving to lock up.

Though Western officials said they had asked rebel officials to secure Libya’s vast arsenal, there was little evidence on the ground of that effort. For months during the conflict, the capture of towns and cities was quickly followed by a familiar routine, in which rebel fighters — along with most anyone who showed up — converged on abandoned arsenals and emptied their stores. …

More than two weeks later, there was evidence that more SA-7 missiles had been taken from the site, called El-Ga’a.

In some cases, the arms depots were well hidden. As the rebels rushed toward Tripoli in late August, they stormed the base of the notorious Khamis Brigade. The base had been partly bombed by NATO, but many of the weapons stores appeared to be undamaged.

Down the street there was a warehouse full of arms, including SA-7s that were removed by the truckload, in a building that appeared to have been a cannery.

That suggests there is probably a little more to events than the President’s narrative of the triumph of democracy in the region suggest. Donald Trump said in an interview that he was only interested in Libya if the US could take the oil. He was roundly jeered by Gawker, who described him as a “gilded dildo casket” exhibiting his insanity on “Fox News’ illiterate dementia variety hour”.

Wouldn’t it be so much better to let Qatar take the credit, allow Italy take the oil and watch while the Islamists take the manpads? That would be to take the moral high ground. Who would be so crazy as to wonder what was in it for Uncle Sam? There should never be anything in it for him.  Why can’t it be the same old story of the US taxpayer subsidizing somebody else’s picnic. That’s the way it should be done right?

Roosevelt must not have been paying attention when the US came out ahead in World War 2.  Maybe historians in the future will conclude that like World War 2 the Arab Spring also had “one villain, one martyr, one heroine and one winner” — except this time the roles were filled by America, America, America and Islamism respectively.

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No Way In at Amazon Kindle $3.99, print $9.99

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