Belmont Club

As Is, Where Is

Reuel Marc Gerecht has a new book which argues that Democracy will come to the Middle East, but only in Islamic or left-wing terms, since that is the intellectual heritage of the region. The book argues that “there are two powerful—likely unstoppable—democratic movements in the Middle East. One is from the left and comprehensible to any Westerner; the other, dubious and disorienting to Westerners, comes from the Islamic right. The author explains the importance of those countries, most notably Egypt, Turkey, Iran, and the United States, that hold the keys to the success or failure of democracy in the region. He tells why any legitimate form of government in the contemporary Arab Middle East must be complementary to the Prophet Muhammad’s legacy and the Holy Law—and speculates on what an Arab Islamic democracy might look like.”

People may not like the sound of that, but political crises, like a golf balls on the course, have to be played where they lie. The world must turn as we find it. It is a case of “as is, where is” with something more. For change to occur some element of the future must be added to the present.

The present trends are now being played out in real time across the region as Libya emerges “from its civil war with more than 300 militias and no political consensus on forming a national army, raising concerns that irregular, gun-toting groups could become entrenched and pose a long-term challenge to the government”. Libya is a perfect example of the missing Element X: even the inappropriateness of the notation. What government is there to speak of? A government consisting of 300 militias can hardly be in rebellion against itself nor can it raise arms against a nullity.

Previous posts have argued that regime change has now become much easier than nation-building. Taking down dictators with modern American weaponry is comparatively simple; it is creating stable, democratic successor regimes which is hard.

Reining in the militias is crucial to restoring order after the fighting between NATO-backed revolutionaries and loyalists of longtime dictator Moammar Gaddafi, diplomats say. NATO officially ended its operations in Libya on Monday night, giving the country full responsibility for its own security. …

“The danger is that you have young men returning from battle, bored and with a newfound sense of regional identity and personal pride,” said a Western official in Tripoli, who was not authorized to comment on the record.

One thing’s for sure. The region could use a lot of reining in. The NYT says that Syria has now resorted to kidnapping dissidents in Lebanon. “In closed-door testimony before the Lebanese Parliament in October, the head of the Internal Security Forces, Gen. Ashraf Rifi, said Syria was behind … kidnappings and presented a detailed report with license plate numbers, cellphone records and statements from witnesses that he said implicated Lebanese security officers and tracked the cars to the Syrian border.” That is all to the good, but the practical problem is that the United States is at present the only power supplied with reins.

Syria has a long history of meddling in Lebanon with impunity, and occupied it militarily until 2005, when it was accused of involvement in the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri. General Rifi’s report suggests that Syria can still reach across the border to repress dissent, with the aid of members of Lebanon’s security forces, its former client.

The situation is as fluid as the sands of the deserts which abound in the region. What gives it the character of malicious flux are the two legacy intellectual mainsprings of the world that Gerecht mentioned. Islamism and Marxism. They have been busy as beavers elsewhere. For example, left-wing North Korea, not content to starve itself, is obsessed with threatening others. An exasperated Leon Panetta read Pyongyang the Riot Act. “The United States and South Korea held out the possibility on Friday that the two nations would join in a military response against North Korea if there is another provocation in the region from North Korean leaders.”

The statements from Mr. Panetta and Mr. Kim were also a clear effort to deter the North from future provocations. Mr. Kim said he expected future belligerence, as do American military officials.

At the news conference, Mr. Panetta and Mr. Kim reiterated longstanding demands that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons program and in a joint communiqué called it both a “serious” and “grave” threat. They pledged to complete by the end of this year an American-South Korean “counterprovocation” plan, a military road map for how the two countries would jointly respond to a North Korean action.

And Pakistan in which both influences are substantially present is interesting in its own right. It seems determined to plant dynamite under its own feet.  The NYT says that given a choice between supporting America, which has given Pakistan billions of dollars in aid over decades and supporting the Haqqani network, which has given the region nothing but trouble, Islamabad has decided to support that Haqqani network.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other senior administration officials visited Pakistan in October to demand that Pakistan’s spy agency either deliver the Haqqani network, a virulent part of the insurgency fighting American forces in Afghanistan, to the negotiating table or help fight them in their stronghold in Pakistan’s rugged tribal areas.

But there are any number of reasons why the Pakistanis may disappoint the Americans. Not least is that the Haqqani leadership — contrary to the American emphasis on drone strikes in the tribal areas — does not have to hide in Pakistan’s ungoverned fringes. So close are the Haqqanis’ ties to Pakistan’s military and intelligence service that one might just as well look for them around the capital, Islamabad, or in the closely guarded military quarters of Rawalpindi.

The Haqqani are hiding in plain sight. You know, like Osama Bin Laden, who was ostensibly hunted by the stalwart allies in Pakistan before the US found him right next to their military academy. But if anyone can cut the complex Gordian Knot it is supposed to be Hillary Clinton, who according to the Washington Post, was responsible for the success of the operation in Libya. In its darkest hour, with the Italians about to jump ship after the French began their attacks three hours before the agreed start of the er, uh, kinetic military action, Hillary saved the day.

“It nearly broke up the coalition,” said a European diplomat who had a front-row seat to the events and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters between allies. Yet the rift was quickly patched, thanks to a frenzied but largely unseen lobbying effort that kept the coalition from unraveling in its opening hours.

“That,” the diplomat said, “was Hillary.”

The Washington Post article implies that Barack Obama was literally “leading from behind” in that he left Clinton without instructions.  “‘When she went to Paris, there were no instructions from the White House on whether to support strong action in Libya,’ said a senior State Department official, who explained that no consensus had been reached within the national security cabinet at the time. Yet, within three days, the official said, Clinton began to see a way forward.”

To hear Susan Rice talk about it, “leading from behind” was a “whacked-out” phrase that never applied to Hillary. When all was lost and every European power was wringing its hands impotently at the realization that it was wringing its hands impotently, Clinton was there to save the day. “We led this thing,” she said. “We put teeth in this mandate.” According to Foreign Policy:

Back in March, as pro-Qaddafi forces advanced on Benghazi, preparing to deliver a decisive blow that could have crushed the nascent armed resistance, Britain and France, with the backing of Lebanon, labored in solitude behind the scenes in New York to rally support for a resolution that would have imposed a no-fly zone over Libya.

“The Americans haven’t yet defined their position on Libya,” the frustrated French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe, told a French parliamentary foreign affairs committee days before the council acted. “Never mind that there’s European impotence, but what about American power? What about Russian power? What’s China’s power over Libya?”

In Washington, the United States appeared divided over the wisdom of committing American military assets to the anti-Qaddafi campaign.

Rice, who lacked instructions from Washington to rally support for a military response, was not prepared to support her European allies, according to council diplomats.

But the winds shifted after the Arab League threw its support behind the no-fly zone and the prospects of a mass killing in eastern Libya grew, placing the United States in the position of having to chose whether to back a military response, or step aside.

At that stage, the United States stepped in and took over, disparaging the European resolution, which now had the backing of the Arabs, as inadequate. Instead, it demanded a resolution that would grant sweeping power to launch air-strikes against Qaddafi’s forces and provide legal cover to governments willing to arm the Libyan rebels.

But that way forward was entirely superficial. It rearranged the debris on the ground, but to what extend did it re-arrange the ideas in people’s minds?  Libya is not quite at the end of  its tale. Like the rest of the Middle East and Asia the conclusion is still being written, one that Gerecht believes can only be authored by the indigenous populations themselves. Surely that ending must ultimately be penned by them, but whether it will be happy or sad probably depends as much on intellectual strife as on American diplomatic and military power. For ultimately it must come down to a rebellion of the faithful against the self-impositions of their own Islamic or Marxist creeds.

That may require someone who can intellectually lead from the front, not from the rear. Someone who is willing to push Islamic and Marxist influenced systems in an appreciable direction within the time scale of their terms of office. President Obama does not seem inclined to offer any new ideas. And Hillary, for all her flying around to the capitals of the world, may not want to do it either. But if change is ever to impend, it needs not just a midwife, but a new world willing to be born. If Gerecht’s hope is ever to be realized, a new vision able to compete with the old must stride to the fore.  That is what we are missing.  The region awaits a prophet. And that is what neither President Obama nor Hillary seem able as yet to supply.

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