FOUR MIDDLE EASTERN UPHEAVALS
By Dr. Daniel Pipes
Libya: With most Americans not quite realizing it, their government haphazardly went to war on March 19, 2011, fighting Mu'ammar al-Qaddafi's Libya. Hostilities were barely acknowledged, covered with euphemism ("kinetic military action, particularly on the front end"), and without a clear goal. Two Obama administration principals were out of the country – the President in Chile, the Secretary of State in France. Members of Congress, not consulted, responded angrily across the political spectrum. Some analysts discerned a precedent for militarily attacking Israel.
Perhaps, Obama will be lucky and Qaddafi will collapse quickly. But no one knows who the rebels are and the open-ended effort could well become protracted, costly, terroristic, and politically unpopular. If so, Libya risks becoming Obama's Iraq – or worse, if Islamists take over the country.
Obama wants the United States to be "one of the partners among many" in Libya and wishes he were President of China, suggesting that this war offers a grand experiment for the U.S. government to pretend it is Belgium. I admit to some sympathy for this approach; in 1997, I complained that, time and again, because Washington rushed in and took responsibility for maintaining order, "The American adult rendered others child-like." I urged Washington to show more reserve, letting others come to it and request assistance.
That's what Obama, in his clumsy and ill-prepared way, has done. The results will surely influence future U.S. policy.
Egypt: The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces sponsored a constitutional referendum on March 19, 2010, that passed 77-23. It has had the effect of boosting the Muslim Brotherhood as well as remnants of Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party, while shunting aside the Tahrir Square secularists. In so doing, the new military leadership confirmed its intention to continue with the government's subtle, but long-standing, collusion with Islamists.
Two facts underpin this collusion: Egypt has been ruled by the military since a 1952 coup d'état; and the socalled Free Officers who carried off that coup themselves had close ties to the military wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The spirit of Tahrir Square was real and may eventually prevail; but, for now, it's business as usual in Egypt, with the government continuing Mubarak's familiar quasi-Islamist line.
Syria: Hafez al-Assad ruled the country for thirty years (1970-2000) with brutality and nonpareil cunning. Seized by monarchical pretensions, he bequeathed the Presidency to his 34-year-old son, Bashar. Training to become an ophthalmologist, Bashar joined the family business under duress, only after the death of his more capable brother Basil in 1994, basically maintaining his father's megalomaniac policies, thereby extending the country's stagnancy, repression, and poverty.
As 2011's winds of change reached Syria, crowds yelling Suriya, hurriya ("Syria, freedom") lost their fear of the baby dictator. Panicked, Bashar wove between violence and appeasement. If the Assad dynasty meets its demise, this will have potentially ruinous consequences for the minority Alawi community from which it derives. Sunni Islamists who have the inside track to succeed the Assads will probably withdraw Syria from the Iranian-led "resistance" bloc, meaning that a change of regime will have mixed implications for the West, and for Israel especially.
Yemen: Yemen presents the greatest likelihood of regime overthrow and the greatest chance of Islamists gaining power. However deficient an autocrat and however circumscribed his power, the wily Ali Abdullah Saleh, in office since 1978, has been about as good an ally the West could hope for, notwithstanding his ties to Saddam Hussein and the Islamic Republic of Iran, to exert control over the hinterlands, limit incitement, and fight Al-Qa'ida.
His incompetent handling of protests has alienated even the military leadership (from which he comes) and his own Hashid tribe, suggesting he will leave power with little control over what follows him. Given the country's tribal structure, the widespread distribution of arms, the Sunni-Shi'i divide, the mountainous terrain and impeding drought, an Islamist-tinged anarchy (as in Afghanistan) looms as a likely outcome.
In Libya, Syria, and Yemen – but less so in Egypt – Islamists have opportunities significantly to expand their power. How well will the former Muslim inhabiting the U.S. White House , so adamant about "mutual respect" in U.S. relations with Muslims, protect Western interests against this threat?
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Dr. Efraim Karsh, Editor of the Middle East Quarterly and author most recently of the book, Islamic Imperialism: A History (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2007), is Professor and Head of the Department of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King's College, University of London, U.K. A graduate in Arabic and Modern Middle East History from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and holding the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in International Relations from Tel Aviv University, Dr. Karsh has held academic posts at Harvard University, Columbia University, the Sorbonne, the London School of Economics, Helsinki University, the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies in Washington, D.C., and the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.
Founder and Editor of the scholarly journal Israel Affairs, Dr. Karsh has written extensively on Middle East politics, Soviet foreign policy, and European affairs. A regular media commentator, he has appeared on U.K. and U.S. television and radio and contributed articles to leading newspapers in Britain and the U.S.A., among them the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Daily Telegraph, and The Times (of London).
The foregoing article by Dr. Efraim Karsh was originally published in Fox News.com, March 29, 2011, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum, a foreign policy think tank which seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, defining U.S. interests to include fighting radical Islam, working for Palestinian Arab acceptance of the State of Israel, improving the management of U.S. efforts to promote constitutional democracy in the Middle East, reducing America's energy dependence on the Middle East, more robustly asserting U.S. interests vis-ŕ-vis Saudi Arabia, and countering the Iranian threat. (URL: http://www.meforum.org/9630/middle-eastern- upheavals)
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