Arab Spring – an Illusion
We are currently witnessing contradictory and confused responses by the Obama administration to the upheavals sweeping the Arab world. They highlight the failure of previous US governments to pressure autocratic Arab allies to introduce domestic reform.
With media support, the administration has been promoting an utterly misleading image of an ‘Arab Spring’ led by peaceful, secular Arabs revolting against tyranny.
For example, in its frenetic efforts to provide an idealized spin to the upheaval in Egypt, the State Department even suggested that the Muslim Brotherhood poses no threat because it has adopted a “low profile” and is becoming “secularized.”
In fact, the young liberal protesters who initially led the uprising have been shunted aside.
It now appears that the most positive outcome of the revolt would be for the military to replace Hosni Mubarak’s autocracy. Buta jihadi regime could also assume control. Even under the best circumstances, the new government will be strongly influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood, the creator of Hamas, which supports global terrorism.
One of its principal clerics, the charismatic anti-Semite Yusuf al- Qaradawi, exiled by Mubarak, recently returned in glory and preached virulent hatred of Israel to massive crowds of cheering demonstrators.
If elections are held, the most likely winner would be Arab League head Amr Moussa. It is noteworthy that Mubarak, himself no friend of Israel, dismissed Moussa as foreign minister allegedly because of his fanatical hatred of the Jewish state. The other candidate, Mohamed ElBaradei, pledged that if elected, he would declare war against the “Zionist regime” in the event of a future conflict between Israel and Hamas.
The new Egyptian foreign minister has already proclaimed his intent to renew diplomatic relations with Iran, which were severed in 1979. He stressed that Egypt no longer regards Iran as an enemy, and gave approval for Iranian warships to pass through the Suez Canal.
Few shed tears for Mubarak, but he was undeniably the strongest Arab ally of the US, opposed Iran, remained committed to the peace process, recognized Hamas as a threat and fought Islamic fundamentalism.
The Iranians were delighted when the Americans abandoned Mubarak, who blocked their ambitions of regional hegemony. By denying him even the opportunity to retire with dignity, President Barack Obama conveyed a chilling message to other pro-American Arab leaders.
For us, Mubarak’s departure could lead to a breakdown in our peace treaty, and even a future regional war.
Yet realpolitik – oil – obliged Obama to be more circumspect with Saudi Arabia, despite the fact that Mubarak’s corrupt Egypt can be considered a paradise compared to the brutal Saudi regime, which also exports Islamic extremism. That Bahrain hosts the American Fifth Fleet was presumably the reason the US avoided admonishing its monarch’s brutal slaying of demonstrators in collaboration with Saudi forces.
Obama initially also declined to call for the ouster of Yemeni tyrant Ali Saleh, because he vigorously opposed al-Qaida. But Obama has now decided to scuttle him, and there is thus every likelihood that Yemen, previously renowned as a breeding ground for al-Qaida, will again emerge as the foremost staging area for global terrorism.
However, it was US policy in relation to Libya which highlighted the absence of any meaningful American strategy.
Muammar Gaddafi is indisputably a brutal thug. However, unlike the Iranians and Syrians, he did dismantle his nuclear weapons. In fact, the State Department has described him as “an increasingly valuable partner against terrorism and al-Qaida,” and in 2009 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that the US “deeply valued” its relationship with Libya and wanted to “deepen and broaden our cooperation”.
For Obama, without reference to Congress and virtually overnight, to engage the US in a civil war in Libya which he described as “a kinetic military action” contrasts starkly with his policy of “engaging” other rogue states like Iran or Syria.
His justification was that he could not bear the thought of the coffins which would be required in the absence of military intervention. Yet the US and other European powers failed to display similar concern when for years they stood by while the Sudanese government indulged in butchering literally hundreds of thousands of non-Muslims.
To make matters worse, the “liberated” eastern area of Libya is notorious for spawning jihadist volunteers to fight the US in Iraq. Indeed, former al-Qaida activists and terrorists who fought for Saddam Hussein have already been identified in rebel ranks.
We could thus be displacing a psychotic lunatic who had retired from terrorism, with al-Qaida forces. And should Gaddafi survive, he will no doubt seek revenge.
Hopefully, an appreciation of what Gaddafi would be capable of today if he possessed nuclear weapons may shock Western countries into taking more determined action to avoid confronting a nuclear-armed Iran.
To top off this chaos, there is the relatively mild response to the excesses of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Unlike Mubarak, Assad killed demonstrators, but Obama did not call on him to stand down, and Clinton recently referred to him as a “reformer.”
Yet Assad is an ally of Iran, let al-Qaida terrorists use Syria as a base in the US war against Saddam Hussein, provides arms to Hezbollah, grants refuge to the heads of Hamas and other terrorist groups, and orchestrated the murder of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. He is also collaborating with North Korea in an effort to attain nuclear status.
The collapse of his regime would be a major setback to the Iranians and Hezbollah.
Clearly, the chaotic US policies are undermining authoritarian regimes which were its allies, while Islamic rogue states like Syria are being treated with restraint.
Regrettably, in most Arab countries undergoing upheavals, the principal beneficiaries are likely to be Islamic radicals who, at the very least, will assume a substantially more influential role than under their predecessors.
We should remind ourselves of our former enthusiastic support of Afghanistan’s mujahedeen, who we glorified as “freedom fighters.”
Today we appreciate that we were sponsoring the incubators of al- Qaida, the Taliban and other Islamic terror groups. We may be repeating the same mistake.
And of course, the sad lesson for all US allies: When a crisis arises, don’t rely on the US or other Western countries to stand with us. They may not do so.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post