Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Losing hope in the Middle East

The news out of the Middle East continues to turn silver clouds into dark ones.  Where to begin?

Libya -- The new government is replacing Muammar Gadhafi's thuggishness with a new one, or more precisely an old one: shar'ia law:
The announcement that Islamic sharia law will be the basis of legislation in newly liberated Libya has raised concerns, especially among women, despite Islamists insisting moderation will prevail.
Interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil said on Sunday, during his speech to the nation in Benghazi to formally declare the country's liberation from the ousted regime of Moammer Kadhafi, that sharia would be Libya's principal law.
"Any law that violates sharia is null and void legally," he said, citing as an example the law on marriage passed during the slain dictator's 42-year tenure that imposed restrictions on polygamy, which is permitted in Islam.
"The law of divorce and marriage... This law is contrary to sharia and it is stopped," Abdel Jalil said.

His comments have provoked criticism and calls for restraint both in Libya and in Europe, amid fears that the Arab Spring may give rise to a potentially intolerant Islamist resurgence.
Many Libyans awaiting Sunday's historic speech expressed surprise at the decision by the National Transitional Council leader to mention the role of sharia law in the new country before addressing such important issues as security and education.
"It's shocking and insulting to state, after thousands of Libyans have paid for freedom with their lives, that the priority of the new leadership is to allow men to marry in secret," said Rim, 40, a Libyan feminist who requested anonymity.
"We did not slay Goliath so that we now live under the Inquisition," she told AFP.
(OK, bear with me here. I just gotta say this: NO body expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise!  Surprise and fear! Fear and surprise! Our two, TWO chief weapons are surprise and fear. And ruthless efficiency ... Now, back to the post.)

Trying to build something good by getting rid of Gadhafi was a worthwhile effort.  Imposition of shar'ia law suggests a decent possibility it will turn out badly, but it was worth a shot.  At least Gadhafi is gone.  But how this story ends is up to the Libyans, not us. 

And there is still hope.  Allahpundit's analysis:
I’ll give you three reasons why you should feel only mostly, rather than totally, terrible about this. One: It’s inevitable. Whatever meager civic institutions existed in Egypt and Libya before Mubarak and Qaddafi have long since disintegrated. In Libya, especially, they’re basically rebuilding society from scratch, so no surprise that they’d turn to their one common bond as a foundation, especially when that common bond comes with a ready-made legal code built into it. And if you agree with Reuel Marc Gerecht that all societies follow the same basic civic learning curve — although some take much longer than others to advance — then a period of Islamist fascist rule is all part of the lesson on the way to something better. (Iran, of course, has been there and done that.) As Gerecht once put it, “you don’t get to arrive at Thomas Jefferson unless you first pass through Martin Luther.” Let’s hope so. And let’s hope it takes less than 250 years this time.

Two: It might not matter on the ground. It’s hard to believe Libya will escape a loyalist insurgency and/or tribal warlordism, so the next few years will be sunk in chaos and infighting whatever the country’s formal legal regime might be. That’s a horrible outcome in its own right, but the risk of some Khomeini-esque charismatic leader consolidating power and building a jihadi military threat are way less than the risk of Libya fracturing between Islamists and their political enemies in a civil war a la 90s Afghanistan or Somalia today. Wherever there’s chaos and Islamists with guns, there’s bound to be plenty of Al Qaeda creeping around and looking for a place to hide out, so consider NATO’s drone campaign against Qaddafi this year a warm-up for the big jihadi whack-a-mole operation to come. Silver lining: We know the terrain now![...]

Three: Arab voters will want to see progress quickly after elections are held and, given the state of north Africa’s economy, the odds of that happening are vanishingly small.
Which leads to the next set of bad news, from Tunisia:
Tunisia's moderate Islamist Nahda Party appears set for a decisive victory in the country's elections for a constituent assembly, in an historic test for how the region's long suppressed Islamic movements will govern.
Note: a "moderate Islamist" is like a "moderate Nazi" or a "moderate Communist."  A myth.  It's like being "moderately pregnant" or "moderately dead."  It's a binary question, not one of degrees.
Though the country's independent election commission hasn't announced any official results, the country's political parties, relying on data from party poll monitors around the country, said Nahda appeared to have won upwards of 40% of the popular vote. Some party officials reported Nahda looked likely to win an outright majority, with as much as 55% of the vote.
If official results, which may be released as early as Tuesday, support those results, it would be a substantially better showing for the Islamists than many predicted. The center-left Tekatil Party and a party lead by a leading human-rights activist, the Congress Party for the Republic, looked set to come in second and third. The party most predicted to place second, the staunchly secular Progressive Democratic Party and Nahda's most outspoken critics, did far worse than expected.


Outside Nahda party's headquarters—a sleek, glass-fronted six-story building that dwarfs the more cramped and shabby accommodations of most of the country's other top political parties—victorious candidates greeted well-wishers on Monday.
Inside the party's offices, meanwhile, Nahda's leaders had already begun wrestling with the burden of their unexpected success. An aide handed Nahda politburo member Said Ferjani a memo from a party number cruncher who predicted the party would win 50% to 55% of seats in the incoming assembly.
"This is bad news if it's true," Mr. Ferjani said.
Wait! What? You just won an election and you think that's bad?
Many in the party fear such a dominant showing for Nahda could spur rivals to join forces against it and leave Nahda holding the blame when Tunisians' high expectations go unmet.
"To deliver within months straightaway with all these challenges is very difficult," Mr. Ferjani said. "With 55% of seats, even if we say we are ruling in a coalition, the voters will say 'no, we wanted you to do the job and you didn't do it.' Forty percent would be our golden number."
At a news conference held by the Progressive Democratic Party, party leader Ahmed Najib Chebbi conceded defeat, and offered facetious well-wishes to the victors. "We congratulate the winning party and wish them good luck fulfilling their promises to meet the demands of the poor and unemployed within a year," Mr. Chebbi said.
So the silver cloud of the Tunisian revolution may have turned into a dark cloud, but that dark cloud does have a silver lining ... except the silver lining has a dark lining of its own (Excuse me. Are you following this?), as Allahpundit explains:
Groups like Nahda and the Muslim Brotherhood are telling people that Islam is the answer to their troubles, economic and otherwise, so give ‘em a good hard dose and let them see how well it works in practice. And if, as expected, the ruling parties end up canceling the next election after public opinion about them sours, that’s all part of Gerecht’s learning curve. If he’s right, this will all work out — eventually — when the Islamists are themselves dislodged via some sort of Green Revolution and something comparatively more secular and liberal replaces them. My hunch is that it won’t work that way, that the lesson gleaned from Islamists governing horribly and then canceling elections will be that elections don’t work rather than “Islamism doesn’t work.”
And he's probably right.  Why?  For example, look at Egypt:
A Coptic church near Aswan in Upper Egypt was attacked and burned by a Muslim mob, inflamed by the fiery words of their imam. This has happened with increasing frequency since the February revolution in Egypt.
The church, originally built in the 1940s, was undergoing badly needed renovations and some expansion. According to Sharia, it is forbidden to build or repair a Christian or Jewish religious building in a Muslim-ruled state. Some local Muslims demanded that the new building could not have either domes or a cross. When the rebuilding went ahead according to plan, they set the church on fire.
That is not so unusual. What happened next, however, was quite different. When Christians in the capital Cairo demonstrated in protest, they were attacked. At least 27 were killed; more than 250 were injured. Rather than investigate — including the question of whether soldiers had committed many of the murders — the government rushed to blame foreign provocateurs, declaring they were seeking to divide Egyptian society.
This is an old theme in Egypt, and one that is certainly surviving the overthrow of the Mubarak regime.
As a child growing up in Cairo I was taught to fear those unidentified hands, sometimes called fingers, messing with the internal harmony of Egyptian society. I was warned not to pick up toys or candy from strangers or things left on the streets, because they might be placed there by those hands. Later, I heard that any unrest, protest, demonstration, and even rise in prices of goods was the action of those hands. Even the failed attempts at steps toward democracy in Egypt were always destroyed by those foreign hands because, we were told, that would bring the inevitable escape of Egypt’s sovereignty from the firm grip of foreign colonizing forces.
Those hands knew no limits. They were even accused of sending women stricken with HIV to lure Egyptian youth into acquiring the disease; of directing sharks to swim across the Red Sea from Eilat to Sharm El Sheikh; of blowing up tourist sites in Sinai to scare away tourists; and even of starting the Egyptian revolution in January 2011.
Inconsistently, they were blamed for keeping Mubarak in power for thirty years to maintain Egypt’s failed state in perpetual limbo, and afterwards for bringing him down to tinker with Egypt’s stability.
In other words, those hands were omnipotent, ruthless, and determined to destroy Egypt’s present in order to guarantee its gloomy future. The reward, of course, was the predominance of the ever-greedy imperialistic forces of the West, or more recently of the Judeo–Christian alliance against the ever-victimized Islamic states.
But lately, and since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) took over both the legislative and executive branches of the government, we have been incessantly hearing about those “foreign hands that mess with our transitional period.” It has become the common refrain in the almost daily announcements or decrees.
These are the conspiracy theories that infest the Middle East.  Everything is the fault of some foreign (usually those of the US or Israel) hands, foreign agents, foreign plots, foreign machinations.  And the people of the Middle East are helples to change it.

Saves them from having to take responsibility for their own affairs.  Or to even glance in the mirror when they wonder why their countries are usually destitute hellholes.

Syria -- Obama is recalling the US ambassador.  Whether that is a sign of toughening policy against Assad remains to be seen; the ambassador was a major pain for Assad, and he's being ostensibly rcalled for his own safety.  But Obama definitely seems to be blowing a post-Assad Syria.  Barry Rubin:

I believe that the Turkish Islamist regime deliberately helped produce a Syrian leadership that is more Islamist and more Muslim Brotherhood-controlled than was necessary. Since Turkey’s government was empowered to do this by the Obama administration, the White House is responsible for this extremely dangerous situation.  It is a blunder or a betrayal — in effect, the motive and cause don’t matter — of the greatest dimensions. The Obama administration may “only” have paved the way for the triumph of Islamist regimes in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia — we don’t yet know the final result — but it has been actively involved in helping promote an (avoidable) Islamist revolution in Syria.
Of the 19 members of the committee whose names have been published, 4 are identified as Muslim Brotherhood and 6 more as independent Islamists. That means 10 of the 19 — a majority — and hence 10 of the 15 Sunni Muslim Arabs (two-thirds) are Islamists!
Of the non-Islamist Sunni Arabs, two are leftists, two are liberals, and one represents the tribes. Some of the non-Islamists are really good people, as are some of those who have not yet been named publicly (and whose names aren’t going to be made public by me).
Still, thanks, Obama Administration, for putting Islamist Turkey in charge of the negotiations!


It should be clear that none of this reflects on the courageous Syrian people who have stood up unarmed to the massive repression and killing power of the regime which has killed over 3000 civilians in cold blood. Indeed, the majority of these people — in contrast to what might turn out to be true in Libya or Egypt — don’t want to be ruled by a Sunni Arab Islamist government.  In that sense, this is a betrayal of their bravery and aspirations.
Now, with your permission, I will have a brief angry outburst:
Those fools in the U.S. government helped produce an official leadership that is highly Islamist, perhaps much more so than the actual participants. Might not U.S. interests require pushing for genuine moderates to lead?  After all, these are the people likely to get Western money and assistance. When it had a choice, the Obama administration preferred to empower the enemies of America and the West. (Shall I add, once again?)
One more time, this list isn’t a clear indication of the composition of those fighting in Syria, yet it suggests that U.S. policy prefers to help enemies take power in Syria when it could have very easily done otherwise.
Letting the Syrian people decide does not mean letting Turkey decide.  We have an opportunity to change the balance of power in the Middle East in our favor against Iran, and Obama is blowing it by abdicating a major role for the US, not to let the Syrians decide for themselves, but to let turkey decide.


Iran -- US troops will be withdrawing from Iraq and Michael Ledeen is not happy
Take two headlines, one about Iraq, the other about Afghanistan.  The Iraqis told us to honor our signed agreement, and pull out all our troops by year’s end.  Over in Kabul, Karzai said he’d go to war against us if we attacked his neighbor, Pakistan.  It’s the same story in both places, but the real headline is the thirty-year-old one:  U.S. fails to come up with an Iran strategy.
It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?  You’re a Middle Eastern leader, and you’ve been working and fighting alongside the Americans.  The United States was magnificent on the battlefield, and you either won (as in Iraq) or were winning (Afghanistan) when the Americans announced they were leaving.  And they even set a date for their departure.  Where does that leave you?
It leaves you high and dry, at the mercy of the Iranians, who aren’t going away, and who, although defeated in one battle and bloodied in another, intend to keep on killing.  Maybe even you yourself.  Remember that Maliki in Baghdad used to be a member of an Iranian-sponsored terrorist organization called Dawa.  He knows all about the Iranians’ enthusiasm for slaughter, and he knows that if he’s uncooperative they won’t hesitate to blow him up.  And remember that Karzai in Kabul is being paid by the Iranians — he said so himself — and he, too, knows that there are lots of terrorists in his country who will kill him.  They already killed his brother, after all.
When the Americans are gone, who’s going to defend Maliki, Karzai, and the rest of them?  They are properly dubious about the capacity and loyalty of their own forces, and we’ve taught them they can’t rely on us.  Along come the mullahs with their protection racket:  “What a shame!  The Americans are leaving, as we told you all along.  But hey!  Everyone’s entitled to a mistake now and then.  And we’ll protect you much better than they did.  And it will only cost you…”
The reaction from the administration is predictably pathetic.  Having failed to convince the Iraqis to rewrite the Status of Forces Agreement they signed with Bush, Obama declared victory.  He proclaimed it a triumph of his diplomacy, and the fulfillment of a campaign promise.  As I remember it, he promised to run away right away, but no matter. At the same time, Defense Secretary Panetta acted as if it was just something we’d have to pretend to respect, while reopening talks that would lead to the return of American trainers.
And out there in diplofantasy land, our secretary of state, having overcome an attack of the giggles after being told of the butchering of Muammar Qaddafi, warned Iran that they’d better watch out, because our heroic diplomats weren’t about to leave.  Furthermore, we’ve got bases in the region. “Iran would be badly miscalculating if they did not look at the entire region and all of our presence in many countries in the region, both in bases, in training, with NATO allies, like Turkey…”
Nobody pointed out that one of our fiercest diplomats, Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, had run back to Washington because of “threats to his safety.”  And Hillary’s reference to Turkey as a paradigm of tough American friends was particularly unfortunate, since the Turks neither talk nor act like allies.  They talk like anti-Americans.
Before I forget, let me remind you that anti-Americanism comes in two distinct versions.  The first is the one we’re most familiar with, the hatred of America because it is held to be arrogant, imperialistic, militaristic, and insensitive to the needs of the rest of the world.  The second, which is very much in play nowadays, is contempt for America because the Americans just aren’t up to the role history has assigned them:  global policeman.  There’s a lot of that out there, not without justification.
To be sure, as Obama’s fans will tell you, he approves the killing of lots of bad guys, of which Qaddafi is the latest case in point.  It’s an impressive list by now, and grows longer virtually every day.  And they insist that he’s brought down more tyrants than George W Bush and Dick Cheney ever dreamed of, and is calling for Assad to go.  Why is he not getting proper credit? they ask.  The answer’s pretty easy:  because in the three cases of regime change to date (Tunisia, Egypt and Libya), Obama arrived late to the fight, plainly dithered before making up his mind which side he was on, and never seemed to be “in charge,” without which he really isn’t entitled to ask for a medal.  And as for the assassination of terrorists, while it’s a better world without them, it’s not a fundamentally changed world, and Obama promised to change the world.  If you’re going to fight the terror network, you’re going to have to target headquarters, training camps, and home bases. He has yet to act effectively against the two surviving charter members of the Axis of Evil, Iran and Syria.  They have every reason to believe they can do most anything without fearing anything more than sanctions, headshakes, and tongue clucks.
Weakness is provocative, Rumsfeld used to say in his lucid moments, and the Syrians, Iranians, Hezbollahis, Hamasniks, Islamic Jihadis et al. have been duly provoked.  They think they’ve got us where they want us:  cowering inside our own borders, afraid to fight it out in third countries, and totally lacking the will to challenge them on their fragile home bases.
Indeed, many in our political and intellectual elite are so keen to avoid any justification for serious action against the Iranian regime that they have been desperately inventing “reasons” why the mullahs couldn’t possibly have been involved in that assassination plot in Washington.  I’ve reserved time on my Ouija board for a conversation with the ghost of James Jesus Angleton on this matter, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that he’s laughing hard at claims that the Iranians are too “professional” to do such a thing, would never have worked through non-Muslim drug runners, and would never have risked a frontal confrontation with the United States by killing on our own soil.
About Iraq, Power Line brings up a very valid point:
Perhaps the end game could have been handled better, but after eight years, it is time to bring our military involvement in Iraq to a conclusion. It might have been nice to retain bases there–I am not qualified to comment on the significance of such bases in light of other facilities we have in the region–but Iraqis will stand or fall on their own. I don’t know whether Iraq’s fragile democracy will survive, but the U.S. has done everything reasonably possible to give Iraqis a chance. At this point, the future is up to them.
I supported the invasion of Iraq largely because I agreed with President Bush that the long-run solution to the problem of Arab terrorism is to bring the Arab world into the 20th century. I, like Bush, found it implausible that Arab culture is so inferior that Arabs, almost alone among the Earth’s peoples, are incompetent to govern themselves. I thought that a successful democracy in Iraq could lead the way to a better future for the entire Middle East.
All of that may still be true–as I’ve been saying for a long time now, ask me in 20 years. But events of the last eight years, including the outcome so far of the “Arab spring,” suggest that Arab culture may indeed be hopelessly benighted–hopeless, anyway, for the next century or two. I don’t know whether the outcome in Iraq (or Afghanistan, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria) will be a happy one. But I am convinced that the surge more than compensated for whatever errors we may have made in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and that we have given the Iraqis a solid shot at self-rule and a sane, reasonably modern society. At this point, whether they are able to take advantage of that opportunity is up to them.
But it certainly does not help us with Iran.  Because of Obama's inexcusable refusal to support the Iranian people against the mullahs -- a refusal that runs contrary to US interests -- our options for stopping the mullahs from getting nuclear weapons may have dwindled to only one.  In an article titled "Bombing Iran a ‘Bad Idea’? Probably. But It’s the ONLY Idea," David Goldman had this to say:

[O]ur nation-building campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan put tens of thousands of American soldiers in places where Iranian-backed terrorists could hurt them. And as Lee Smith wrote last week at the Tablet webzine, Iran has effectively deterred the United States, and America thus has become Iran’s “key ally” in its campaign to acquire nuclear weapons. How about a 9/11 with a nuclear weapon in a major American city? It was misguided to turn American soldiers into potential hostages to Iranian terror. It’s a hundred times MORE misguided now to pull our forces out of Iraq: we need the capacity to deter Iran from swinging its weight in Iraq and turning it into a Persian satrapy. (The Baghdad government might not like this, but if we really want to, we have ways to persuade regimes like this to cooperate.)
Iran has terrorized the United States, and inevitably will acquire nuclear weapons — unless it’s stopped. At that point its terror capacity will multiply a thousand-fold, because its terrorists will operate under a nuclear umbrella. So the argument boils down to this: Iran is a terrorist state ready to murder American citizens and American allies all over the Middle East and around the world. Which means that we had better not stop them from acquiring nuclear weapons, because then they might be mad at us, and hurt us. What does that imply about what a nuclear-armed Iran might do?


Nothing succeeds like success. If Britain and France had drawn the line at the Sudetenland in 1938, the German generals likely would have overthrown Hitler. But Kaye misses the point. Yes, the nuclear facilities are deeply entrenched. No, a surgical strike is out of the question. To destroy nuclear weapons capability means to decapitate the regime and the military leadership, with a lot of collateral damage. Five years ago we could have done it cleanly, when cancer was easily operable. Now we will have to make a mess.


[T]he Saudis, now by far the most important Arab power, have been screaming at America for years to take action against Iran. The Syrian opposition, whose people are dying in the streets at the hands of Iranian thugs, won’t particularly mind, one would think.

Above all, it’s critical to keep in mind that Iran is a dying nation. As I report in How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying, Too), Iran is suffering the fastest fertility decline on record, any time, ever. The average Iranian has six or seven brothers and sisters, but will have one or two children. The population pyramid will invert: within a single generation, it will go from having 7 children to take care of elderly parents, to just 1.5. And in a country where the average person has $4000 to spend per year, that means starvation. The Iranian leadership knows it. They’ve been screaming about it in public for years. Like Hitler, they think they have one last chance at empire before the curtain comes down. If they’re not stopped, millions of Americans might die.
To be sure, Obama is not the only POTUS to fail on Iran.  Everyone since Carter has, with Carter being the worst and Reagan, of all people, being the second worst.  But the last chance to stop the mullahs is on Obama's watch.  And so far, as Goldman says, he has proven to be the mullahs' ally rather than their enemy.

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