The Arab Spring was a time for hope and joy, supposedly. Barack Obama, after giving his now famous Cairo speech in early 2009, took credit for much of the transformation of the North African portion of the Middle East, which largely consisted of removing Moumar Qaddafi and Hosni Mubarak, among with the ouster of totalitarians in Tunisia and Yemen.
But as always, actions have repercussions.
This week’s events in Libya and Egypt, along with more recent protests in Tunisia and Yemen, show exactly where the process of ‘reform’ in the Middle East stands.
Reform for the West means more democratic principles, more ability to have fair representation in government, and more overall economic and religious freedom.
For the Middle East, reforms primarily mean the ability to expand the power of Islam. In every country we are discussing the current leaders are largely Islamists who, in one manner or another, have much closer ties to extremists groups than their predecessors, and as predicted, have policies that follow that extremist past. Groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and other Al Qaeda factions have gained support, as American power and influence has waned.
Why is it any surprise that their populations follow those beliefs? That is the predictable progression of events we are now seeing. In two short years, the Arab street, with the assistance and support of the Obama administration, has transitioned from a region which was governed by totalitarians largely at peace with the U.S., to a situation where most of these countries are openly antagonistic to our interests, and frankly have little interest in placating waning American power.
Furthermore, let us not fool ourselves. Without the involvement of this administration, these changes would not have happened. President Obama has, on several occasions, taken some credit for the coming of the Arab Spring, and rightfully so. Qaddafi would be in power today without U.S. intervention. Mubarak or his successors would control Egypt in some fashion, although there may be a lot of violence in protest of the government. Yemeni revolutionaries would have been crushed by their military. Tunisia may be the one exception, where U.S. involvement had little to do with the overthrow of the previous government. So this is a situation largely of our choice and making.
Was it the right thing to unleash the Arab Spring? This is one of those historical arguments, much like ‘was it right to go into Iraq and Afghanistan?’ that cannot be answered in the short term. What can be answered is this: has American interests benefited in the short term?
The answer in the short term is clearly ‘No’.
We are certainly in a weaker position in regards to the Middle East today. Obama yesterday proclaimed that Egypt was ‘no longer an ally’. That is speaking about a country that is our largest recipient of foreign aid outside of Israel, a country that has largely been helpful of U.S. interests for more than three decades.
In Yemen, our position gets weaker by the day. And every drone strike we perform there likely is deleterious to long term efforts to increase American support. We have this year killed more civilians in Yemen than terrorists; that is not a helpful ratio.
In Libya, there is no central government, and with our supply of arms, we now have an uncontrolled military market that can have untold repercussions; the death of our diplomats in Benghazi was simply the first of those repercussions that effected us.
The current administration has been blind to the realities on the ground in the Middle East, and this is long before you consider the Israeli/Iranian conflict. If that explodes, as many predict, the events of the past few days will look like a campfire in comparison. And this administration appears less and less capable of dealing with those realities.