THE CRISIS IN SYRIA, PART II: A COMMENT
"Syrian security forces opened fire in protesters in the town of Sanamein, killing 20 people, a witness told Al Jazeera television on Friday. "There are more than 20 martyrs… they [security forces] opened fire haphazardly, the witness said.
Sanamein is 50 kilometers north of Daraa, the hub of the protests that came to a head earlier this week after police detained more than a dozen schoolchildren for writing graffiti against the government. Security forces killed an additional three people in Mauadamieh suburb of Damascus after protests, sealing off the district's residents. An anti-government activist reported that an additional demonstrator was shot dead by security forces in the coastal city of Latakia, and another slain in the central city of Homs. He said several people had been hospitalized in Latakia, where more than 1,000 people marched in the streets after Friday prayers.
Anti and pro-Assad protesters clash after Friday prayers in Damascus. Clashes continued in the restive southern city of Daraa Friday after crowds set fire to a bronze statue of the country's late president, Hafez Assad, a resident told The Associated Press. Heavy gunfire could be heard in the city center and witnesses reported several casualties, the resident said on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Earlier Friday in the south Syria city, thousands marched freely behind the coffins of protesters gunned down by President Bashar Assad's forces, a day after the president, scion of half a century of Baathist rule, offered to consider granting political freedoms. "Freedom is ringing out!" chanted mourners for some of at least 37 people killed on Wednesday, when security agents broke up a pro-democracy encampment at a mosque in Daraa.
Despite a continued heavy security presence in Daraa, close to the Jordanian border, thousands of protesters were arriving in the city from nearby villages, offering support to a movement which has tried to emulate Arab uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. In the southern city, before the Friday midday prayers which are the high point of social interaction in much of the Arab world, a procession of cars coursed through the streets honking horns and raising pictures of the president. There were also pro-Assad congregations in other parts of the city.
Minarets in Daraa echoed throughout the morning with the calls of imams to the faithful to attend funerals of some of the civilians killed, most of them when security forces fired on demonstrators in the mainly Sunni Muslim city on Wednesday.
Journalists who tried to enter Daraa's Old City - where most of the violence took place - were escorted out of town Friday by two security vehicles. "As you can see, everything is back to normal and it is over, an army major, standing in front of the ruling Baath party head office in Daraa, told journalists before they were led out of the city.
Daraa has been bolstered by solidarity of fellow countrymen as protests erupted throughout the country Friday after a Facebook page called Syrian Revolution called on people to gather on the "Friday of Dignity" after prayers, "in all mosques, in all provinces, in the biggest squares". In Damascus, the Syrian capital some 200 people shouted chants in support of the people in the south on Friday -- "We sacrifice our blood, our soul, for you Daraa!" -- before plainclothes police and other security officers moved in to arrest them. Several hundred people yelled pro-government slogans nearby, close to Damascus's Old City.
People shouting in support of the Daraa protesters clashed with regime supporters outside the historic Umayyad mosque in the capital, hitting each other with leather belts. Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, a resident claimed that more than 50,000 people were shouting slogans decrying presidential adviser Buthaina Shaaban, who promised Thursday that the government would consider a series of reforms in response to a week of unrest in Daraa.
A human rights activist, quoting witnesses, said thousands of people gathered in the town of Douma outside the capital, Damascus, pledging support for the people of Daraa. The activists asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. Security forces dispersed the crowd by chasing them away, beating some with batons and detaining others, an activist said, asking that his name not be published for fear of reprisals by the government.
In the city of Aleppo, hundreds of worshippers came out of mosques shouting "with our lives, our souls, we sacrifice for you Bashar and Only God, Syria and Bashar!"
Residents in Homs said hundreds of people demonstrated in support of Daraa and demanded reforms, and an anti-government activist said that in the northern city of Raqqa, scores marched and several people were detained. In the western city of Zabadani, near the border with Lebanon, several people were reportedly detained after protesting. On Jan. 31, Assad had said there was no chance political upheavals then shaking Tunisia and Egypt would spread to Syria".
Haaretz, "At least 23 said killed as protestors in Syria clash with security forces," 25 March 2011, in www.haaretz.com
"It is not always by going from bad to worse that a society falls into revolution...The social order destroyed by a revolution is almost always better than that which immediately preceded it, and experience shows that the most dangerous moment for a bad government is generally that in which it sets about reform."
Alexis de Tocqueville, L'Ancien regime et la Revolution. 1856.
The events in Syria have moved along in quick succession. Quicker indeed than I for one thought possible. With the demonstrations and marches in the Southern, Sunni city of Daraa, from the week-end past, now in the past two days spreading to other cities in the country. Including clashes (albeit of a brief variety) occurring in the capital Damascus to-day between supporters and opponents of the regime of Assad Fils. In addition, and as important were the marches in the cities of Latakia & Aleppo, in support of the Baathist regime by Alawites. Much of this occurring in the aftermath of the announcement made by the President's spokeswoman, Buthaina Shaaban, that the President was seriously considering and open to measures which would among other things, end rule by emergency decree, in existence since 1963, as well as allow for freedom of expression, political pluralism, et cetera. In retrospect, it would appear that the Syrian security & state apparatus is too inflexible in nature to easily give up control. Even if there is a decision from 'the top', to do so. The fact that the provincial governor in Daraa, who is popularly hated and whose dismissal was one of the original demands of the protesters is the President's cousin, just prove how interlocked the regime in Damascus is. As if to underlined the point, in the last two days the President's brother, Maher Assad, the commander of the Republican guard & the second most powerful man in the country, has now also been criticized in Deraa 1
. The upshot of this extremely intertwined regime is that by definition any endeavor to 'liberalize', even in the Egyptian or Tunisian fashion is almost impossible without a possible complete collapse of the entire state apparatus `a la what occurred in Iraq in 2003 after the American invasion or what occurred in Libya in the third & fourth weeks of February of this year. As Professor Joshua Landis (in a brilliant tour d'horizon
) noted to-day, the religious divisions of Syria society make it much more liable to violent sectarianism `a la Iraq or the Lebanon than more homogeneous Near Eastern, 'vrai
' nations, like Egypt or Tunisia:
"The last thing wealthy Aleppines, Homsis and Damascenes want is a revolution that brings to power a new political class based in the rural poor, or for the country to slip into chaos and possible civil war. The Arab rebellion is “sorting out” the countries of the Middle East, distinguishing those that have become true nations, with a cohesive political community, and an ability to leave behind the post-colonial era of dictatorship and repression, from those doomed to struggle by divisions of ethnicity, sect and tribe. Lebanon and Iraq have both stumbled. Libya is crashing before our eyes, and Yemen may also follow in a downward spiral. In all likelihood, there is no soft landing for the Syrian regime, whether it comes sooner or later. Fearful of being pushed from power and persecuted, Alawite military leaders are likely to stick by the president. What remains to be seen is whether the Sunni elite, which has stood by the Assad family for over four decades in the name of security and stability, will continue to do so or whether President Assad is willing to risk making profound and risky changes" 2.
The underlying if not very optimistic reality is that Syrian society may under the pressures it is now undergoing, come apart completely. Resulting in the Hobbesian omnium bellum contra omnies
with the various sectarian groups at war with each other being a possibility. That more than a Liebnizian solution of a non-problematic political liberalization and pluralism appears to be much more likely to occur.1
. 25 March 2011.2
WARREN MINOR CHRISTOPHER, 1926-2011: REQUIESENT IN PACE
"Europeans mostly remember, without affection, Warren Christopher, who died this weekend at the age of 85, as the secretary of state who kept the US from intervening in the Balkans as it slid into war in the early 1990s. But that should not detract from half a century of remarkable public service and general trouble-shooting at the highest levels of government.
Among his signal achievements was as chief US negotiator in the protracted, and ultimately successful, efforts to secure the release of the 52 American diplomats taken hostage in Tehran. As deputy secretary of state in the Carter administration, he also steered through Congress passage of the controversial Panama Canal treaties in 1978 and directed the normalisation of relations with China.
A lawyer most of his non-government life with the blue chip Los Angeles firm O’Melveny and Myers, his skills as a conciliator were put to good use in reports after the inner city riots, notably in Detroit and Los Angeles, of 1965-67 and in proposing reforms of the Los Angeles police department after inner-city Watts erupted in flames following the brutal beating of Rodney King in 1991.
He was, in sum, the classic example of a generation that moved seamlessly between the public and private sectors, much like George Shultz, Cyrus Vance and Paul Nitze. The difference was that he was more self-effacing than most. With his long, deeply lined face and in his trademark pinstriped suit, he looked, and sometimes spoke, more like an undertaker than a diplomat. His only known indulgence was a fondness for the better California chardonnays....
His report on the Detroit riots brought him to the attention of President Lyndon Johnson who, in 1967, appointed him deputy attorney general, working with Cyrus Vance, who, in 1977 chosen him as his deputy at the state department. However, when Mr Vance resigned after the abortive Desert One rescue mission to rescue the Tehran hostages in 1980, Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine was preferred to Mr Christopher as the next secretary of state.
By then, however, he was deeply into the delicate negotiations to get the hostages freed. He spent weeks in Algeria, which was helping the talks. The end result was that they were flown out of Tehran at precisely the moment when Ronald Reagan was inaugurated in Washington as new president in January, 1981....
He became Mr Clinton’s first secretary of state with instructions to try and keep the US out of foreign adventures so the new president could focus on domestic affairs. But the world was in turmoil, not only in the Balkans but also in Somalia, from which the US withdrew the Marines which had landed in late 1992 following a massacre of 17 of them in Mogadishu, and in Rwanda, where genocide raged, unimpeded by external intervention.
Non-intervention appeared to be the Christopher mantra, much to the frustration of American allies, especially in Europe. Eventually the Balkan wars came to a temporary end with the Dayton peace accords of 1995, but they were brought about less by the secretary of state than by Richard Holbrooke, the special envoy who died late last year. The US intervention in Haiti in 1994 was more the handiwork of General Colin Powell, then chairman of the joint chiefs.
Even the Oslo peace accords of 1993 between Israel and the Palestinians were agreed without much overt US influence. But Mr Christopher did throw his weight behind the Nato Partnership for Peace programme, establishing closer links between the Western military alliance and the former Soviet satellite nations. He also played a leading role in normalising relations with Vietnam in 1995.
He did not serve a second term, giving way to Mrs Madeleine Albright, and, with typical diffidence, contributing relatively little to subsequent national debates about foreign policy. But he did leave, in his 2001 memoirs, a definition of how he saw his role over the years. “My task,” he wrote,” has been to serve as the steward, not the proprietor, of extraordinary public trust.'"
Jurek Martin, "Conciliator with mantra of non-intervention," The Financial Times. 21 March 2011, p. 4.
"Many of the difficulties of our governmental apparatus are, therefore, only symptoms of challenges faced by our entire society among which our sudden emergence as the major power in the free world is perhaps the most important. The qualities of our leadership groups were formed during a century of more of primary concern with domestic development. Politics was considered a necessary evil and the primary function of the state was the exercise of police powers. Neither training nor incentives impelled our leadership groups to think in political or strategic terms. This emphasis was compounded by our empiricism with its cult of the expert and its premium on specialization.
The two professions which are more dominant in the higher levels of government-industry and the law-can serve as an example....And the legal profession, trained to deal with a succession of discreet individual cases, produces a penchant for ad hoc decisions and a resistance to the 'hypothetical cases' inherent in long-range planning. Our leadership groups are therefore, better prepared to deal with technical than with conceptual problems, with economic than political issues. Each problem is dealt with 'on its merits,' a procedure which emphasizes the particular at the expense of the general and bogs down planning in a mass of detail. The absence of a conceptual framework makes it difficult for them to identify our problems or to choose effectively among the plethora of proposals and interpretations produced by our governmental machinery."
Henry A. Kissinger, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy. (1957), pp. 433-434.
I have always been an adherent of the old saying that: 'de mortuis nil nisi bonum', but, when one is dealing with a figure, such as Warren Christopher, who has held high office, then such politesse, insofar as it concerns high politics, is no longer valid. Of course it is a truism, as the Financial Times Jurek Martin correctly notes, that Mr. Christopher per se, was not in any way a 'bad man'. He did not steal from the state coffers, nor did he unnecessarily involve the country in a conflict that it was not prepared or able to emerge victorious. Nay, one might even say that in his own, very limited fashion, Mr. Christopher was a 'moral man'. What however I wish to do is to look at Mr. Christopher from the perspective of statecraft and machtpolitik. And from that perspective, Mr. Christopher's legacy is a less than happy one. It is not so much, `a la Henry Kissinger, that Mr. Christopher was an attorney. Admittedly, the law is not perhaps the very best training for someone who is going to be wrestling with questions of foreign policy and diplomacy. But the examples of Elihu Root, Dean Acheson and James Baker III, are more than sufficient to show that merely being an attorney does not prevent one from high achievement in the realm of statecraft. The real issue with Mr. Christopher, and others of his ilk (exampli gratia, the current American Secretary of State, Mme. Clinton being perhaps the foremost example), is their failure to go beyond mere stewardship, id est, 'hand to mouth' diplomacy and policy. With policymakers of this type, we see a constant repetition of a singular failure to formulate and implement a general policy. Instead we are habitually treated to a species of 'crisis management', in which the 'goal' of policy (such as it is) is to successfully 'manage' the crisis. But without in anyway endeavoring to handle matters as part of a larger framework. Au fond, when Mr. Christopher and before him Mr. Vance, and prior to him Mr. Rusk, as well as Mme. Clinton, we have a state of affairs, in which as they used to say of der alte Wien: 'administration had taken the role of policy'. The end results of such a situation is the current 'non-policy' of the United States in the Near and Middle East, and in the 1990's, the stop and go and stop and go American policy in the Balkan Wars of the time. To sum up, it would be useful to quote something said over fifty years ago by a premier historian of American foreign relations, concerning American diplomacy during the entre deux guerre period, which I believe still holds true to-day:
"In a fundamental sense, the diplomatic history of the United States does not resemble that diplomatic history of Europe. Essentially, the professional diplomat has always played a subordinate role. There are few Legers, few Vansittarts, few Holsteins in the record of American action. Occasionally, we have a House, or a Hopkins, or a Harriman-a non-professional-who plays a significant role....But, for the most part (and the longer the perspective the truer is the generalization), men of this type are rare." 1
It is not until diplomacy and nay indeed policy is fully in the hands of the professional diplomats of the ilk of a Holstein, Vansittart, et cetera, and or someone who can take a longer view of the national interest, something over and above, mere ad hoc policymaking, that one can look forward to seeing an American diplomacy and indeed American foreign policy worthy of the name. Until that time, it is all merely a case of faute de mieux
Pur et simple.1
. Dexter Perkins, "The Department of State and American Public Opinion," in The Diplomats, 1919-1939, edited Gordon A. Craig & Felix Gilbert. (1953), pp. 282.
SYRIA ON THE BRINK?
"Thousands of Syrians demanded an end to 48 years of emergency law on Sunday, a third straight day of protests emerging as the biggest challenge to Syria’s rulers since unrest swept the Arab world this year. 'No. No to emergency law. We are a people infatuated with freedom,' marchers chanted as a government delegation arrived in the southern town of Deraa to pay condolences for victims killed by security forces in demonstrations there this week. Syria has been ruled under emergency law since the Baath Party, which is headed by president Bashar al-Assad, took power in a 1963 coup and banned all opposition.
The government sought to appease popular discontent in Deraa by promising to release 15 schoolchildren whose arrests for scrawling protest graffiti had helped fuel the demonstrations. An official statement said the children, who had written slogans inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt on walls, would be released immediately. The statement was a rare instance of Syria’s ruling hierarchy responding to popular pressure. Security forces opened fire on Friday on civilians taking part in a peaceful protest in Deraa demanding the release of the children, political freedoms and an end to corruption. Four people were killed. On Saturday thousands of mourners called for 'revolution' at the funeral of two of the protesters. Officials later met Deraa notables who presented then with a list of demands, most importantly the release of political prisoners.
The list demands the dismantling of the secret police headquarters in Deraa, dismissal of the governor, a public trial for those responsible for the killings and scrapping of regulations requiring permission from the secret police to sell and buy property. Non-violent protests have challenged the Baath Party’s authority this month, following the uprisings that toppled the autocratic leaders of Egypt and Tunisia, with the largest protests in Deraa drawing thousands of people. The city is a centre of the Hauran region, once a bread basket that also been affected by diminishing water levels in Syria, with yields falling by a quarter in Deraa last year. Deraa is also home to thousands of displaced people from eastern Syria, where up to a million people have left their homes because of a water crisis over the past six years. Experts say state mismanagement of resources has worsened the crisis".
Khaled Yacoub Oweis, "Arab unrest spreads to Syria, thousands march," Reuters. 20 March 2011, in www.reuters.com.
"Momentum is building for the opposition. The demonstrations are getting bigger with each day. They started out gathering between 100 to 300. Today’s demonstration was well over 1,000 in Deraa. The New York Times is reporting that 20,000 joined the funeral march in Deraa. The killing of four in Deraa is new. Many Syrians claim that this is the first time President Assad has drawn blood with the shooting of demonstrators. The Kurdish intifada of 2004 in the Jazeera ended with the death of many but that occurred following the successful constitutional referendum in Iraq and was blamed on external factors. To many Syrians, this time seems different.
It is unclear where this can lead as the opposition has no leadership and Syria has no organized parties. All the same, we are in a new era. If demonstrations grow to the point that security forces are overwhelmed, the situation could change rapidly. Not all regions or cities of Syria would behave the same. The top brass of the armed forces are unlikely to abandon the leadership as they did in Tunisia or Egypt; all the same, loyalties would be divided for many. The next few days will be telling. The Deraa demonstrations were sparked by the arrest of 15 children for scrawling anti-regime graffiti. It is quite possible that they government can yet regain control of the momentum and protest movement. Syria lacks an organized internal leadership that can plan and administer continued demonstrations. There is a sophisticated, even if small, leadership abroad which could coordinate events on Facebook from afar".
Joshua Landis, "Demonstrations Grow," Syria Comment. 19 March 2011, in www.syriacomment.com.
The mere fact that Professor Joshua Landis, who despite his oddly friendly views of the regime in Syria in the last five to six years, is still no doubt the best American expert on Syria and its current regime living in the United States, has now suddenly changed his tune about the possibility of 'eventments
' occurring in Syria is to my mind very enlightening indeed. As readers of this journal may recall, back in January and February, Landis was quite openly dismissive of any likelihood of there being a repeat in Syria of the events of Tunisia and Egypt. Now after two to three days of demonstrations and some bloodshed in a provincial city, the good Professor suddenly admits that there are indeed possibilities of a serious uprising occurring in Syria. I do not wish to condemn Professor Landis. No doubt, notwithstanding his previous, somewhat pour epater les Americaines
, view of the Baathist regime in Damascus, he has heard through his own informants that dramatic events might occur with extreme suddenness. And low and behold the seemingly impregnable Alawite regime in Syria might, if not necessarily implode, be seriously shaken. And any serious 'shaking' of the regime in Syria, will indeed have serious geopolitical impact on both the Levant and the Near East as a whole. Syria is along with Hamas and Hezbollah, Persia's main, nay indeed only allies in the region. With Syria being the conduit for assistance by Persia to both Hamas and especially Hezbollah. If the regime of Assad Fils, is threatened by a domestic uprising, then one of the main pillars of Persia's influence and indeed power will also be both threatened and seriously weakened. So much so, that any such train of events, will at the least, mean that the American and Western position in both the Levant and in the Near and Middle East will have improved, or at the very least, returned to what they were prior to the fall of the Mubarak regime in Egypt. So far, Syria is still relatively quiet and the regime is no doubt, endeavoring to ensure that a repeat of what has occurred in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, does not occur there. Only events can tell of course what may in fact happen in the next few days and weeks. My own surmise is that based upon the fact as Professor Landis has noted that the 'opposition' in Syria is leaderless, the regime will, presuming that Assad Fils is ruthless enough, manage to hold on to power. As the events in Libya have shown, provided that a leader is willing to spill oceans of blood, then it is probably the case, that said leader, need not follow the path of Ali of Tunisia and Mubarak of Egypt. With the additional variable, being that the military and the security forces in Syria are dominated by the minority Alawite sect of which Assad is the head of. Hence the likelihood of the military being able to detach itself from Assad as a neutral party is almost non-existent. Assad of course, has his pater's
own history to observe and follow, if need be. Exampli gratia, the uprising in 1982, in the city of Hama by the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, was put down, with over twenty thousand people killed, as the regime bombarded the city into submission. However horrible the idea, one is afraid that Assad Fils, will if need be, remove the mask of a 'modernizer' & populist that he enjoys wearing to reveal that he is indeed his father's son.
THE AMERICAN POLICY AND THE LIBYAN CRISIS: A COMMENT
"The conversation that Eamon and I had about Libya began with the passage of the Security Council Resolution 1973, which provides authority for the international community to take enforcement actions to protect civilians in Libya. The Libyan people have called for international assistance, and this resolution paves the way for that call to be answered. Colonel Qadhafi’s refusal to hear the repeated calls up until now to halt violence against his own people has left us with no other choice but to pursue this course of action. While this resolution is an important step, it is only that – an important step. We and our partners will continue to explore the most effective measures to end this crisis....
QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary Clinton, Libya, the resolution, please. Could you tell us what is the endgame of this resolution? Stop the violence against civilians, stop Qadhafi’s forces, or get him out of office? In other words, should this continue until he is gone? Also, the Libyan Government is saying that they were calling for a ceasefire. What do you think of that? Will you engage with them about that...?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, as to Libya, obviously, the United States is very pleased with yesterday’s vote. It sent a strong message that needs to be heeded. The efforts by the international community to come together to make clear to Colonel Qadhafi that he cannot continue his violence against his own people, he cannot continue to attack those who started out by peacefully demonstrating for changes that are within the right of any human being to do so, and the fact that he now has received not just the message of those of us who have been calling for him to end and the fact that he has lost his legitimacy, but the Arab League and the statement that they called for with respect to the resolution.
Now, we’ve seen press reports of a ceasefire by the Libyan Government. This is a fluid and dynamic situation. We are going to be not responsive or impressed by words. We would have to see actions on the ground. And that is not yet at all clear. We will continue to work with our partners in the international community to press Qadhafi to leave, and to support the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people.
It is important, Jill, that we take this one step at a time. The diplomatic effort that was required to answer questions and create a level of cooperation as represented by the resolution was very intense in the last weeks, and the overwhelming vote by the Security Council, I think, reflects a broad understanding that, number one, stop the violence, and number two, we do believe that a final result of any negotiations would have to be the decision by Colonel Qadhafi to leave. But let’s take this one step at a time....
QUESTION: Good morning, Madam Secretary. Good morning, Tánaiste. And thank you for having us here again, Madam Secretary. Just on the question our colleague asked there, is anything short of Colonel Qadhafi leaving acceptable. And in the discussions yourself and the Tánaiste had on this matter this morning, did you seek or receive any support from Ireland on what may follow military action, be that troop transport or whatever it may be through Shannon Airport....
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) Well, with respect to Libya, again, I want to take this one step at a time. We don’t know what the final outcome will be. The first and overwhelmingly urgent action is to end the violence, and we have to see a very clear set of decisions that are operationalized on the ground by Qadhafi’s forces to move physically a significant distance away from the east, where they have been pursuing their campaign against the opposition. There will have to be an accounting of what has already occurred. There are many stories, as you know, of massacres, abductions.
Until we can have a better idea of what actually happened, it’s hard to know what the next steps will be. The Secretary General appointed a special representative, a former Jordanian foreign minister. We will obviously want to have the international community involved in any kind of dialogue with the opposition and with the Qadhafi regime. So we just passed this resolution last night, and I think now we’re going to be working to operationalize it. And we’ll see, as I’ve already said, what the next steps will be".
American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "Remarks with His Excellency Eamon Gilmore, T.D. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ireland,"
18 March 2011, www.state.gov.
"This situation calls for actions that display American leadership, but the President appears to believe that his words have an almost magical power. He has called for Gaddafi to leave; isn’t that enough? “We are slowly tightening the noose,” the President said on March 11, despite all evidence to the contrary. Actual leadership has been avoided and Secretary Clinton has in fact said we wish to avoid it. “I think it’s very important that this not be a U.S.-led effort,” she explained on March 9th.
What explains this gap between Gaddafi gains on the ground, and the Administration’s continuing inaction and claims of progress?
I can think of only two explanations. First, the President continues to believe that our support for any cause taints it. The best example is his defense of his failure to support the Green Movement in Iran after the June 2009 elections were stolen, on the ground that we might weaken the movement by associating ourselves with it. Similar views were expressed when Egyptians began to rise up against Mubarak. This strikes me as a product of very old, discredited views on the American left, which has long argued that America is hated all over the world, that our intervention only worsens things, and that the use of American power makes the world a worse place. The President contradicted these views in his Nobel lecture, but they seem still to animate U.S. policy.
Second, the President seems unwilling to challenge the unpersuasive and unexplained assertions of the top military officials that such a no-fly zone would be a huge strain on American resources. But there is another view: “This is a pretty easy problem, for crying out loud,” said the former chief of staff of the Air Force, Gen. Merrill McPeak.“I can’t imagine an easier military problem. If we can’t impose a no-fly zone over a not even third-rate military power like Libya, then we ought to take a hell of a lot of our military budget and spend it on something usable….Just flying a few jets across the top of the friendlies would probably be enough to ground the Libyan Air Force, which is the objective….If we can’t do this, what can we do?”
The President appears to be relying on Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen, who oppose action, without reaching out for any alternative views– such as might be provided not only by McPeak but by his predecessors and successors in the USAF. Other advisers might be asked to spell out what happens if Gaddafi wins — beats the United States, one might say. The human toll will predictably be enormous, as revenge is taken and future revolts are made impossible. (In fact it is worth reminding the President that the human toll may be so great that he feels intervention is unavoidable. But that intervention will come later and be more difficult, and the failure to prevent mass killing would rightly be laid at his door.) It is plausible to see the Gaddafi regime, which would be clinging to power after Europe, the United States, and the Arab League had turned against it, seeking support from rogue regimes like Venezuela, North Korea, or Iran, engaging again in terrorism, and once again building a nuclear weapons program. Certainly the lesson for other regimes would be that mass violence against your own population pays: don’t compromise, don’t leave, just shoot.
Recently the Administration said we were attempting to measure international support for action on Libya. Such questions have been answered by the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League, but in any event that was the wrong question. The role of the United States is to marshal international support, not measure it. That support is far more likely to be there if we say we have made a decision than if we just say “gee, we don’t know what to think, what do you guys think?” The President spoke with powerful imagery of a “noose” around Gaddafi, but a noose is a physical object, not constructed out of words. It is time for the President to give meaning to the policy he says we have adopted, and substitute action for resolutions, speeches, and press conferences. Or as it was once so memorably put, let’s roll".
Elliott Abrams, "Pressure Points, Libya: About that noose..." The Council of Foreign Relations. 13 March 2011, www.cfr.org.
One does not have to be a neo-conservative of the Elliott Abrams variety to scratch ones head recently over the seemingly American non-policy over the Libyan crisis. An odd mixture of rhetorical support for the Libyan rebels against the Qaddafi regime, and an iron determination to do nothing of substance to assist said rebels as the forces of the Libyan regime slowly and methodically commenced re-conquering the country. The fact that both the Gulf Co-operation Council and the Arab League supported the concept of a 'no-fly'zone, while the American Administration remained strangely silent seemed to speak volumes about the timidity of the American government. Until yesterday, when the American Ambassador to the United Nations surprised everyone by announcing American support for not only a 'no-fly' zone, but even measures (such as potentially air strikes on Qaddafi's forces) beyond that. What explains this rather extraordinary volte-face
? I am sure that ardent defenders of the American Administration (exempli gratia
, David Sanger of the New York Times), will in a few days time, state that the hesitancy of the American Administration was due to a sort of secret diplomatic cunning (in the non-Hegelian sense of the word), in which by appearing to be a laggard in the move towards of international action on Libya, the USA was able to reap the benefits of 'following' rather than 'leading' the other powers concerned. AKA, a splendid example of the 'multi-laterialism', that the current regime in Washington, DC claims to have as it favored form of diplomacy. The only problem with this defence of American policy in the last two weeks over Libya is that the statements coming out of Washington were of the type, to effectively stop, rather than encourage others, towards action in the crisis. If for example, one were to take at face value, the remarks of the American Defence Secretary, the White House Chief of Staff, and the Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, even a very limited type of a 'no-fly' zone was too arduous a policy to be considered by the USA and one presumes everyone else. As far as one can make out, neither the British nor the French policy in favor of military action, was made with consultations with Washington (sub rosa or otherwise), nor was even Washington especially involved in the particulars of the same. Under the circumstances, given all of the evidence available, it would appear that the chief rationale for the change of American policy, was a fear that in the words of yesterday's Financial Times:
"officials have been alarmed by the prospect that Benghazi might fall – which could have reverberations throughout the region, countering the example of Egypt’s revolution, and be seen in the US as a sign of Mr Obama’s cynicism or impotence. In one striking broadside, Anne-Marie Slaughter, until recently head of policy [planning staff] at the state department, tweeted: 'US is defining ‘vital strategic interest’ in terms of oil and geography, not universal values. Wrong call that will come back to haunt us'....But the administration’s seeming last-minute conversion has opened it up to criticism from all sides – from those who called for clear leadership and those who remain wary of ever-growing military intervention" 1.
Not the best of motives or rationales to be used in making a erste-klasse
foreign policy. Unfortunately, for the current American Administration, it is only such considerations which governs the formulation of its diplomacy. One can only express fear as to what the future holds in the conduct of American foreign policy based upon the non-policy followed in the case of Libya. Rather akin to watching a monkey handling a Sevres porcelain jar I am afraid.1
. Daniel Dombey, "Washington explains rethinks on no-fly zone," The Financial Times. 17 March 2011, in www.ft.com
THE SAUDI-AMERICAN RIFT OVER BAHRAIN: A COMMENT
"QUESTION: When you look at what’s going on in Libya and in Bahrain, it seems to me that – or it seems to a lot of people that the lesson from the Egyptian revolution is quite clear, a lesson that Arab leaders can draw: Don’t give an inch to the protestors, unleash your fire power, or you’re out the door like President Mubarak.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that’s a wrong reading of history. I think the --
QUESTION: But isn’t that what these leaders are doing in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, they may be taking short-term measures that will not have the long-term effects they are seeking. I think the situation in Bahrain is alarming. We have made it very clear at the highest levels of the government there that we think they’re on the wrong track, that they need to resume immediately a political dialogue. We deplore the use of force against demonstrators, and we deplore the use of force by demonstrators. We want a peaceful resolution. We also would remind the Bahraini Government to protect medical facilities and to facilitate treatment of the injured, and we have called on our friends in the Gulf – four of whom are assisting the Bahrain security efforts – to force through a political solution, not a security standoff.
QUESTION: But they’re your allies, and they’re not listening to you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I wish we could get everybody in the world to do what we ask them to do. I think that would make for a more peaceful world, but countries make their own decisions. But the United States stands very clearly on the side of peaceful protest, nonviolent resolution, political reform. And I think that what happened in Egypt and Tunisia are really the models of what will happen. It may take a little longer, but there is no turning back the tide of democracy and the universal human rights of every person to have freedom and an opportunity to fulfill his or her own dreams.
QUESTION: So what leverage do you still have on countries like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia? They’re your allies. You – they – you train their armies. You supply them with weapons. And yet when the Saudis decided to send troops into Bahrain – and I believe Washington made clear it wasn’t pleased about that – they said, “Don’t interfere. This is an internal GCC matter.”
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, they are on notice as to what we think. And we will intend to make that very clear publicly and privately, and we will do everything we can to try to move this off the wrong track, which we believe is going to undermine long-term progress in Bahrain, to the right track, which is the political and economic track".
American Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, "Interview with Kim Ghattas of BBC," 16 March 2011, in www.state.gov.
"Some US officials say Washington and Riyadh have been at odds in the Middle East since the Middle East since the protests in the region began, but in recent days tensions have reached new heights....While Washington has been urging its allies to reform, Saudi Arabia has been giving the opposite advice, urging governments to stay in control. On Sunday, as Saudi Arabia was preparing to send troops to Bahrain, the White House issued a statement calling on the Bahrani government 'to pursue a peaceful and meaningful dialogue with the opposition rather than resorting to use of force'. US officials say the Saudi and Bahrani governments have greatly overstated fears that the island state's Shia majority would move the country closer to Iran [Persia]. 'The Saudis and the Americans are not on the same page about events in the region'"
Daniel Dombey, "Tensions run high between Washington and Riyadh," The Financial Times. 15 March 2011, p. 6.
The evident tensions between Washington and Riyadh over how to deal with situation in Bahrain are symptoms of a wider disagreement about the likely future evolution of events in the wider Near and Middle East. As far as one can make out, the Americans are now (verbally at least) committed to the idea of an 'Arab Spring' akin to a 1989 in 2011. And while not willing to actively assist the new regimes in Egypt or Tunisia (or for that matter the opposition in Libya), the Americans since the latter part of January, have tended to see things in the so-called 'democratic openings' in a positive frame of mind. And consequently, as we saw in Egypt, strongly deprecated any resort by the Mubarak regime to the use of force in order to remain in power. Something which has also been true of course in Libya and so far in Bahrain. On the other hand, Riyadh has from the very beginning of the crisis in the region, tended to view events in the in a very negative light. With various diplomatic leaks purporting to claim that the Saudis have been critical of the Americans failure to support Mubarak. Something which also has no doubt been at work in Bahrain as well. In addition to which, and perhaps even more important is the fear by Riyadh, that any change in the position of the Shiites in Bahrain and indeed in any of the Gulf states in general, will stir up further discontent with the Kingdom's own population of Shiites. Hence, the Saudis willingness to actively intervene to stabilize the situation on behalf of the Bahrani royal family. Washington's caveats, and now with American Secretary of State Clinton's comments to-day, public criticism notwithstanding. What does one make of this situation? To my mind, the fact of the matter is, that while in the short-term, the Saudis are probably wrong in terms of the situation in Bahrain, the reality is that it is the Americans and not the Saudis who need diplomatic and other support, to shore up the Western position, vis-`a-vis Persia and its allies in the coming years. And it has been the Americans and not the Saudis, who has been seeking allies in the region, to confront Tehran, in particular over its nuclear processing programme. Given the public American caveats and criticism over Bahrain, I for one can well imagine that in the future, Riyadh will respond coolly to any future American demarche to assist Washington to confront Persia. Particularly, since the Saudis may well ask, what type of support will Washington offer them
if in fact there is a serious crisis in the Kingdom in the future? The essentially qui bono / quid pro quo
nature of the Saudi-American relationship, appears to have escaped our amateur Diplomat-in-Chief, and her advisers. I fear however that they & we will soon learn that in diplomacy as in life, one cannot run with the hares and hunt with the hounds with impunity.
THE EVENTS IN BAHRAIN: A COMMENT
"MANAMA (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain on Monday to help put down weeks of protests by the Shi'ite Muslim majority, a move opponents of the Sunni ruling family on the island called a declaration of war. Analysts saw the troop movement into Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, as a mark of concern in Saudi Arabia that concessions by the country's monarchy could inspire the conservative Sunni kingdom's own Shi'ite minority.
About 1,000 Saudi soldiers entered Bahrain to protect government facilities, a Saudi official source said, a day after mainly Shi'ite protesters overran police and blocked roads. 'They are part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) force that would guard the government installations,' the source said, referring to the six-member bloc that coordinates military and economic policy in the world's top oil-exporting region.
Bahrain said on Monday it had asked the Gulf troops for support in line with a GCC defence pact. The United Arab Emirates has said it would also respond to the call.
Witnesses saw some 150 armoured troop carriers, ambulances, water tankers and jeeps cross into Bahrain via the 25-km (16-mile) causeway and head towards Riffa, a Sunni area that is home to the royal family and military hospital.
Bahrain TV later showed footage it said was of advance units of the joint regional Peninsula Shield forces that had arrived in Bahrain 'due to the unfortunate events that are shaking the security of the kingdom and terrorising citizens and residents.'
Analysts and diplomats say the largest contingent in any GCC force would come from Saudi Arabia, which is worried about any spillover to restive Shi'ites in its own Eastern Province, the centre of its oil industry.
Bahraini opposition groups including the largest Shi'ite party Wefaq said the move was an attack on defenceless citizens. 'We consider the entry of any soldier or military machinery into the Kingdom of Bahrain's air, sea or land territories a blatant occupation,' they said in a statement.
'This real threat about the entry of Saudi and other Gulf forces into Bahrain to confront the defenceless Bahraini people puts the Bahraini people in real danger and threatens them with an undeclared war by armed troops.' The move came after Bahraini police clashed on Sunday with mostly Shi'ite demonstrators in one of the most violent confrontations since troops killed seven protesters last month.
After trying to push back demonstrators for several hours, police backed off and youths built barricades across the highway to the main financial district of the Gulf banking hub. Those barricades were still up on Monday, with protesters checking cars at the entrance to the Pearl roundabout, the focal point of weeks of protests. On the other side of the same highway, police set up a roadblock preventing any cars moving from the airport towards the financial area. In areas across Bahrain, vigilantes, some armed with sticks or wearing masks, guarded the entrances to their neighbourhoods".
Lin Noueihed & Frederik Richter, "Saudi sends troops, Bahrain Shi'ites call it war,"
14 March 2011, in www.reuters.com.
"The world’s attention is focused on Libya, which is now in a state of civil war with the winner far from clear. While crucial for the Libyan people and of some significance to the world’s oil markets, in our view, Libya is not the most important event in the Arab world at the moment. The demonstrations in Bahrain are, in my view, far more significant in their implications for the region and potentially for the world. To understand this, we must place it in a strategic context.
As STRATFOR has been saying for quite a while, a decisive moment is approaching, with the United States currently slated to withdraw the last of its forces from Iraq by the end of the year. Indeed, we are already at a point where the composition of the 50,000 troops remaining in Iraq has shifted from combat troops to training and support personnel. As it stands now, even these will all be gone by Dec. 31, 2011, provided the United States does not negotiate an extended stay. Iraq still does not have a stable government. It also does not have a military and security apparatus able to enforce the will of the government (which is hardly of one mind on anything) on the country, much less defend the country from outside forces....
Bahrain is the perfect example and test case. An island off the coast of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are linked by a causeway. For most purposes, Bahrain is part of Saudi Arabia. Unlike Saudi Arabia, it is not a major oil producer, but it is a banking center. It is also the home of the U.S. 5th Fleet, and has close ties to the United States. The majority of its population is Shia, but its government is Sunni and heavily linked to Saudi Arabia. The Shiite population has not fared as well economically as Shia in other countries in the region, and tensions between the government and the public have long existed.
The toppling of the government of Bahrain by a Shiite movement would potentially embolden Shia in Saudi Arabia, who live primarily in the oil-rich northeast near Bahrain. It also would weaken the U.S. military posture in the region. And it would demonstrate Iranian power. If the Saudis intervened in Bahrain, the Iranians would have grounds to justify their own intervention, covert or overt. Iran might also use any violent Bahraini government suppression of demonstrators to justify more open intervention. In the meantime, the United States, which has about 1,500 military personnel plus embassy staff on the ground in Bahrain, would face the choice of reinforcing or pulling its troops out".
George Friedman, "Bahrain and the Battle between Iran and Saudi Arabia,"
8 March 2011, in www.stratfor.com.
It would appear that there was not much in the way of a 'battle' for either Bahrain or the Gulf between Persia and Saudi Arabia. As a practical matter, Persia does not possess any armed forces which would allow it to intervene militarily in what Saudi Arabia regards as a policing action, akin to what Persia under the Shah did in the early 1970's in conjunction with the British in Oman. Id est
responding to the request of a legitimate government for assistance with an internal security problem. And as such there is no such thing as an 'insurgency', so far, it would appear that the purpose of the Saudi and other Gulf Co-operation Council members will be to provide a better bargaining position for the Bahrain Royal family and government to negotiate with its subjects. No doubt going forward such negotiations will be fraught and tense at times, and we may see in the future more tense and bloody (on a minor scale) standoffs between the two sides, but I for one do not anticipate anything occurring on a massive scale of bloodshed. Nor do I see any likelihood of any overt Persian intervention in Bahrain. Although, I am sure that the regime in Tehran would love to have a pro-Persian regime in place in Bahrain, as a practical matter, with the Saudis next door, not to speak of the American fleet based in the kingdom, this is all a fantastic and unlikely occurrence. Look to see the pas de deux
between the royal family and the Shi'ite opposition to continue. More akin to a waltz from an Offenbach opera bouffe
than anything else.
LIBYA: THE ALTERNATIVES
"QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, thank you. Mr. – Colonel Qadhafi is hitting back very strongly at the rebels. He’s doing a lot of damage. CNN’s Arwa Damon, who is in the region, had an interview with the head of the interim government in eastern Libya, Mr. Jalil. And he said there has to be immediate action; the longer the situation carries on, the more blood is shed. You also had Mr. Clapper today saying that if this goes on, the regime will prevail. How long can the United States and the world community stand on the sidelines without taking military action?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I don’t know anything about this final point, Jill. But on the first two questions concerning Libya, I think the international community is well aware of the situation and has moved quite quickly and forcefully. First, we imposed strong sanctions. Just in the United States we’ve already frozen over $32 billion of the Qadhafi regime’s assets. We have coordinated additional sanctions with our European and other partners and also through the United Nations. We’re expanding our sanctions to even more people within the Qadhafi regime.
Second, we have taken steps to put in motion actions that will hold members of the Qadhafi regime accountable through the United Nations Security Council resolution. We have referred the regime to the International Criminal Court. We have intelligence capabilities that are monitoring Libyan activities in order to establish the base for accountability.
Third, we are in direct contact with members of the opposition here in the United States, in Libya, in other countries. And we are working with them to determine what assistance they actually are able to use and asking for so that we can figure out how best to support their aspirations.
We are also, as I announced today, suspending the Libyan embassy in the United States. We will not accept representatives from the Qadhafi regime representing them in Washington. And we think all of this is adding up to significant pressure.
Fourth, we’re providing a lot of assistance to support the humanitarian needs. We have helped to repatriate people who have fled from Libya. We’re getting resources in in cooperation with a lot of other partners to provide support for the Libyans who are waging this very difficult struggle. And we are positioning our own people on the borders to figure out how much more we can do, and we are pursuing a range of military options.
But I think it’s important to underscore this takes time to prepare and plan. We – we’re very supportive of this week’s meetings in NATO. We’re pursuing 24/7 surveillance, and we are taking steps to enforce the arms embargo.
So today at NATO, the alliance agreed, number one, to increase maritime assets in the central Mediterranean. We agreed to move ahead with detailed operational planning for humanitarian relief and for even more active enforcement of the embargo. And we are continuing to plan for the full range of possible options, including a no-fly zone. And these plans will be presented to NATO on March 15th.
I know how concerned people are. I share that concern. But we have a lot of experience in this kind of circumstance, from Iraq, from the Balkans, and elsewhere. And we know how challenging it is to do any of the things that a lot of people are calling for. But I think the steps we have taken add up to a great deal of quick reaction to what we see happening.
QUESTION: Is there an actual trigger for military action?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jill, I’m not going to respond to that, because trying to plan is the first and most important undertaking, and there is an enormous amount of planning going on. But it’s very challenging, and I think we ought to be – have our eyes open as we look at what is being bandied about and what is possible in order to make good decisions. And that’s what the President has asked us to do".
American Secretary of State Clinton, "Remarks with with Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno after their meeting," 10 March 2011, in www.state.gov.
"There is a horrible sense that the military tide is turning in Colonel Gaddafi’s favour. So the West is faced with the prospect of watching an uprising that we have cheered on and encouraged, slowly crushed before our eyes. There is a nasty sense of deja vu. Isn’t this what happened in Iraq in 1991 – when the Shia in the South were encouraged to rise up against Saddam, and then slaughtered, while the West looked on? A couple of days ago, I heard a former French foreign minister comparing events in Libya to Hungary in 1956. “We encourage them to revolt. Then we do nothing when they are killed,” he said. His solution was a “no-fly-zone”. There is no doubt that pressure for the West to intevene will mount, the more you get headlines like the one in this morning’s FT – “Gaddafi bombs the hell out of city”.
In previous posts, I’ve noted that David Cameron has done a bit of a headless chicken act on Libya – one day talking about military intervention, the next backing off. But the Obama administration’s reaction has not been much more coherent, as this editorial from the New York Times lays out in excruciating detail. At one point the defence department seemed to be virtually ruling out a “no-fly zone”; then it was back on the table. Meanwhile, the political heat is mounting. John McCain, whose instinct always seems to be to bomb first and ask questions later, says the US cannot sit by and “watch one of the two or three worst despots in the world slaughter innocent civilians.” If Gaddafi prevails and Obama does nothing, the president will be portrayed as weak and indecisive – willing to see allies overthrown in Egypt, but unwilling to take on much nastier tyrants in Libya and Iran. Being thwarted by a failure to get a UN resolution on a no-fly-zone won’t be regarded as much of an excuse".
Gideon Rachman, "Libya 2011; Iraq 1991; Hungary 1956?" The Financial Times. 9 March 2011, in www.ft.com.
There has been a lot of back and forth about what are the best policy options for the West in the crisis in Libya. Some of it, as per Gideon Rachman's and other remarks has been of the emotional variety which was given free play with less than entirely positive results in say the Bosnian and Kosovo crises of the 1990's. Not to speak of say Somalia a few years prior to that....We have also been treated to the conflicting voices of the American Administration, which appears to be suffering from a very bad case indeed of timidity and hesitancy. One does not have to be a jingoist and adventurer `a la Senator John McCain to see that the rationale provided by American Secretary of Defence Gates makes absolutely no sense in strict military terms. The fact that the United States, the United Kingdom and to a lesser extent France, enforced the 'no-fly' zone, in Iraq from 1991 to 2003, with scarcely any casualties belies the reasons provided by the Secretary Gates for being cautious about instituting a 'no-fly zone over Libya. But as not only Rachman, the New York Times, but also the London Spectator, have pointed out, it would be kindness to characterize American policy in the crisis as: "timidity and cluelessness 1
." Which is not to deny the point made by experts like Anthony Cordesman among others that per se a 'no-fly' zone, will only a limited impact on the fighting 2
. Such reasoning of course have not prevented the mercurial French President Nicholas Sarkozy from recognizing the rebels and advocating not only enforcing a 'no-fly' zone, but even air strikes on the forces of Libyan strongman Colonel Qaddafi's. Something which his European Union confreres have shown little enthusiasm for as of to-day 3
. And as per an analysis made public yesterday by the American National Intelligence Director, Mr. Clapper, sans Western military intervention on the side of the rebels, Colonel Qaddafi will ultimately emerge victorious 4
. The Libyan leader possessing the greater firepower, hardware and trained military forces.
What I wish to do is however something a little bit different, which is: is there any sense in the Western powers intervening at all in the Libyan conflict? Should the Western powers remain neutral and allow the two sides to in essence fight the conflict out among themselves? Or are there sufficient Western strategic and other interests involved which mandate that the Western powers, actively intervene? The first alternative is the 'Somalian' one. Id est, that the Western powers, judging that they do not have any real strategic interests at stake, do not intervene and allow the two sides to fight-out their civil war until it would appear Colonel Qaddafi emerges as the winner. Or less clear-cut, the conflict is not easily terminated and runs on and on `a la Somalia, as Libya gradually assumes the status of a failed state. The second option is the 'Iraqi' one, in which it is judged that there are sufficient Western interests at stake for some form of intervention to take place. Such intervention running the gamut from a 'non-fly' zone (1991-2003) to overt military intervention on the ground (2003-to present). Given the two above alternatives, which one should be followed in the case of Libya? Simply put one judges that matter by a process of elimination. In the case of the Somalian option, one asks oneself: can and is the West prepared to have Libya, a sizable country occupying a considerable amount of coastline an the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, as well as considerable oil supplies, become a failed state `a la Somalia? With all that this may involve by way of possible bridgeheads for radical Islamic extremists? Does or can the West comfortably allow the Qaddafi regime to re-establish itself in power? Especially, given the fact that the regime might anchor itself on a purely anti-Western basis `a la its earlier incarnation in the 1969-2000 period. The question au fond easily answers itself. With that being said, we come to the second, Iraqi option: that there exists sufficient Western strategic interests in Libya, of either a positive (access to oil supplies) or negative variety (preventing the entrenchment of political instability in North Africa), to mandate some type of military intervention.
Now that we are agreed to the need for some type of military intervention, the question now is: what exactly should the West do and when? Here the options are in essence three: i) institute a 'no-fly' zone and with it a vey limited naval blockade; ii) arm the rebels and launch `a la Sarkozy's proposal of Thursday, air strikes against Qaddafi's forces; iii) invade the country militarily, hook-up with the rebels and together, depose Qaddafi's regime. Let us discuss then in order of plausibility each of the above alternatives: the 'iii', is the least sensible as it involves the type of over military intervention which having been once tried (albeit with much, much less reason) in Iraq in 2003, few have the stomach to undertake once again. Especially the Americans who would by the nature of things have to supply most of the troops for any such adventure. Not to speak of the international community outside at large's opposition. The 'ii' option has the advantage over the first of being much more limited in scope and degree. Albeit not limited enough for those powers (most of the planet of course) who would still oppose such overt military intervention, especially air strikes. The chief deficiency of the Sarkozy option is that it has all of the disadvantages of overt military intervention with almost none of the advantages. Id est., with its air strikes and supplying of arms to the opposition, it clearly shows that the Western powers wish to overthrow the Qaddafi regime. And yet there is not any absolute assurance that this form of limited military intervention will necessarily result in Qaddafi's overthrow. Nor is one entirely assured by the amorphous nature of the opposition coalition in Benghazi, that it makes sense to intervene actively on their behalf to overthrow Qaddafi. One of necessity recalling that none of us has any real idea who or what exactly is the opposition coalition, and what are their goals. The fact that their stronghold, Benghazi was in former times the chief bulwark of the Islamist opposition to Qaddafi, is hardly reassuring or encouraging 5
. Which leaves us with option 'i', which to my mind is by this process of elimination the safest and least problematic form of Western involvement. In terms of 'world opinion', while not necessarily popular, it does have the advantage of not being ruled out tout court, and indeed the Arab League is expected to seriously discuss calling for instituting a 'no-fly' zone at their next meeting on Saturday the 12th of March 6
. It also has the advantage of nominally at least, complying with the current wishes of the opposition in Benghazi, which has so far opposed any more overt form of Western involvement in the conflict. The other advantages are that this limited form of involvement does provide a platform, for more overt forms of involvement, if that becomes necessary. Finally, a 'no-fly' zone, does have the added advantage of not completely burning the Westerns powers relations with the current regime in Tripoli. Since, if Qaddafi does in fact, 'no-fly' option or no, does emerge victorious, then we shall have to course, in a limited fashion, 'live-with-him', `a la the way that the Western powers 'lived' with Saddam Hussein from 1991 to 2003. And of course will allow the Western powers to put Qaddafi on notice that if he does seriously mis-behave himself `a la his policies of arming terrorist groups in the 1970's and the 1980's, he will pay a very serious price for the same. This option also has the added advantage of being easily wrapped up, if the after a few months time, Qaddafi does emerge victorious and does not appear to be interested in pursuing an course of political adventurism abroad. Not of course an optimum solution to the turmoil now going on in Libya, but, faute de mieux we have little in the way of better alternatives in this conflict in the near future. 1
. Leader, "Freedom Fight," The Spectator. 26 February 2011, p.3.2
. Anthony Cordesman quoted in,"Libya poses difficult question for candidates," 10th March, in www.csis.org
. Peggy Hollinger & Peter Siegel, "Paris calls for targeted Libyan air strikes,"
The Financial Times. 10 March 2011, www.ft.com
; Peter Siegel, Brussels Blog: 'Sarko Stands alone?" The Financial Times. 11 March 2011, www.ft.com
. Mark Mazzetti & David Sanger, "U.S. Intelligence chief says Qaddafi has edge in conflict," The New York Times. 11 March 2011, in www.nytimes.com
. Omar Ashour,"De-radicalizing jihadists the Libyan way," Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 7 April 2010, in www.carnegieendowment.org
; Scott Stewart, "Jihadist opportunities in Libya," Stratfor: Global Intelligence. 24 February 2011, in www.stratfor.com
; Frederic Wehrey,"Libya's Terra Incognita: Who and what will follow Qaddafi?" The Rand Corporation. 28 February 2011, in www.rand.org
. Michael Georgy & James Mackenzie, "Europe and U.S. step up pressure on Gadaffi to Go," Reuters. 11 March 2011, in www.reuters.com
ANTI-CHRISTIAN VIOLENCE IN EGYPT: A COMMENT
"CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's military rulers urged national unity and warned of the dangers of anarchy Wednesday after 13 people were killed in the worst Christian-Muslim violence since Hosni Mubarak was toppled from power. A new cabinet met for the first time and decided it would on Thursday redeploy the police force which largely disintegrated in the first days of the uprising that swept Mubarak from the presidency and left the military in control.
The Health Ministry said 13 people were killed and 140 wounded in sectarian violence Tuesday ignited by tensions that have built up since an arson attack on a church south of Cairo Saturday. The strife poses another challenge to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces which has been governing with a depleted police force and wants to hold elections within six months so it can relinquish power.
In a meeting with members of the cabinet, the military council urged citizens to unite and warned against chaos "which threatens national security, especially with the existence of foreign forces targeting the country's stability and security."
The state news agency did not elaborate on the council's reference to foreign threats, but said the meeting had addressed "sectarian strife" and its impact on the nation and economy. Egyptians took pride in the Christian-Muslim solidarity displayed during the revolution that toppled Mubarak on February 11 and hoped the uprising had buried tensions that have flared up with increasing regularity in recent years. It was not clear how many of the dead from Tuesday's violence were Christian or Muslim. The trouble had started on a Cairo highway where Christians had been protesting over the arson attack on the church south of the capital....
Hundreds of people faced off in the violence, hurling petrol bombs and rocks, witnesses said. Injuries included head wounds, bullet wounds and broken limbs, the state news agency quoted a senior Health Ministry official as saying. At least one of the dead, an 18-year-old Christian, had been shot in the back.
It was not clear who had opened fire. The military, trying to restore order, had opened fire in the air at one point. "The supreme military council, the government and civil society must react because we do not want this to escalate and I fear we may return to the dark tunnel of sectarian tension," said Amr Hamzawy, an analyst and part of the reform movement. The attack on the church was triggered by a family dispute over a romance between a Muslim woman and a Christian man. Similar stories have triggered strife in the past".
Dina Zayed & Yasmine Saleh, "Egypt Sectarian strife kills 13, army sees threat," Reuters. 9 March 2011, in www.reuters.com.
"'The Copts are the origin of this country…we treat the guests who came and lived here nicely…but we are ready to die as martyrs if anyone touches our Christian message.”
“The Coptic Church is not [merely] a parallel republic in Egypt…it is an empire.”
These two statements do not come from Jihadist or radical Coptic websites. Coptic Orthodox Archbishop Bishoy, the Secretary of the Church Council and a possible successor to Pope Shenouda, made the first on September 15, 2010. The second is a response from Dr. Muhammad Selim al-Awa, a moderate Islamist intellectual and lawyer, speaking on al-Jazeera later the same day. The exchange shows the level of socio-religious polarization that plagued Egypt months before the January 1 bombing of the Church of the Two Saints in Alexandria (killing 23 and injuring dozens) and the January 11 shooting (killing one and injuring 5) aboard a train in Upper Egypt.
The sad story of unraveling social cohesion in Egypt goes back decades. Despite official lip service to “national unity,” rulers of Egypt since 1952 have had an uneasy relationship with religious minorities. The Arab-Israeli conflict had disastrous repercussions for the Egyptian Jewish community: an indiscriminate crackdown by President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s regime following the 1954 Lavon Affair (a covert Israeli operation involving Egyptian Jews) and the 1956 Suez Crisis, leading ultimately to the migration of nearly all Jews from Egypt. Then came the issue of the Baha’is, a tiny minority that was recognized as a distinct religion in 1924 during Egypt’s liberal era, before Nasser’s regime rescinded their legality in 1960. Baha’is have been struggling for legal acceptance ever since. And let us not forget the Shi’a, termed the “agents of Iran” in an infamous 2006 statement by President Mubarak.
The Coptic Orthodox Christians are by far the largest religious minority, and their relations with post-1952 Egyptian regimes have waxed and waned. Less explored but also relevant and complex is their relation with Egypt’s strongest opposition, the various currents of the Islamist trend....
Egypt’s sectarian crisis is rooted in the absence of four factors: equal citizenship rights (regardless of religion); a constitutional right to freedom of belief and worship; a transparent, accountable government; and a comprehensive, transparent strategy for promoting social cohesion. Such a strategy should avoid reliance on intervention by security forces, forced disappearances, torture, and other repressive methods, which seem to be the pillars of the current socio-religious “cohesion” strategy. Copts and other Egyptians directed their post-attack anger against the regime for reasons far beyond the fact that there were weak security arrangements around the Two Saints Church at a time of high tensions. Rather it was the unwillingness of the regime to uphold any of the aforementioned rights, even if such measures were rationalized as necessary to preempt terrorism. The unresolved crisis of Egypt remains one of democracy rather than of religion".
Omar Ashour, "Copts, Brothers, Salafis, and Autocrats: the Alexandria bombing and Egypt's unresolved crisis," Carnegie Endowment for International Peace," 12 January 2011, in www.carnegieendowment.org.
On this Ash Wednesday the only thing that one can say about the news out of Egypt is that if Muslim extremists, and their supporters in or out of government will have their way, there will be as many Christians in Egypt, as there currently are Jews. Id est none. Given the fact that the Christian population of Egypt pre-dates the Muslim one by about half a millennium, it would be a horrible crime and injustice if this is allowed to happen. Indeed, the recent events in Egypt are not without parallel in the rest of the Near and Middle East 1
. The most horrible example being of course in 'liberated' Iraq, where most of the Christian population has been expelled and or driven out of the country by violence 2
. And unlike Ashour, I am for one quite skeptical that the now 'free' Egypt, will not indeed see an increase, as we have already just seen, in anti-Christian violence. Blaming outgoing, admittedly authoritarian regimes for sectarianism is of a piece with the prior, Arab Nationalist ideological rhetoric that was prevalent in the 1950's and 1960's. Followed by (in the case of Algeria) by the wholesale expulsion of the entire European communities in say Algeria. As well as the already mentioned expulsions of the Jewish populations from almost every Arab country in the entire region. One may only hope that the Western, Christian powers will in conjunction with the Holy See exercise sufficient diplomatic influence on the governments in the region. Before matters take an extreme course. 1
. On this see: Justus Reid Weiner, "Palestinian crimes against Christian Arabs," June / July 2010, in Christian Order, pp. 15-28.2
. On this see, Joshua Landis' own comments, in: "Why Tunisia is unlikely in Syria," Syria Comment. 15 January 2011, in www.syriacomment.com