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The Middle East scorecard

18 March 2011

Summary:  Recent events in the Middle East reveal the emptiness of US foreign policy, our inability to assess situations before we jump in, and an important trend emerging into view.

The scorecard so far in the latest round of the never-ending Middle East game:

  • Tunisia — Big changes, but minor effects on the region.
  • Egypt — The western news media have exaggerate the significance of events.  So far there has been no regime change.  Meet the new boss, same as the old boss (with a slight change in the pecking order, the priority with which various elite groups feed at the trough).
  • Libya — The nature of events unclear at this time.  It’s probably a little crisis, magnified by the news media and our war-hungry geopolitical experts (see below).
  • The Gulf States — The main event, changes in the big ring.  There are powerful new trends emerging, revealing the true nature of US foreign policy — hence they’re almost ignored by the news media and our geopolitical experts (for whom truth is like kryptonite to Superman, or holy water to vampires).  See below for details.

Libya, the small story

Past posts (listed below) have chronicled the child-like war advocacy of our geopolitical experts.  Especially is their disinterest in the nature of the regime the rebels will establish if they win.  They believe we should support a TBD regime (nature To Be Determined later), ignoring the possibility it might be worse than Qaddafi and company (despite his new-found reputation in the US news as a monster, the past century has seen many leaders compared to whom he’s Mother Teresa).

Worse, they don’t bother to assess the rebels odds of winning:   the depth and breath of their support — or their skills, cohesion, and organization.  The same day that the UN approves a no-fly zone Stratfor finally stumbles on the obvious (they’re first over the hurdle, low though it be):

Throughout the conflict, rebel forces never took much territory by conquest, only coming to power as Gadhafi’s eastern forces disintegrated, took a neutral stance or defected. It was never entirely clear how many of those forces were really with the rebels — much less willing to fight and die with them. The emergent question in recent days is whether meaningful military resistance ever actually took shape in the east. … There has been little in recent days to suggest that the opposition was ever able to coalesce into much of a meaningful fighting force.  There have now been unconfirmed rumblings that the military in the east has abandoned the opposition, though the extent of this remains unclear. In other places, local garrisons may have simply ended their neutrality or returned to Gadhafi’s side as his forces began to arrive in numbers.

Who might be the big winner in Libya?  China, if Qaddafi gives Libya’s oil concessions to them (see this Bloomberg story, and this Stratfor report).  Libya would join the growing list of nations who want allies with cash, who want to do business — without telling them how to live (see How China builds its commercial empire).

The Gulf States, the big story

As described here on March 11, the big story is the move to the right of the Gulf princes.  They have to chart their own course, away from America.  The US pressure against their fellow autocrat in Egypt (abandoning an ally).  The US failure in Iraq, converting a secular enemy to Iran into a fellow-Shiite theocracy (signs of incompetence in their major supporter).  They’re moving away from the West, towards self-reliance.  Away from liberalism, away from Democracy, towards repression and force.

Today we see these trends at work.  The oppressed Shiite majority of Bahrain go to the streets, protesting.  The Gulf tyrants send their troops across the border, firing at the crowds as needed.   And Obama says nothing.  Our war mongers, who scream for war to help the Libyans, say nothing. 

The silence is deafening.  We bow before the Gulf Council, genuflecting before their oil.  Revealing our lofty rhetoric, poured out on Egypt and Libya, as empty words.  What’s sad about this is that we’re consistently backing the losers, gaining a reputation only for fecklessness and hypocrisy.  Not exactly realpolitik.  Bismark would laugh at us.

For more information

Perhaps the most valuable Stratfor article about the Libyan rebellon (although a misleading title):  Libya’s Opposition Leadership Comes into Focus, 20 March 2011 — It”s coming into focus, but still remains vague.  We’re fighting to bring a new regime into power, of a nature To Be Determined Later.

About Libya: 

About Egypt:

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4 Comments
  1. The Arab League protests our actions, follow-up permalink
    20 March 2011 4:58 pm

    Arab League criticizes Western strikes on Libya“, AFP, 20 March 2011 – Excerpt:

    The Arab League on Sunday criticized Western military strikes on Libya, a week after urging the United Nations to slap a no-fly zone on the oil-rich North African state. “What has happened in Libya differs from the goal of imposing a no-fly zone and what we want is the protection of civilians and not bombing other civilians,” Arab League secretary general Amr Mussa told reporters.

    … In the West’s biggest intervention in the Arab world since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, US warships and a British submarine fired more than 120 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Libya on Saturday, the US military said.

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  2. Libya is part of Africa, and their leaders are not happy with our attacks, update permalink
    20 March 2011 5:24 pm

    African Union demands ‘immediate’ halt to Libya attacks“, Agence France-Presse (AFP), 20 March 2011 — Excerpt:

    The African Union’s panel on Libya Sunday called for an “immediate stop” to all attacks after the United States, France and Britain launched military action against Moamer Gaddafi’s forces. … After a more than four-hour meeting in the Mauritanian capital, the body also asked Libyan authorities to ensure “humanitarian aid to those in need,” as well as the “protection of foreigners, including African expatriates living in Libya.” It underscored the need for “necessary political reforms to eliminate the causes of the present crisis” but at the same time called for “restraint” from the international community to avoid “serious humanitarian consequences.”

    The panel also announced a meeting in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on March 25, along with representatives from the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Conference, the European Union and the United Nations to “put in place a mechanism for consultation and concerted action” to resolve the Libyan crisis. The AU committee on Libya is composed of five African heads of state.

    Libyan generosity and Moamer Gaddafi’s role in the creation of the African Union could explain the continental cautious stand, experts said. The AU was born in the 1999 Sirte Declaration, named after a summit hosted by Gaddafi in his hometown on the Libyan coast. The declaration said its authors felt inspired by Gaddafi’s “vision for a strong and united Africa.”

    “The AU as an organisation has benefited significantly from Gaddafi’s wealth,” said Fred Golooba Mutebi of the Institute of Social Research at Kampala’s Makerere University. The pan-African body has taken a firmer stance on three west African crises: most recently Ivory Coast and previously Guinea and Niger.

    Handouts aside, Libya has invested billions of dollars in sub-Saharan Africa. It has interests in more than two dozen African countries, while its petroleum refining and distribution unit Oil Libya has interests in at least as many. Libyan telecommunications unit LAP Green is present in five countries in the region and expanding rapidly.

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  3. Analysis of events in the center ring of Middle East events permalink
    24 March 2011 2:49 pm

    Two articles about events in the Gulf, the center ring of the Middle East

    (1) “High Anxiety – Saudi Arabia’s nervous leaders might not have a creative way to quell dissent, but at least they’re consistent.“, Toby C. Jones (Asst Prof Middle East history, Rutgers U), Foreign Policy, 23 March 2011

    (2) “The Bahrain crisis and its regional dangers“, Salman Shaikh (Brookings Institute), Foreign Policy, 23 March 2011

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  4. Outraged in Riyadh - Is the House of Saud dumping Obama?, update permalink
    17 April 2011 5:36 am

    Outraged in Riyadh – Is the House of Saud dumping Obama? “, Simon Henderson, Foreign Policy, 14 April 2011

    Simon Henderson, the Baker fellow and director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Gulf and Energy Policy Program, is author of “After King Abdullah: Succession in Saudi Arabia.”

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