We Don’t Know What Will Happe in the Middle East
By: Craig Chamberlain
The current uprisings in the Middle East cry out for American leadership. There are two reasons for this. 1) No one else is capable of leading, and 2) we have vital economic interests in that region to see that the oil flows freely. Currently we are not leading and we are not protecting our economic interests. Instead we are allowing events to shape our policy rather than let our policy shape events.
The following things should be kept in mind during the crisis. 1) we should not have gotten involved in Libya, but now that we have we must have the removal of Qaddafi as our endgame. Leaving him in power, even in a crippled state, is not an option. 2) It is in our best interests to have democratic governments in power in the region, or as democratic as we can get in the Arab world. Our alliances with autocratic regimes did nothing to secure American interests or provide stability throughout the region. Since democracy is in our interest we should be guiding it to guarantee that the most radical elements don’t seize power. This brings us to the third point: No one can predict for certain what the new governments will look like, but I’m not optimistic about current events being good for American interests.
In Egypt constitutional amendments were approved(most likely with a great deal of voter fraud) that all but guarantee that the Muslim Brotherhood will be a partner in the new government if not in outright control of it. The new amendments ostensibly limit the power of the Presidency, but ensure that the NDP and the Brotherhood will be the beneficiaries at the expense of political parties that are genuinely secular and democratic.
In Tunisia the secular regime of Ben Ali will probably be replaced by something more Islamic. Not along the lines of Saudi Arabia or Iran, but it is possible that Tunisia will go down the same road that Turkey did. With incremental, and gradual, Islamic policies until the rights of the individual are completely subsumed by Sharia law. That’s hardly a pleasant thought. The only thing that keeps it from being a nightmare is that Tunisia is a small country with only 10 million people, not the 80 million that are in Egypt.
In Yemen, President Saleh still clings to power as of right now, but his days are certainly numbered. There is a very active Al-Qaeda movement within the country and any new regime will either find itself unable to confront, unwilling to confront it, or actively collaborating with it. The combination of radicalism, tribalism, corruption, and poverty all but guarantee that the most radical elements will come to power in the country.
Instead of doing what we can to see to it that real democrats come to power in these countries we try to engage with whatever group or movement seems strongest at the moment. This usually means the most radical elements and that is the Jihadist factions within any given country. You think we would have learned by now that there can be no engagement, no dialogue, or friendship with such people. We’ve been trying for over thirty years to make friends with the Mullahs of Iran and look at where that’s gotten us.
If Washington is not careful we could find our economic interests crippled in the region. Egypt has fallen and Yemen is going to. That means that the two countries, one that controls the Suez canal, the other the straits of Aden, could fall to anti western forces. Shipping through those two vital points could be threatened or cut off completely. Bahrain is more troublesome. The Iranians have viewed Bahrain the way the Chinese look at Taiwan. As a renegade province that needs to be brought under control. It’s almost certain that the current unrest in Bahrain is being fomented, to a large extent, by the Iranian government. They seek to topple a Sunni monarchy and replace it with a Shiite government. Bahrain is the headquarters for our fleet in the Persian gulf, and Bahrain is a key American ally. The fall of Bahrain would spell trouble for our strategic interests, our military presence, and coupled with trouble in Oman(though not nearly as severe in other countries) could threaten shipping through the straits of Hormuz, where most oil headed to the United States is shipped through.
The U.S. clearly has no strategy, no policy, no game plan on what it should do. If we determine that leader needs to go then we must use all options to make him go. We cannot afford to proclaim our opposition to a ruler then leave him in power. Secondly, we should support those Arabs(and yes they do exist) who sincerely want democratic reforms and a free society. We can’t afford to let the chips fall where they may, take our chances, and maybe we end up with half a dozen Iranian client states.
President Obama must lead. He can’t vote “present” on this no matter how much he wants to.