Four Middle Eastern Upheavals

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[Editor’s note: the following article was originally published at]

After decades of stasis, the Middle East is in uproar. With too much going on to focus on a single place, here’s a review of developments in four key countries.

Libya: With most Americans not quite realizing it, their government haphazardly went to war on Mar. 19 versus Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi’s Libya. Hostilities were barely acknowledged, covered with euphemism (“kinetic military action, particularly on the front end”) and without a clear goal. Two Obama administration principals were out of the country – the president in Chile, the secretary of state in France. Members of Congress, not consulted, responded angrily across the political spectrum. Some analysts discerned a precedent for militarily attacking Israel.

Perhaps Obama will be lucky and Qaddafi willcollapse quickly. But no one knows who the rebels are and the open-ended effort could well become protracted, costly, terroristic, andpolitically unpopular. If so, Libya risks becoming Obama’s Iraq – or worse if Islamists take over the country.

Obama wants the United States to be “one of the partners among many” in Libya and wishes he were president of China, suggesting that this war offers a grand experiment for the U.S. government to pretend it is Belgium. I admit to some sympathy for this approach; in 1997, I complained that, time and again, because Washington rushed in and took responsibility for maintaining order, “The American adult rendered others child-like.” I urged Washington to show more reserve, letting others come to it and request assistance.

That’s what Obama, in his clumsy and ill-prepared way, has done. The results will surely influence future U.S. policy.

Egypt: The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces sponsored a constitutional referendum on Mar. 19 that passed 77-23. It has had the effect of boosting the Muslim Brotherhood as well as remnants of Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, while shunting aside the Tahrir Square secularists. In so doing, the new military leadership confirmed its intention to continue with the government’s subtle but long-standing collusion with Islamists.

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