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Ledeen: A week ago I wrote a little blog wondering what Obama might do to prevent everyone from concluding he’s a wimp. I confessed that this thought worried me quite a bit, as it had in the 1970s when Carter’s name became inseparably tied to “wimp.” Every author falls in love with his own words, but I hope to be forgiven for saying that I was right to worry.
I quite agree with both Robert Spencer and General Pacepa, both of whom remind us of my grandmother’s famous bit of folk wisdom, “things are never so bad that they can’t get worse.” Indeed, both of them raise the truly paradoxical and terrible possibility that we may “win” in Libya, only to find that we have made things worse: worse for American interests, worse for the Libyan people, worse for the whole region, which hardly needs to get even worse.
But that’s not my major concern. What gets my juices flowing is the ongoing failure to see the Middle Eastern cauldron in full context, and that we are bringing American power to bear on Qadaffi, but not on the tyrants in Tehran. As almost everyone with a keyboard has said, we don’t have a major national interest at stake in Libya, but Iran is our main enemy, and is killing Americans every day. So if you want to act decisively in the Middle East, you should be working for regime change in Iran; Libya is a sideshow.
So it’s the wrong war in the wrong place.
That said, I have a lot of sympathy for the view (often attributed to Samantha Power, Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton) that America should support citizens fighting for freedom against tyrants. But that does not mean a suspension of strategic judgment, and a failure to recognize which of those fights is most important.
Bits and pieces: I never liked the no-fly-zone idea, and in fact several weeks ago I said about Libya what I had said years before about Darfur: bomb the airforce, destroy the planes of the regime. That takes a few minutes. Then, if you decide you want to support the rebels, or some of them, go ahead. At least you’ve given them a respite from the slaughter.
More: It’s not all bad, you know. This gives hope to the “rebels” we should be supporting–the ones in Syria and Iran. Maybe one of the three Administration Valkyries will call for political support for the dissidents in those two unhappy lands. Obama’s video to the Iranians marks a significant change in rhetoric, he’s abandoned all that sweet talk about “outstretched hands” and told the young Iranians on the streets that “I’m with you.” I don’t quite believe it, but he may now find it much more difficult to appease Tehran. Time will tell.
As you see, I keep coming back to the big context, because that’s the one that really matters. We’re in a big war, the Libya thing is a skirmish.
Phares: We all agree that Colonel Gaddafi is a dictator, that he supported terrorism against the U.S. and France, was responsible for the tragedy of PanAm 103, that he funded, armed and trained radicals in many African countries such as in Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Haute Volta, and in a few Middle Eastern countries, including Lebanon. We all are aware that his regime oppressed his people and tortured and jailed his opponents for four decades. I observed Gaddafi ruling Libya unchecked during and after the Cold War before and after 9/11 and he was received by liberal democracies as a respectable leader.
My first question is: Why has the West been silent so long and why is it so late in taking action against this dictator? Of course it had to do with oil. Western elites were morally and politically encouraging him by buying his oil and empowering him with endless cash as Libyan dissidents were dying in jails.
Now, as missiles are crushing Gaddafi’s air defense systems and tanks, Western governments should be invited for serious self-criticism for having enabled this regime to last that long. Squeezing or even defeating Gaddafi should prompt a comprehensive review of past decades of Western policies towards this regime and its abuses of human rights. The military operation should not end with the departure of Gaddafi from power. It must open the door for an examination of US and European policies that have aligned themselves with Petrodollars interests for over half a century. Such self-criticism was supposed to start with the removal of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, but unfortunately, it hasn’t taken place yet, precisely because of the mega-influence inside the West and the United States by powerful lobbies representing the interests of OPEC, the Arab League and the OIC.
Besides, questions should be raised about the Arab League and OIC endorsement of an action against Gaddafi’s regime. Where were they for decades, when the Libyan dictator used to seize the microphone on their platforms and blast the very democracies they implored to act against him? These organizations catered to the interest of regimes they now are calling for sanctions against. Mr. Amr Moussa, the current secretary general of the Arab League, rises against Gaddafi after having supported him for years, while the latter was oppressing his own people.
In my book, The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East, I call all these regimes and organizations a “brotherhood against democracy.” They have supported each other against democratic movements and minorities everywhere in the region. From Sudan to Lebanon, from Iraq to Libya, the regional organizations were at the service of these regimes, not of the people. As these revolts are ongoing, these inter-regimes’ organizations must be criticized and eventually reformed. Last year, the Arab League and OIC were endorsing Libya’s role in the UN Council on Human Rights. Egypt, Tunisia and Libya’s representatives at the Geneva UN body were shutting up the voices of Libyan dissidents just a few months ago. Now that the uprisings have crumbled the regimes in Cairo and Tunisia, and Tripoli’s ruler is cornered, the negative impact these inter-regime organizations have on dissidents and human rights on international levels must be exposed and their future representation comprehensively reformed.
I do agree with Mr. Spencer that many jihadists have been recruited from Libya, and particularly from its eastern provinces. I also agree with General Pacepa that Western policies towards Gaddafi’s regime were incoherent. And I certainly agree with Dr. Ledeen that US policy should support true democratic forces and uprisings in the region from Iran to the Arab world.
In short I would have advised for a different set of US global strategies in the Middle East. We should have backed the Iranian Green Revolution in 2009, the Cedars Revolution as it struggles against Hezbollah, and Darfur in its liberation drive against the Jihadist regime in Khartoum. In Egypt, we should have clearly sided with the secular youth and Copts, as they asked for a new constitution. In Iraq, we should have been clear in supporting reformist and secular forces.
As far as Libya is concerned, removing Gaddafi is not the question. That should have been done years ago on the grounds of abuse of human rights. The question is who will come next? Clearly, the agenda of the Benghazi leadership is not clear. We know there is a layer of former bureaucrats, diplomats, intellectuals and military dissidents with whom partnership is possible and should be encouraged. But there is another layer below the surface which is made of Islamists, Salafists and in some cases Jihadists.
From a simple observation of the latter’s narrative on al Jazeera, one major component of the opposition is an Islamist force aiming at taking over in Tripoli. Hence, Washington must partner with the secular-democrats and warn that it won’t endorse replacing Gaddafi’s Jamahiriyya with a Jihadi emirate. Why aren’t the most liberal Libyan dissidents received in Washington and made visible? As Mr. Spencer said, the US and NATO military has been tasked to open the highways to Tripoli for the opposition, but we need to insure that on that highway we won’t see the democracy groups eliminated by the next authoritarians.
FP: Walid Phares, Mihai Pacepa, Michael Ledeen and Robert Spencer, thank you for joining Frontpage Symposium.
[i] Joseph A. Harris, “Sarko’s War,” The American Spectator, March 21, 2011.
[iii] Andrew G. Bostom, “Let Muslim Anti-Terrosit States Police Libya,” Human Events, March 21, 2011.
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