How Syria Killed the "Arab Spring"

Will Obama fight a war to save it?

assadThe best evidence of the unlamented death of the Arab Spring (2010-2013) was the nervous response in Washington D.C. to the Syrian crossing of the Red Line.

The Red Line had been set up so that Assad would eventually run afoul of it, whether by using chemical weapons or by taking the blame for chemical weapons use by the rebels; as the UN alleges happened. Once the Red Line was crossed, the Liberators of Libya would use the opportunity to enforce the will of the people; at least those people with Qatari RPGs and Turkish machine guns.

But instead of carving out a No Fly Zone and then telling the American people about it three days later, Obama blinked. No sooner did Assad supposedly cross the Red Line than Obama aides rushed out to explain that paying attention to the colorful line was misreading what Obama had really meant to say.

“How can we attack another country unless it’s in self-defense," one official asked, with no sense of irony. “If he drops sarin on his own people, what’s that got to do with us?”

Two years ago, Obama had declared that he was the defender of Benghazi, protecting it against a massacre that was never going to happen. And once Benghazi was liberated to be under Al Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood rule, the man who had sent in the air force to protect Benghazi Islamist militias against Gaddafi, couldn’t be bothered to send in the planes to protect his diplomats against the militias.

The Arab Spring may have died on that September 11. Or it may have died when Obama’s aides rushed to retreat across the Red Line. But one thing is certain; it’s deader than Monty Python’s blue parrot.

Obama looked into the Syrian abyss and pulled back. Maybe the timing of the war would have been a distraction from amnesty and gun control, but more likely the responsibility-to-protectors just couldn’t sell anyone on their happy ending.

There is not one single place where a major Arab Spring transformation has led to a happy ending.

Egypt is a political, social and economic disaster. Obama had been counting on Islamists transforming Egypt into another Turkey on a slow and sensible schedule. But Morsi had a little too much in common with Obama. Like Obama, he couldn’t wait a decade to crush his opponents and enact repressive policies that would fracture the country. He could barely wait a month.

Egypt isn’t unique. Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, is just as shattered, and one Islamist government has already gone down to be replaced by another. The same tensions between liberals and Islamists are playing out in Morocco. Meanwhile countries like Bahrain or Yemen in the Saudi sphere of influence either suppressed domestic protests or engaged in ritual transfers of power.

The Arab Spring was truly tested in Libya. NATO went in and left behind a country overrun by terrorists whose instability endangers its diplomats, the entire region and the world. Most of the advocates of intervention in Libya understand that the same thing will happen in Syria, but on a much larger scale.

Assad may be the prisoner of Damascus, but so is everyone else. The Syrian Civil War has stalemated all the powers leaving them stuck in a holding pattern. Russia is stuck helping Assad, even though it wishes that a transition could be arranged at the negotiating table, and the NATO powers are stuck trying to arrange some sort of Syrian rebel alliance, even though they know it will just be a gang of militias using Sharia courts and RPGs to fight over bakeries and oil wells.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron, sounding more desperate than ever, has argued that the only way to keep the Al Nusra Front from winning is to arm the moderate opposition. But Cameron knows that there is no moderate opposition. The only options are to choose from a palette of Islamist militias and hope that works out better than it did in Libya or to let Russia control a transition that will put one of its own allies into power. And for the moment, it looks as if Obama and Cameron are going along with that plan.

Whatever happens next, the Syrian Civil War isn’t going anywhere.

Western politicians and pundits completely misread the Arab Spring as a series of popular uprisings. In fact they were austerity protests hijacked by political activists backed by Western democracy establishment NGOs and Islamist plotters backed by Qatar and its Al Jazeera propaganda network.

The Arab Spring was a campaign by Sunni Islamist countries to overthrow the governments of secular countries. With most of those governments overthrown, with two notable exceptions, it has moved into its next phase as a religious war between Sunni Islamists and the Shiite alliance of Syria, Iraq and Iran.

Only an idiot would mistake Hezbollah, Hamas and Al Qaeda shooting it out in the ruins of Syrian cities for any kind of popular indigenous uprising. There are still calls to arm the moderate opposition, but how can there be a moderate opposition when Turkey and Qatar, the two big players of the war, are not moderate except in the imaginations of New York Times columnists?

And how then could the Arab Spring be moderate and democratic when its backers and planners were neither moderate nor democratic?

The dividing lines in the Middle East were never between democracies and dictatorships. They are the sectarian lines that divide Sunni from Shiite and the ethnic nationalisms that divide the old Persian and Turkish empires from the ragged bands of Arab conquerors.

The Arab Spring was not new. It was very old. It was as old as the Islamic conquests that transformed more open Arab cultures into Islamist tyrannies and then repeated the process in historical cycles. The pattern continued with the clashes between Islamists and Arabs giving way to fighting between Sunni and Shiite. And that fighting must inevitably give way to the next phase of Islamist infighting.

This isn’t a new phase of history that will transform the Middle East into some ethnic copy of Europe. It is the same old history of the region repeating itself again and again like footprints in the sand.

The Arab Spring is dead. It was dead a thousand years ago. It isn’t a new idea, but a very old war whose adherents are cursed to battle each other for eternity over the same power struggles.

The desert air breathes out mirages and generations of Westerners have found themselves caught in astonishing vistas of lost kingdoms and flourishing oases, but the harsh realities of war have a way of dissolving illusions.

The Western nations that bought the myth of the Arab Spring from the wily Qatari shopkeeper thought that they were purchasing democracy and stability, when they were actually buying a piece of an old civil war. Now they have a choice between fighting one more war in the hopes of saving an Arab Spring that never existed… or stepping back from the abyss.

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