While I correctly predicted that a more democratic government in Muslim countries like Libya would result in increased Islamic radicalism, I could not have imagined it might spell the beginning of an Arab apartheid regime.
Today, the New York Times reported that rebel leaders are pleading with their fighters to “avoid taking revenge against ‘brother Libyans’.” Apparently, the rebels are imprisoning anyone they believe fought as a mercenary for Colonel Qaddafi. It turns out the only evidence rebels need is the color of one’s skin. In other words, if you look like a sub-Saharan African, you must be a mercenary.
It seems Libya will join the list of African countries like Sudan and Nigeria, which are plagued by ethnic tensions between North African Arabs and sub-Saharan Africans.
Rebels are now rounding up sub-Saharan African migrants in “fetid, sweltering pens for as long as two weeks on charges that their captors often acknowledge to be little more than suspicion.” One human rights researcher, who visited the facilities noted, “It is very clear to us that most of those detained were not soldiers and have never held a gun in their life.” In one case, the rebel were holding a prisoner on allegations of witchcraft.
As for increased Islamic radicalism, reporters observed rebel captors drilling prisoners “at gunpoint in rebel chants like ‘God is Great’ and ‘Free Libya!'”
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
It is a lesson President Obama would do well to learn.
Nothing surprising, though, it’s typical for post conflict situations. But that doesn’t mean it would have been better to let Gaddafi stay in power. This will be a messy transition but getting rid of Gaddafi makes the world just as much better off as getting rid of Saddam did (and I doubt Libya will suffer the kind of civil war Iraq suffered — and they do have de facto division in the after math). I mean, unless you think that these regimes can live forever under oppressive dictators when half the population is under 22 and better connected than ever, then they’re going to have to work through these things. In my opinion, this intervention was in the national interest, not simply based on ‘good intentions.’ It proved the US can is still relevant (something doubted after Iraq), it put us on the right side of history (against dictators) and situates us far better for the future in the Arab world than support for dictators would have. Change is coming to that region, I don’t think it can be suppressed by emboldening dictators.
“I mean, unless you think that these regimes can live forever under oppressive dictators when half the population is under 22 and better connected than ever, then they’re going to have to work through these things.”
Absolutely. Social networking technology actually makes it easier for a regime to control and monitor its population. The Iranians, the Chinese, and the Saudis (with our help, I believe), have been able to coop social media technologies in supressing dissent very successfully in recent years.
“It proved the US can is still relevant (something doubted after Iraq), it put us on the right side of history (against dictators) and situates us far better for the future in the Arab world than support for dictators would have.”
The United States military is still the best in the world, and I think few nations would challenge us on that account. Remember, it took us three weeks to overthrow Saddam’s military. Fighting insurgencies is the hardest thing the US military does. Yet, we’ve been very successful (after going through a very steep learning curve). Conventional war is something the US military does better than any other institution on the planet. There is still no one remotely capable of challenging America’s supremacy in this arena. Furthermore, it is not something that a competitor can easily replicate, because it involves organizational methods that are ingrained in western culture involving initiative and small unit tactics. Command-driven doctrines like those of the former Soviet Union do not come close in realizing American military adaptation, efficiency, and leadership.
“Change is coming to that region”
We both agree on this point. I just don’t think the change will be a net positive. That said, only time will tell. 😉
But US strength is irrelevant without the political will to use it, and Iraq visibly and publicly sapped that will. Moreover, it’s expensive. Unless the US could prove it could operate without loss of public support, high cost (in lives or money), then most countries probably thought the probability of US military action at any given time had become very low. They also had a template of how to counter it — drive up the cost and make it take time. President Bush’s shift in tactics and strategy in 2007 turned Iraq around, but I think the damage was done to US prestige and credibility. The massive defeats of the GOP in 2006 and 2008 were a repudiation of President Bush’s foreign policy (even though in the second term he displayed an admirable ability to undertake a massive policy change in response to the failure of the original plan – and Obama continued Bush’s new strategy in Iraq). But Libya does send a message that if NATO and the US get involved supporting rebels, they have the capacity and will to do prevent a dictator from simply waiting it out. I have no illusions about the difficulty of creating a stable government for Libya – democracies are extremely difficult to create and maintain — and Islamist factions have to be part of it, they can’t be shut out. As long as they don’t threaten our national interest, that’s not really our concern.
“But US strength is irrelevant without the political will to use it, and Iraq visibly and publicly sapped that will.”
Unfortunately, the transition to an all-volunteer system made political will a lot less relevant than it used to be. Take Libya, for instance. The operation was technically a violation of the Separation of Powers, yet the President did it anyway, because only a small minority of the population actually serves in the military and no one vigorously opposed it.
“Moreover, it’s expensive.”
Very fair point. This is basically China’s strategy in the Pacific. Buy cheap, carrier-killing ballistic missiles and exhaust US financial resources. Our easy counter is simply to shut down the Malaccan Strait.
“I have no illusions about the difficulty of creating a stable government for Libya – democracies are extremely difficult to create and maintain — and Islamist factions have to be part of it, they can’t be shut out. As long as they don’t threaten our national interest, that’s not really our concern.”
I agree. Today, the New York Times reported hundreds (or thousands) of missing man-portable SA-24 Ginch surface-to-air missiles in Libya. Not a great development to say the least. Also, the problem with Islamist factions is that they do threaten our national security as 9/11 so amply demonstrated.
Again, I hope I am wrong.
Al qaeda has been losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the region and has not been able to strike in recent years. We’re not going to make Islamicist factions disappear, but perhaps we can convince them it’s not worth it to target the US. Most are more concerned about their own populations. It’s a bigger problem for Israel, to be sure.
Al Qaeda is losing because US forces have been killing them in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US lost the hearts and minds of the Arab world after 1991. Once we complete the drawdown, they will be back (though weakened). They are already mounting a resurgence in Iraq. They will strike again here as more people become complacent, especially since there is a lot of low hanging fruit here.
That’s a pessimistic view, but while the extremists will always be around, the large percentage of Arabs under 22 (over half the population) are not rallying around the extremist point of view or way of life. They are open to modern ideas. Killing people over there helps them and hurts us. While future terror strikes are likely because you only need a small devoted group to pull something off, I think the bigger danger is in over-estimating the threat and using tactics to combat it that actually aid the extremists (like I believe the Iraq war did). One of the biggest reasons extremism had support is that it was seen as the best alternative to corrupt dictatorial regimes like those of Mubarak, Gaddafi and Saddam (and Assad, the Saudi Royal Family, etc.) As long as we’re in bed with those corrupt regimes, we’re seen as enabling them and supporting repressive corruption. Given the chance, the Arab youth are unlikely to choose al qaeda like puritanism over engagement with the modern world.
“That’s a pessimistic view, but while the extremists will always be around, the large percentage of Arabs under 22 (over half the population) are not rallying around the extremist point of view or way of life. They are open to modern ideas. Killing people over there helps them and hurts us.”
How do you know that they are not rallying around the extremist point of view or way of life? Are you sure they are open to modern ideas? Some perhaps, but not all.
Killing people in Iraq and Afghanistan actually helps us, because it directly eliminates the number of extremists who would otherwise target the American civilian population. As long as the United States kills more extremists than it creates, it achieves its policy aims. The problem with winning hearts and minds is that it is difficult to measure. Killing the enemy is not. I’m surprised few people openly make this argument, but it is one that more public figures ought to make. We didn’t defeat Germany and Japan by winning hearts and minds. We defeated them by killing millions of Germans and Japanese.
I think Iraq actually helped al qaeda for awhile; I don’t think we killed any al qaeda threats to our security there (indeed, most al qaeda in Iraq were recruited because of that war and probably wouldn’t have been members without it). I also think those wars helped al qaeda recruit for awhile – they had images of Arab dead at US hands. Probably the war was a net gain for al qaeda, but I don’t know how we’d measure that. I do think that since 2007, when President Bush changed his policy (something he doesn’t get enough credit for, IMO — I’d have given Bush “favorable” ratings from 2007 on!), al qaeda’s support and popularity declined rapidly.
Since 9-11-01 there have been 150,000 murders in the US, and over 350,000 people killed by car accidents. 33 people have been killed by Muslim extremists. Yes, we need counter terrorism and it only takes a few (like the ones who apparently snuck in the country) to create a incident. Overall, though, I think the fear of Islamic extremism is vastly overstated. Everything I see shows virtually no support for al qaeda in the Arab world — and Islamic fundamentalism is not necessarily a threat to us.
“I think Iraq actually helped al qaeda for awhile; I don’t think we killed any al qaeda threats to our security there (indeed, most al qaeda in Iraq were recruited because of that war and probably wouldn’t have been members without it).”
I agree that it helped al Qaeda recruit more jihadists. However, I also know that it helped channel those recruits, and hardcore jihadists into Iraq rather than into the United States. It is what national security strategists call a “honey pot strategy.” You create a honey pot to lure and then kill the bees. I personally believe this was one of the unpublicized arguments for going into Iraq. It was likely unpublicized, because broadcasting this strategy would guarantee its failure.
Believe me, we killed plenty of al Qaeda in Iraq. A personal friend interrogated jihadists from regions ranging from Somalia to Sudan to Syria. Operation Viking raided an Ansar al Islam camp in northern Iraq at the beginning of the war. The United States also spent a significant amount of time tracking down and killing Zarqawi, a Jordanian terrorist.
“al qaeda’s support and popularity declined rapidly.”
Maybe. But they are certainly still active in Iraq now. The mainstream media has simply lost interest. iCasualties.org (http://icasualties.org/iraq/index.aspx) actually does an excellent job of posting news related to bombings and violence in Iraq, and the past few days have not been pretty.
“Since 9-11-01 there have been 150,000 murders in the US, and over 350,000 people killed by car accidents. 33 people have been killed by Muslim extremists.”
I actually agree with you on this point, and I worry about our military’s preparedness against more traditional, conventional threats like the North Koreans. Since 9/11 I watched the military transition from an organization well-honed to fight other militaries to one honed to fight counterterrorism and counterinsurgencies. I worry that the U.S. may be get caught in another Kasserine Pass if we have to fight a conventional enemy — not because of lack of training, but because the military has retooled to fight in dealth traps like the Stryker rather than the near-invincible M1A2 Abrams.
That said, I am less worried by attacks by extremists on American soil. I am more worried that extremists will seize power of the oil infrastructure of our Middle Eastern allies. This is where the real threat of the Arab Spring lies. That is why Islamic fundamentalism remains a threat.