Washington Watch: Contracting out

Is it America’s job to topple brutal tyrants (as if there were any other kind)?

By D. BLOOMFIELD
March 23, 2011 23:39
4 minute read.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Russia

Gates 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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As my mother would say, we need another war like a loch in kop.

With Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez about the only one in his corner, Muammar Gaddafi may have fewer friends than even North Korea’s Kim Jong Il. The Arab League wants him gone, so it decided to contract out the job – not unlike the Arabs did when they wanted Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait 20 years ago.

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No question Gaddafi is a brutal tyrant (there’s another kind?), and deserves to go, but is that our job? And does anyone believe that after knocking out his air defenses, we’re going to leave it to the Europeans and Arabs to finish it? Will they stick around when the proverbial substance hits the rotary device, or run for cover? And what do we know about the people we’re defending? Is it tribal factions, or democratic reformers like the ones who toppled both next-door dictators? If Libya didn’t have so much oil – Europeans are the big customers – would we even bother? Is the Libyan adventure a distraction from more important events affecting our strategic interests in Jordan, Bahrain, Yemen and Saudi Arabia – the enemies of some of our most dangerous enemies in the region? Can we afford another war? We’re already fighting two wars, and a growing number of Americans are questioning our presence in Afghanistan, where President Barack Obama’s exit strategy is increasingly murky. Taxpayers will ask why we’re spending so many millions more in Libya with little likelihood that grateful oil sheiks will reimburse us.

The Arab League unanimously invited foreign forces to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, but once the shooting started the group’s leader, Amr Moussa, got cold feet.

Moussa, a strident critic of Israel (he endorsed suicide bombings against Jews) and no friend of the US, wants to be the next president of Egypt, which is helping arm the rebels.

It took tough criticism from Libyan rebels and frantic phone calls to Arab leaders by Obama and others to explain that the action taken was well within the UN mandate. That seemed to cool Moussa down for the moment – but don’t count on it lasting.

The Arabs sent no more than token forces to the conflict, relying instead on their big oil customers to do the fighting and, if necessary, the dying. It makes one wonder why they’ve been spending tens of billions of dollars – financed in large part by American consumers who oppose any meaningful energy conservation – to accumulate arsenals of the world’s most advanced weapons if they’re afraid to use them against anyone but their own people.



It’s not the big-ticket items like F-16s, but the tanks and guns and especially little things like tear gas canisters marked “Made in USA” that make good footage on Al Jazeera, and tell demonstrators whose side we’re really on. Maybe the Bahrainis, Saudis, Yeminis, Jordanians and the rest are just too busy protecting themselves from citizens demanding freedom, and can’t spare anyone to protect the Libyan rebels.

IT MUST be a major dilemma for Arab leaders because, take away the bombast and flamboyant behavior, they have a lot in common with Gaddafi. There but for the grace of Allah go I, they must be thinking. They know where public sympathy lies, and it’s not with the rulers.

Many are promising political reform and expanded rights, no doubt hoping they won’t have to deliver once the heat is off. And if discontent boils over, they’ve shown they’re perfectly willing to crack down hard.

The job of protecting Libyans yearning (so we’re told) to breathe free was contracted out to infidels with names like Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron, but when the fighting ends, what will those contractors do to make sure their Arab clients keep promises of reform? The Arab League invitation gave the international forces legitimacy, but that mandate came from leaders facing challenges to their own legitimacy at home. None rules by popular vote, nor would they even take such a foolhardy risk as free and fair elections. There is a growing divide between the rulers and the ruled in the Arab world, and for the first time it is the people, not the colonels or clergy, who are telling the kings and dictators to shape up or ship out.

Arab leaders understand that if they don’t undertake serious reform, or use too much force against their own people, “you’re going to get whacked by the international community, and the other Arabs are going to support it,” Rami Khouri, a Beirut-based journalist, said.

The big question Americans are asking is what Obama, who has declared “Gaddafi needs to go,” is prepared to do if the dictator refuses.

bloomfieldcolumn@gmail.com

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