American predictability is based on anticipated irrationality... a danger to her increasingly skeptical regional allies.
If the alternative to a repressive regime allied with and supportive of the US War on Terror is an Islamist regime likely more repressive and supportive of the enemy, why the enthusiasm in Washington for regime change?
American foreign policy has an evangelical soul. Nor is it content merely to evangelize, to bring the “good news” to those deemed less fortunate; it can also be activist in imposing regime change. It is within this context that American actions in Iraq, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya should be viewed.
The Arab Middle East typically divides between monarchies and “republics,” all to some degree authoritarian. Since there is no tradition of a “democratic” opposition the only replacement parties are either military or Islamist. In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) was forced underground by Mubarak following the assassination of Anwar Sadat. And today the Brotherhood’s most visible offspring are al-Qaeda and Hamas. Earlier this week an MB-inspired Islamist party in Tunisia, described by the New York Times as “moderate” although boasting a militant history, won the preliminary election in Tunisia; another MB-inspired party is likely to form the next government in Libya.
Although the Bush administration floated several rationales (sidestepping “oil”) to justify its invasion of Iraq the theme that always resurfaced was its desire to free the Iraqi people from the tyrant and bestow upon them democratic governance. Similarly when Obama identified with Cairo’s Tahrir protesters and ordered Mubarak out the intention was to replace the Egyptian tyrant with a liberal democracy. And how many Libyans died the result of the US-led allied intervention to protect them from their tyrant? And to what end, the likely successor regime a branch of the same Muslim Brotherhood?
The day following its grisly murder of Qadafi the leader of the National Transitional Council (NTC) Mustafa Jalil announced, "As a Muslim country, we have adopted the Islamic Sharia as the main source of law.” Does Obama really believe that Libya’s likely Brotherhood or al-Quaida successor regime will provide a more humane and liberal replacement Qadafi, that it will provide liberty and justice for all, for women? How will an Islamist Libya better confront Islamist terrorism than the deposed Qadafi regime, partner in America’s war against terror?
If America’s intervention in Egypt was motivated by “power to the people,” are the Egyptians and the US happy with the continuation of the military regime for which Mubarak was, after all, only the public face; would the Egyptian protesters have been better off with that other likely successor, the MB and Sharia law? In 1979 the US ousted its long-time ally the Shah of Iran in support of the student protesters of Tehran. Within four months the student leaders were murdered or imprisoned or, if lucky, had fled Iran.
Reuters June 29, 2010: President Obama meets with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in the Oval Office.
If Bush chose to ignore regional leaders warning against deposing Sadam, Obama also chose to ignore the same regarding Mubarak: “It was no coincidence that the most outspoken proponents of Mr. Mubarak’s rule were Israel and Saudi Arabia who, with Egypt, formed the backbone of American dominance in the region.” During the crisis, US officials received “daily calls from Israel, Saudi Arabia and others who feared an Egypt without Mr. Mubarak would destabilize the entire region.” Whenever they got the chance, the Saudis told the United States to avoid undermining Mubarak.
Is it even possible that Obama’s advisors, from Biden and Clinton to his professional Middle East staff, failed to understand that Tahrir Square represented a disorganized and politically inchoate social protest, that the only organized and experienced alternative to the military were the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood? But the military, in power since Nasser overthrew the monarchy in 1952, was not likely to voluntarily leave the scene, as confirmed on 15 October, 2011: “Two members of the military council that took power after the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak said for the first time in interviews this week that they planned to retain full control of the Egyptian government even after the election of a new Parliament begins in November. The legislature will remain in a subordinate role similar to Mr. Mubarak’s former Parliament, they said, with the military council appointing the prime minister and cabinet.”
Saudi Arabia: “The Obama administration and its support for democratic change in the Middle East has been on a collision course with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other traditional monarchies of the Persian Gulf. The crunch finally came this week with a sharp break over how to deal with protest in Bahrain.” The Saudis share a border with Yemen to the south, a causeway to Bahrain off their coast to the east. Any Iranian involvement in these countries would be a concern to the Saudis, and an issue they would look to the United States to back them on. But “the administration of President Barack Obama has dismissed any link between the Shi''ite revolt in Bahrain and Iran…U.S. officials have been arguing that Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy must make political compromises to give more power to the Shiite majority there… This American enthusiasm for change has been anathema to the conservative regimes of the Gulf, and on Monday they backed Bahrain’s ruling Khalifa family with military force, marching about 2,000 troops up the causeway that links Bahrain to Saudi Arabia.”
Is the principal of yet another Iran-inspired, Shiite-dominated “democracy” on the doorstep of the Saudis worth the threat to the production and transport of oil, to America’s home port to the Fifth Fleet tasked with protecting the waterway and the Straights of Hormuz through which the oil must transit? Where is American proportionality, a sense of American priorities, material national interests over ideology?
Implications for the region and for Israel: Relations between states, and particularly within alliances, are based on known and predictable interests. American foreign policy since 2002 has been anything but predictable. A rational assessment by the Bush administration should have concluded that, as Israel, the Saudis and virtually all Arab regimes warned, the principle regional threat lay not in Iraq, but Iran. Who could have predicted that the US would defy its own self-interest and replace Sadam with an Iran-friendly Shi’ite government in Iraq? Similarly in Egypt eight years later: what rationale assessment of American regional interests could justify Obama deposing Mubarak, the lynchpin of American influence in the Arab world?
Was it rational policy that informed Obama’s decision to go nose-to-nose with the Saudis over Iranian interference in Bahrain, thereby alienating even further the region’s largest and most influential oil producer; that the president would lead an allied war against Qadafi, another supporter of US policy regarding al-Qaeda? American policy may, by now, be predictable, but that predictability is based on anticipated irrationality. America has become a danger to her increasingly more skeptical regional allies.
A decade of confused US policy has greatly emboldened Iran in its challenge to America and its regional allies. Minus a hesitant United States the only other state capable of confronting Iran is Israel. And while American abrogation of responsibility for the security of the region may, in the end, force Israel to act in its own interest, whatever the military outcome of the conflict Israel would face new existential challenges. Regardless whether the decision to attack originates in Washington or Jerusalem Iran would retaliate against US bases forcing an American response. And blame for “forcing” the US into the war would likely have very significant consequences for the so-called “special relationship.”
Next week, America, Israel and the Palestinians: Is peace possible?
Other writings on this topic:5. Israel, America’s Shaheed?