Nearly four months after the Arab Spring erupted on the world, only America’s main ally in the region, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and pro-Western President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia have been toppled by the millions of people risking their lives for democracy and freedom.
Col. Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, President Bashir Assad in Syria and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh continue to hold on to power. Any or all of the three of them could still fall. Or, as I warned in columns on this site on April 14 and April 20, Qaddafi and Assad could still retain power.
All the obsessive comment in the U.S. media about President Barack Obama’s supposed face-off with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the former’s suggestion that Israel eventually move back to its 1967 borders proved to be smoke without fire.
The late U.S Army Lt. Gen. William Odom liked to describe such over-hyped, over-publicized public playacting as “Chinese operas” or ritual dragon dances. They were meant to score cheap popular points for both sides and had no meaning otherwise.
What the 1967 US-Israeli “crisis that never was” conveniently did was distract the American and Israeli publics from the grim fact that neither Obama nor Netanyahu has a clue what to do about the changing balance of power in the Middle East that is shifting against both countries by the day.
In Syria, Iran and Hezbollah continue to strongly support President Bashir Assad. If he stays in power with their help, Syria will be even more of a loyal, rock-solid strategic ally of Iran than it has been over the past 30 years and the siege of Israel by extreme Islamist regimes will intensify.
It is still virtually certain that the Muslim Brotherhood or Ikhwan, will emerge from the post-Mubarak chaos in Egypt as the absolute power in that nation of 83 million people.
Obama has not raised a finger to prevent this and Netanyahu blew any opportunity he had to drive Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, out of its stronghold of Gaza because he never dared to defy President Obama. Yet moderate Arab leaders including then-President Mubarak had privately urged him to.
In Libya, U.S. and NATO policies are even more chaotic and even farcical.
The president’s failure to give a strong lead has lead to a massive rise in anti-war sentiment in Congress. That is perfectly understandable as Iraq and Afghanistan continue to be a mess after the multiple failures of our bungled, bipartisan efforts at national building in both countries. Only Gen. David Petraeus’ surge strategy in Iraq shines out as a clear success in a decade of U.S. war policies in the region since 9/11.
Ironically, it would have been vastly easier to sweep Qaddafi out of power from his small, accessible nation of only 8 million people on the southern shore of the Mediterranean than to project power to the most difficult regions of the Middle East and southern Asia in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. But neither professional hawks nor doves in Washington ever seem to have bothered to simply look at a map. Probably, they just don’t know how to find them on Google.
Right now, President Qaddafi and his family still have at least an excellent fighting chance to stay in power in Libya. And even if Qaddafi and Assad are toppled, the odds are strong that the Muslim Brotherhood will replace them.
After all, the Brotherhood is going to take power on Libya’s eastern border in far more populous and powerful Egypt, and neither the European nations, nor the Obama administration will dare to try and block a straightforward invasion from Egypt if Cairo’s future masters order it.
In Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood has always been the most popular and credible enemy of the Assad dynasty and their Alawite religious sect and tribal supporters.
Right now, the best reason to bet on Col. Qaddafi and President Assad staying in power is that so many pontificators who have gotten everything about the Middle East wrong for a generation have been predicting so confidently that they’re bound to fall: We’ll soon see.
As I’ve written before, President Obama deserves full credit for his determination and resoluteness in hunting down Usama Bin Laden. By contrast, as Forbes blogger Steve Denning pointed out, President George W. Bush and his first Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved the dismantling of the CIA’s operation to hunt down Bin Laden in 2005.
But Obama also blew his chance to support the democratic protests of hundreds of thousands of people in Iran in 2009. Now he’s lost Egypt and he’s blowing his leverage to command or steer events in Libya and Syria as well.
The Arab Spring is therefore no success story for either Obama or Bush II and the democracy-chanting intellectual ideologues who have been urging them both on. It’s making the Middle East far more dangerous for America and its friends than it ever was before.
We went charging into nation-building wars we never had to, and then we went to the other extreme of refusing to use any of our power and influence in our own interest.
No wonder America has become an irrelevant bystander in one of the most important and dangerous parts of the world. And don’t think things will get any better.
To paraphrase a song from Mel Brook’s “The Producers”:
“Springtime, for Iran in the Middle East
“Winter, for America and Israel.”
Martin Sieff is former Managing Editor, International Affairs of United Press International. He is the author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East.”