Tuesday, September 18, 2012

From Arab Spring to Epic Fail

I hope you’re not planning a trip to see the Pyramids anytime soon.

Before we go on, I just want to make it clear that this post is not aimed at any religion, political party, president, network, ice cream flavor, vegetarians, electric cars, sports teams, or mythical creatures. It’s just an observation of our country’s miserable track record in Middle Eastern policy.

This post has been marinating on my word processor and in my mind since September 12th. So much has happened so quickly that it’s been tough to process. It’s even tougher to find words to address it all, but I’ll try…The last thing I saw on TV on September 11th was a montage of images from the 9/11 attacks followed by a brief mention of some trouble at the American embassy in Egypt and a diplomat being killed in Libya. The first thing I heard on the news the next morning was that Muslim extremists had stormed the American embassy in Egypt, burning the American flag (that was flying at half-mast in remembrance of the 9/11 attacks) and killed another four American diplomats in Libya, the ambassador among them. As of this writing, mobs are still gathered outside American embassies across Africa and Asia.

These are the same people the media rooted for during last year’s ‘Arab Spring.’ And it wasn’t just the media propping up this extremist takeover. Our own government called for regime change in both countries and actually provided air support to Libyan rebel forces until Gadhafi was captured and summarily executed.

Is it a coincidence that this all began on the same day at separate U.S. embassies in two countries? Was it a fluke that ‘spontaneous’ protestor in Libya had rocket propelled grenades and knew the exact location of the ‘secret’ safe house and that our ambassador was there that day?  Is it happenstance that it all happened on 9/11? I have my doubts. As the old intelligence community saying goes, “If you believe in coincidence, you don’t belong in Intelligence.” And then there’s the movie…Either this is a smoke screen to distract from incompetent foreign policy or this flick has succeeded in ticking off more people than Star War Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

 In the past thirty years, our Middle Eastern foreign policy hasn’t exactly been a study in how to win friends and influence people. Here are a few highlights:

·         Iran, a former ally, is now a terrorist state on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapon capability.

·         We supported the Mujahedeen against Soviet invaders only to see that nation taken over by the Taliban and turned into a haven for Al-Queda.

·         We invaded Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003. After a decade of war, Afghanistan is still a mess. We’ve left Iraq in danger of being set ablaze by old hatreds and Iran is stoking the flames (see my last blog post).

·         After the U.S. supported overthrows of their long-standing dictators, Egypt and Libya are set to follow in Iran’s footsteps with Syria close behind.

·         The entire Islamic world now seems enraged against us.

·         And in the middle of all this we’re giving our only ally in the region, Israel, the cold shoulder.

How can so many experts be so wrong? Again, I’m not criticizing any specific party or administration. What I’m pointing out is a chronic inability to understand Middle Eastern culture and psychology. Outside of a few occasions, our default setting can be summed up with, “If we’re nice to them, they’ll be nice to us.”

Here’s the problem: We keep expecting them to think and act like we do. By that I mean we expect them to behave like a democratic society. Virtually every country in the region has been ruled by iron-fisted dictators or monarchs for centuries. Under this violent dog-eat-dog culture, respect and fear are synonymous and both are gained through force and intimidation. You’re either a master or a slave – a wolf or a sheep. Kindness is weakness. So is mercy. And apologies amount to submission. It’s a tough, brutal place and negotiations for everything from the price of a donkey to nuclear arms agreements are conducted accordingly. We are all products of the world we grow up in. Their world is very different from ours. We must understand that going in.

Also, extremists don’t hate us because of anything we’ve done. They hate us because we exist. Period. You can’t expect irrational people to act rationally. You can’t trust someone who refuses to recognize your right to live. Either you live in fear of them or they live in fear of you. Remember what your dad said about standing up to bullies in grade school? Same goes here. Have you ever seen what happens when a little bully figures out he can pick on a bigger kid and get away with it? It ain’t pretty.

In an example of our push-over foreign policy, the Cairo embassy issued this scathing rebuke as the mob climbed over its walls and tore down our flag:

The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims…

Yeah. That’ll show ‘em.

Dictatorships are very bad things. Always have been. But by helping to topple them in countries unprepared for the concepts of free speech and other basic human rights, we merely create voids to be filled by far worse things. The people we meant to help are ultimately harmed and our national security is invariable threatened. Sometimes it’s better to deal with the devil you know. Regime change can be a good thing if the people are ready and demand real freedom. Just look at the progress Eastern Europe has made since 1991. The Middle East, for the most part, isn’t there yet.

I’m not advocating war by any means. I actually think the best course is to achieve energy independence and make these countries irrelevant. Like we used to say in Iraq, “If these were carrot fields instead of oil fields, we wouldn’t be here.”

But for now the nest we can do is negotiate like the superpower we are (while we still are, anyway). To paraphrase a radio hosts recent comment, “Speak softly… and if you don’t have a big stick, you’d better grow one.”

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