Saturday, January 7, 2012
The Arab Spring, the West and Israel
Gubu World is a blog that was set up in 2007 in order to discus global politics with a particular emphasis on the Middle East. I could never have predicted what a momentous year for the Arab World 2011 would be. We all watched in shock as millions thwarted the authorities whose ability to control information and assembly was drastically undermined by the social networking generation. My view throughout all of last year remains the same today which is that the unrest in the region is essentially a good thing. However, given the instability that the revolutions and regime changes have caused I want to do a very important post about what it means for the region, for democracy in the Arab World, for Israeli security and western interests.
A Good Thing
The unrest is a good thing. It is a good thing for democracy and the dignity of man that the Gadaffi, Mubarak and Ben Ali regimes have been overthrown. I said many times on Gubu World last year that the era of the Arab strong man who seizes control of a nation and holds it until his death has come to an end. Of course what replaces this model will be far from a western style pluralist democracy. But what did we really expect. The alternative is likely to be a multi party system that accommodates Islamists, nationalists and democrats. It will have some successes and some failures but the Arab people deserve their shot at democracy. I for one am getting a little tired of reading posts and articles, mainly from the Pro Israeli right, about the "new Egypt" and the "new Libya" where people single out an incident of a backward Islamic practise and use it to invalidate the wider movement against the tyrants of the region.
President Obama is coming under increasing criticism from some in the Republican Party for throwing the Pro Western Mubarak under the bus and jeopardising Western security in the process. Strange really when you consider that during the Bush era the general consensus was that democracy needed to be brought forcefully to the region. Now some of the same people are feeling very uneasy that the Arabs are trying to do it themselves. So what exactly are the legitimate concerns of the decision makers in Washington, London and elsewhere. Obviously the US does not want to see a new government emerge from the turmoil that is anti western and promotes terrorism. But does that give them the right to intervene in order to prevent unrest and preserve a pro western dictatorship? Let us consider the following. I have always argued that during the Cold War covert CIA action in South America to prop up right wing dictators was justifiable because the consequences of inaction potentially included nuclear war. The world survived the Cuban Missile Crisis. It might not have survived a Chilean Missile Crisis. So in my view, in extreme situations the US can and should play God. This raises the crucial question, just how vital is it for the US that Islamists are kept out of power in the Middle East. Is it vital? Yes. But is a matter of life and death for the nation? No.
Keeping the Muslim Brotherhood out of power in Egypt may not be a matter of life and death for America, but it certainly is for Israel. The lesser of two evils scenario that America faced during the Cold War is a situation that Israel finds itself in constantly. Israel seems to go through a Cuban Missile Crisis of some sort every year. But Israel alone does not have the capability to take covert preemptive action to prevent the emergence of an Islamist government. So now the question becomes, just how vital is it for American national Security that Israel be defended? Is it so important that the US should put a stop to the Arab Spring. Some clearly think it is. And after all, if you subscribe to the doctrine, as I do that if Israel falls it would embolden Islamists across the region propelling them to power in every Arab nation and that Europe would be their next target, then you must conclude that the preservation of Israel is a life or death issue for the west as well. However this conundrum must be examined from different angles. Israel is a nation of seven million people. There are 270 million Arabs living across 22 nations. A foreign policy designed to preserve dictatorship in the Arab world so that the seven million inhabitants of Israel can live in safety makes little sense. I suppose the truth is nobody really believes that the White House should have protected Mubarak, not when so much of the discourse over the past decade has been about bringing democracy to the Middle East. In truth, what I am hearing is most likely Republicans grasping at straws when it comes to criticising Obamas Foreign Policy which they will probably privately admit, has been better than expected. However if the Muslim Brotherhood do seize control in Egypt and Islamists look like coming to power in Libya this debate will develop into the most serious dilemma in US Foreign Policy in thirty years. And the question at the center of the dilemma will be, just how important is Israel to America and the west.