The hornets are friendly…
By Daniel M. Ryan
Have you ever known a person who has to be on top of everything he or she sees? An inveterate trend-chaser, driven only by a deep need to be where the action is, regardless of significance or worth? Someone who just can't stop talking about what Lindsay's gotten herself into now, and what it means for youth culture? Someone whose entire world seems to revolve around which star danced better with which, or the "K-wave" stirred up by a couple of young women with the last name Kardashian, intensely interested until those names fade away and someone else replaces them? And then shows the same intensity over what's come down next from the entertainment pipe?
If you have, then you've got a fair picture of the kind of person who's drumbeating for United States intervention in the Middle East. There's action there, and we gotta be a part of it!
The Obama Administration has not seen fit to follow through on any such desire. I'm no Obama apologist, but I believe that his standoffishness is the right thing. I stipulate that Obama's reaction is a combination of what Donny Deutsch called a passive management style and recent gaffes when the Mideast turmoil got rolling, but the wait-and-see approach has a lot to commend it. The Obama Administration is avoiding long-term trouble for America by doing so.
Keeping Up With The Khaos
Muammar Gadaffi was likely poisoning the soil when he claimed that al-Qaida was behind the near-revolution in Libya, but the disturbing part of that claim was its plausibility. Radical Islamism, what I called Qutbism about two years ago, is a revolutionary ideology. Qutb's reading of the Koran contains a radical critique of Islamic-nation governments that don't crook the knee by imposing Sharia law. They not doing so, according to Qutb, says they believe they're "better 'n Islam." Any ruler who does not impose Sharia is in a state of Jahiliyyah. To put it bluntly, a Qutbite believes that any such ruler is a de facto pagan and an affront to Islam.
Radical Islamists have tied Qutb's writings to Islam itself. Ayatollah Khomeini preached sermons in exile whose arguments drew on Qutb's work. With regard to one revolution, the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Qutbism was the enabling ideology. The fact that the revolutionaries were rebelling against a king whose rulership methods were brutal doesn't change the fact that the goal of the revolutionaries was an "Islamic Republic" – not a liberal democracy. Radical Islam's 1979 version was instrumental in bringing down a government.
Needless to say, the revolutionaries felt no affiliation with Americans or America. Instead, they kidnapped 51 Americans and held most of them for 444 days. Then-President Jimmy Carter tried diplomatic pressure and sanctions, which didn't work, and a clumsily executed rescue mission, which didn't work either. His floundering was one of the reasons he lost to Ronald Reagan in 1980. More significantly, the hostage crisis made it clear that the United States had to be tougher on the world stage at the outset. The Iranian revolutionaries were initially cheered, and the Carter Administration did turn its back on the Shah.
The sad fact is: authoritarian rulers of Muslim states tend to be reasonable on the world stage if they hail from the Establishment. Sadly, their reasonableness is tied in with their class interest. Unlike the "filthy mob," they can do a deal with non-Islamic countries and stick with it. They don't live in fear of mosque and imam, so they can pursue largely secular policies. They are Muslim, but they don't have the same emotional dependency on the faith that their lowers do. Thus, they have the self-confidence that enables them to govern outside of the shadow of the mosque. And yes, their ability to do so forms part of their class pride.
Because of this dynamic, the United States government has been doing deals with Islamic rulers of that sort for decades. The U.S. does deals with the Muslim Establishment because that Establishment doesn't mind doing deals with the U.S., and they tend to follow through on their end. Consequently, the rulers being toppled in the Middle East and North Africa are widely identified with the United States. In the Qutbite mythology, the United States (along with Israel) is the "far enemy." The secularized Muslim Establishment is the "near enemy."
The antiwar circuit has made much of the fact that the tear gas canisters used by the former Mubarak regime were made in the U.S.A. One doesn't have to be an antiwar activist to see those canisters as a useful symbol indicating what kind of government saw their own national interests aligned with U.S. plans.
"Fool Me Once…"
Although sometimes tragic, there's no reset button for history. Just because authoritarian regimes in the Middle East have fallen, doesn't mean that the United States has fallen. Nor does it mean that the revolutionaries have any reason to change their already-held opinion of the still-extant United States.
The U.S. aiding and abetting the revolutionaries, out of misguided hopes of liberating them, has already been tried – in Afghanistan. Remember when the mujahedeen were the good guys? Remember when they were lionized for nobly seeking to liberate their country from the cruel Soviet invaders? The Soviets actually were cruel; there were reports of the Empire's soldiers stuffing bombs into children's toys. Since the mujahedeen were driving a cruel overlord out of their homeland, they were easy to hold up as the angels. Many Cold Warriors took pleasure in the U.S. sending aid and assistance to such freedom fighters.
We know now that this policy didn't work out in the longer run. The Soviets were defeated, but the mujahedeen proved to be the nucleus of both the Taliban and al-Qaida.
The Scots have an old saying: "Fool me one, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." The U.S. government has been fooled once by bin Laden, to immeasurable cost. Given the odds, and the continued presence of a radical Islamism that has explicitly deemed the United States as an enemy, why would the U.S. government be fooled twice? Why put Uncle Sam's arm around what could be the next al-Qaida, which would be encouraged by their conceit of the far enemy begging them like a dog? Camp followers aren't respected much in any part of the world.
Update: It looks like the Obama Administration is going to send aid and assistance to the Libyan rebels after all. Shame on me, evidently.