Many Commentators on the left see the Libyan uprising, and that of Syria, as being different from the revolution sweeping the Arab World, that culminated in the removal of Zain El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt. Their judgment and predictions about the eventual outcomes in Libya and Syria are being impaired by this fundamental error. The spectre of Iraq looms large in their assessment of what the outcome might be in Libya. Let us not forget that Gaddafi's Coup against King Idris in 1969 was inspired by Gamal Abdel Nasser's overthrow of the monarchy in Egypt in 1952. In fact what happened in Egypt also inspired the revolution against the monarchy in Iraq in 1958. The history of the region tells us that what happens in Egypt influences strongly what happens in the rest of the Arab World.
The uprising in Libya is part of a continuum of one revolution by the Arab masses against despotism, corruption and tyranny. The western reaction to the Arab spring was initially to prop up the dictators. Witness the hesitation towards the despots of Egypt and Tunisia, with Vice President Joe Biden's remark "Mubarak is not a dictator", or the offer of the French government to Tunisia's despot, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, to send advisors and equipment to help him quell the protests. The tune changed once it was realized that the uprisings could not be stopped. The disaster of Iraq and the failure in Afghanistan has shown the West the limits of military power. The Arab revolution has demonstrated that the Arab masses will no longer endure the tyranny, despotism and corruption that have blighted their lives for so long. These events have led western leaders to conclude that their interests are better served by a change in their policy towards the Arab world.
The West has always been adept at changing its model of exploiting the Arab world. It started with direct occupation and colonization of Arab countries following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. When it became costly and unworkable to suppress revolutions and rebellions among the people, the West moved to exercise control through carefully chosen puppet leaders with sham democracies. All the monarchies in the Middle East are examples of this model. Army officers espousing Arab nationalism wanted real independence, and through coups and revolutions assumed power in Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Libya.
The West continued its interference, and attempted to manipulate and cajole these leaders into toeing the line, and if they did not, other coups were engineered to bring in more compliant rulers. An example of this is the CIA inspired coup in 1963 that removed Brigadier General Qassim from power in Iraq, bringing in the Ba'ath Party and culminating in Saddam's tyranny. Others with time became corrupt dictator-rulers for life and groomed their sons to take over when they died. Imprisonment, torture, and massive networks of secret police and informers created terror and fear among the population, and that worked until the start of the Arab revolution in Tunisia.
I believe a western strategy towards the Arab spring was developed that runs as follows: dictators in the Middle East are preferable as long as they are viable. If the choice is between a weakened dictator with a prolonged period of chaos and instability around him, and some form of democracy, then ditch the dictator and try and contain the democracy and freedom afterwards to ensure western interests are not seriously harmed. Limited democracy, in the eyes of the West, is preferable to chaos and instability in this vital region. A more obedient American and Israeli poodle than Mubarak was hard to find. He was ditched once it became clear that his rule had become untenable, similarly in the case of Yemen's despot Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The West's conclusion with regard to Bahrain was that, with the help of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain's rulers were still viable, and hence the West decided not to rock the boat. In Syria, the rhetoric initially was to cajole Assad to enact some reforms that would satisfy the populace. Nothing meaningful was forthcoming, and I believe the West has concluded that Assad is no longer viable. The pressure therefore has been ratcheted up to hasten his departure to shorten the period of instability. In Libya, the response of Gaddafi to the uprising has meant that a prolonged period of chaos would ensue if he was not removed and the decision was made to remove him.
Of course western powers would attempt to manipulate the new rulers and the populace towards a form of democracy that still serves the interests of their corporations and the financial/military-industrial complex, which is in many respects the form of democracy we have here in any case.
Nevertheless, this change towards Arab despots by western rulers, in my view, is a significant improvement on the old form of exploitation. The Arab people should acknowledge and exploit it to improve their lives. As for equating Libya with Iraq; I do not buy it. It is one thing to respond to a desperate cry of help with limited support (no boots on the ground) for a popular uprising; it is quite another to wage an illegal war and subject a country to a brutal occupation based on a pack of lies. People will accept the first, reluctantly, but not the second.
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