Obama's Foray into Libya: Guns, Money and Hope for the Best

Obama's Foray into Libya: Guns, Money and Hope for the Best

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Remember the Halcyon days just before the 2009 inauguration when President-elect Barack Obama promised to talk to our foreign opponents, to the absolute consternation of the bomb 'em crowd who feared a peacenik in the White House? Well, President Obama is doing plenty of talking these days—not necessarily addressing our opponents, or even using words. 

His preferred modes of communication include fighter jets and missiles, as well as the loudest talker the world has ever known—money. His urgent goal is to install tame, supposedly democratic, pro-American regimes across the Arab world before country after country is swept up by the forces of radical Islam.

There are only two problems: U.S. plans appear murky past the overthrow phase, with no clear road map to change the status quo for the better; and as Muslim contenders know quite well, "popular" revolutions from the top seldom work in the Middle East and Africa.

Call it the Jasmine Revolution or the Halva Revolution; this enterprise promises to be far more prickly than the Velvet Revolution that brought about the abrupt collapse of communism between 1989 and 1991.

Tunisia, a small Arab country, was used as a prototype, with fairly encouraging results. Today it is in "democratic transition," which is to say in limbo, migrant workers still fleeing its shores.

Next was Egypt's turn, with an ailing, aging, increasingly unpopular Hosni Mubarak ripe for replacement.

Today, with Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, poised as a possible successor for Mubarak, and promises of billions in U.S. aid, the scenario looks rosy. Yet untainted, long-exiled leaders such as ElBaradei lack a strong political base at home, and all foreign aid going to poor Arab countries is usually usurped by those who already have too much money.
Libya is proving to be a far tougher nut to crack. Muammar Gaddafi, the absolute autocrat and tribal warrior, refuses to give up without a fight, relying on state terror as the instrument that has kept him in power since 1969.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., told NPR that he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton know who "the players" are in the Libyan opposition movement, and that they have met with an “individual” as their representative in Brussels. This is hardly encouraging news since Arab nations usually look for new leaders among prominent, charismatic figures who have long opposed the current rule. Gaddafi has long eliminated anyone with that profile in Libya, reducing the opposition leader to a faceless, nameless "individual."

It is all the more disheartening that the inconclusive scenarios now unfolding in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia have to be repeated in at least a dozen other countries if Obama and his "coalition of the willing" —mainly Britain, France and Germany, along with the Arab League—are to see their master plan reach fruition. It is indeed daunting to look at Iraq and Afghanistan, with massive injections of American military might and money over many years, where nothing even close to stability, democracy or prosperity is in sight.

Richard Nixon is hardly an exemplar, yet he had the foresight to visit China in 1972, recognizing that country's inevitable rise as a major world power, as he began the long process of normalizing relationships with Beijing. A politicized Islam, which, far from a monolith, includes a wide ideological spectrum from militant to moderate, represents a similar challenge today.

The Obama administration, instead of expanding Bush's wars into Africa and the Middle East, would be wise to identify and encourage the forces of moderate Islam whose outlooks are best suited to American ideals and interests. More crucially, the administration should act with the advice and consent of the American people who increasingly find themselves cut off from determining their country's courses of action in both domestic and foreign affairs.

Long before the Soviet Union lost its grip on its European satellite nations to finalize the collapse of its empire, it lost the confidence of its own people who had no voice in determining their destiny and had given up on the dream of a "workers' paradise." In our country, a Congress sold to K Street lobbyists and an executive branch that considers even more military intervention around the world as a panacea, are creating dangerously similar conditions.

Many rightwing commentators warn of an Islamic "Caliphate" as a pernicious foreign power, ready to take over the Western world and even to swallow up America. In truth, the first chinks in the imperial armor are appearing right before our very eyes where we live, work and nominally vote.