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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Muscles in Search of a Tussle

Cameron and Obama having been caught like a rabbits in a cars headlights during the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt now seem determined to show the world that not only are they on the side of protest but that they stand shoulder to shoulder with the rebels in Libya. That they are, verbally at least, ready to fight and shed blood to topple the dreaded Gaddafi. Cameron in particularly seems to have been pumping himself full of testosterone and watching old Jean-Claude Van Damme movies with the result that he seems to be issuing blood-curdling threats against Gaddafi's regime on a daily basis. 

Issuing threats is fine of course if one can back them up, playing to the world's gallery and saying that you're going to bomb Lybia, or send in troops or unilaterally enforce a no fly zone, when the UK's armed forces are so depleted that they'd now be hard-pushed enforcing a no-fly zone over the Isle of Wight let alone Libya is just crass. In fact all Cameron has done is draw attention to the UK's military weakness, his own volatility and capacity for decision making by petulance.    

Obama too, along with his coterie of diversity experts and human rights advisers, has been falling over himself to look at one with Libya's rebel fighters and cool and caring to the rest of the world. Image and how that plays out on YouTube and Twitter rather than realpolitik now seem to obsess the West's leaders with Obama now so cautious not to be seen putting a foot wrong that he made himself look shallow and vacuous during Egypt 's uprising and then overzealous trying to compensate for past errors when Libya's protests escalated into civil  war. 

This is sound bite politics with foreign policy now being dictated by how it plays out on Twitter, with solutions wanted in days and alliances that were built up over decades now
abandoned with a click of the delete button. In France, President Sarkozy, who like Obama had been all over the place during Tunisia's and Egypt's uprisings, has gone even further in his attempts to be 'in' with Libya's rebels First France recognized them as Libya's rightful leaders and then sending in France's jets to bomb Libya within seconds of securing UN support for a no fly zone. No doubt we will soon see Sarkozy and Carli wearing matching Keffiyeh scarfs. Tres Cool.

Yet who are the rebels that Obama and company are so keen to be associated with? Are they really the ernest young Facebook, pro democracy crusaders so beloved of the West's media  or are they Islamist fanatics who will replace Gaddafi's dictatorship with one of their own? The West has no idea. Certainly not the CIA whose director was reduced to watching Al Jezeera and CNN to find out what was happening during Mubarack's final days or the UK's Foreign Secretary Willaim Hague,  whose overseeing and involvement in the sending of a 'small diplomatic team' to Libya which was then captured by Libya's rebel forces along with an SAS squad sent to rescue them made Hague and the UK look ridiculous. 

More riduculous still is the West's rush to recognize, endorse and interfere in Middle East affairs at a stage where existing order is still in a state of flux and new rulers and governments have yet to emerge. In both Tunisia and Egypt it is very unclear who or what grouping will end up in control though in both countries the radical forces of Islam are increasingly showing their hand with many symbols of Western and Christian culture being attacked, closed or abolished. Yet within days of Mubarack's forced exit Britain's monarchial leader David Cameron was in Egypt shaking every hand presented to him without the faintest idea of who they were and what they represented. What mattered was that he was there first, in the flesh and on TV with the Tahrir Square celebs. 

Yemen and Syria are now subject to daily protests and violent state put downs and in Bahrain protest has been virtually crushed thanks to nearby Saudi Arabia loaning tanks and soldiers to Bahrain's ruling royal family. Yet in Libya, where nature was taking its course and Gaddafi's forces were on the verge of winning their internal civil war against the rebels, the West has seen fit to interfere militarily, enforcing a no fly zone and bombing Gaffafi's troops into oblivion.

The result has been a reversal in the rebels forces fortunes, with the rebels recapturing cities thanks to Nato air support meaning that the country could end up split in two or, possibly, depending on how much Nato wants to big it up, the use of ground forces to ensure Gaddafi's demise and defeat.  Whatever happens what would have been a violent but quick ending is now in all probability going to be a long drawn out, inconclusive mess with the West faffing around trying to maintain the moral high-ground while the Libya people continue suffering.

Yet this new liberal-left moral jingoism is also totally selective, with no help for Bahrain's Shia rebels who were being mowed down by the King's forces or the slaughtered in Yemen being offered. It is also ill conceived  with the West's might seemingly being committed on an emotional whim rather than national or strategic interests and with no planned exits or long term goal other than being seen to have been good in righting a selective, morally approved, wrong. 

That the move into Libya's affairs was orchestrated by France's vainglorious Sarkozy and backed by a reluctant US President should have been warning enough that this was probably not the best move. That it wasn't was obvious after Obama's brazen attempts to distance the US within days of the first bombings. That, and the emerging news that many of the rebels are sympathetic to, or supporters of, Al Qaeda show that far from Cameron bigging up our foreign policy he's actually dumbing it down. 

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