(There are probably going to be a few more posts on this subject, but let's get the ball rolling...)
As the bombs rain on Libya, the fingers wave at Syria and the tumbleweed roll across the space in the news where Bahrain used to be, I'm wondering: What is it that the "democratic West" want to happen?
The answer to that should be pretty simple, perhaps one of two options: There's Option A: the old-fashioned short-term interest thing of the last few decades, of letting the Aye-rab leaders do what they like to their own people as long as they're on the right side. Meaning not commies. Or more recently, not "Aal Kayeeda", or anything else that sounds bad, or involved waving fists on the TV in a Millet's windcheater and saying nasty things about Israel. Especially not in English. (No, I know nobody's said "windcheater" since 1977 and it was funny even then, but that's kind of the point).
Option B would be the "ethical" choice. What idealists like to think of as the "long view". That it's in the interests of the West to have all this out now, and get some good old parliamentary democracies set up around the region, at which point they'll all be happy: Peace, prosperity and diplomatic relations with Israel will all inevitably follow.
The thing is, based on actions so far, the US, Europe (less Germany, who have really gone off fighting since about 1945) and their hangers-on, don't really seem to have made their minds up about which one they're after. There is quite a lot of evidence for the former (simple self-interest), as there usually is:
- Ignoring Bahrain. Ignoring the arrival of Saudi tanks in Bahrain. Stopping talking about Bahrain altogether, even on the news. Yep, that's old school (cf. KSA circa 1982).
- Even before that, there was Egypt: OK, in Egypt the old guy had to leave in the end. But the good ol' democrats said everything except "leave" to Uncle Hosni so it surely wasn't down to them. That is, until they'd managed to speak to the Army on the phone and confirmed he was definitely leaving, and it was therefore time to be on the side of whoever was coming in his place (the Army, so far).
- Ben Ali was a quiet one of course - small country, not next to Israel or any major energy reserves, and they speak French quite a lot, so whatever (cf Algeria, since forever, and they have oil even...).
- And then there's Uncle Ali down in Yemen. An ally in War-on-Terror, which is not in fact a seaside resort, but a club where you can torture troublesome beardy men outside your own national jurisdiction. At the same time as confirming that the US was seeking the removal of another Arab leader, US Secretary of Defense Robert ("not Bill the other guy") Gates was replying to a question on whether they'd like the Yemeni demonstratorterminator to go too: "Er, I don't think it's for us to comment on Yemeni internal affairs", was the answer to the bemused press corps.
So, all good thus far. It's old fashioned "realism". Not scary Dubya-ist neo-conservatism where you have to do stuff and invade people and regime change and send the beardies to Cuba for a decade of underwater yoga in orange. Nope. Reagan-era. Nixon-era even. Just a simple question: "Is he our guy?" Yep, he is...so unless he gets overthrown accidentally and we have to make the new guy into our guy, he's our guy. Leave well alone.
There's a bit of a problem with the Option A thing though: A lot of talk about "the will of the people" and "democracy". Ah shit...the "D" words! They don't have elections, those countries, at least not real ones (real ones where 28% of the 55% who voted are considered a "majority", like in the United States/Kingdom). They're not Democratic, and they must be! They've hurt innocent Demonstrators, and they are Dictators! Boo! Come on everyone, altogether now...BOOOO!
And what do we do with dictators, children? Well, nothing usually. China's a "Most Favoured Nation", North Korea's yanking the chains at leisure with its shiny new weapons of mass destruction, Robert Mugabe is still in the big chair, the generals are still running Myanmar (Burma) instead of that nice lady with the weird name who Michelle Yeoh is playing in the movie...but that's all OK. No interests at stake. Most of those people are gooks and the others are Africans, I don't recall any of them saying anything about Israel, mining the Straits of Hormuz or having unusual beards. So what the heck, eh?
Which option to choose then? Surely the "realist" Nixon-esque view must prevail? But no! Obama is about principles, Sarkozy has an election and a baby on the way, Cameron rides a bicycle and there's a global recession. What we need, ladies and gentlemen, is a cause. So here we go, back on the "Aye-rabs must have democracy" thing again. To be fair, some of the Aye-rabs have even mentioned it themselves in between shouting "Go away" and "Allahu akbar". Not many have use the word, but some. Egypt has it now, - being run democratically by the democratic generals and with democratic mobs of democratic thugs stopping a leading candidate from casting his vote in the referendum. Well, it's probably going to be alright then isn't it? Isn't it? Either way, we need an Option B.
The thing is, the principled, democratic West didn't do anything about Egypt or Tunisia. And according to the people who know where some of these countries are without even using Google or Wikipedia or anything, "doing something" in Bahrain, or Yemen, might be bad. And upset the other "leaders" who we still like (N.B, you're not a dictator until the West don't like you - same time as a "government" starts being called a "regime"). So what to do? Option A is so much easier. But the Obaminator's got a record debt to forget, we're all reformers and democrats and "on the side of the people", so surely we've got to sell one of these guys out quick, right? But who? Who can we set alight to appease the democracy-deity?! Who is going to give us the ethical Option B?!
Who indeed? And then there he is, our sacrificial knight in glorious Technicolor armour. What a gift. On the TV, waving a fist, wearing orange and talking shite. And orange isn't even a proper colour for clothes. Especially not for a "Leader". Orange is totally a colour for a "deranged dictator", or a Guantanamo Bay Underwater Yoga Resort resident. OK, technically this dude was on our side, a signed up member of War-on-Terror. Yeah, he did give up all his weapons. And he did send over those guys for a televised trial for blowing up a plane despite maintaining they never did it. And he gave us some oil deals. And he let that whole "we bombed his country and killed his daughter" thing go. Can't say he was the grudging type.
But never mind that, we need someone! Proper leaders don't wear orange. He's had a couple of people killed in demonstrations just like all the others. He said "zenga zenga" on telly and nobody knows what it means and it sounds funny. And the other Arabs don't even like him, especially the ones who are still "leaders" with "governments" and not "dictators" with "regimes". And even though he's on our side and he made friends in 2003 and did everything we told him, we had our fingers crossed all the time. Haha. He even lives in a tent. Hahaha. Baba Muammar, consider yourself to be holding the short straw! Demonstrations my butt! We're giving you a whole civil war, we're joining in on the other side, and you're IT!
So a few more of the funny guy's relatives are "taken out" with "precision munitions". Some guys who used to be the bad guys are now the good guys (1980's Afghanistan veterans at Langley must be weeping with nostalgia). The guy who was the bad guy and then made himself our guy, is the bad guy again. And we're fighting a war for democracy, except with no coffins, weeping widows or ugly maimed drooling men (at least not American ones) to embarrass us on TV. Fan-tastic.
Option A then. With a bit of Option B for the cameras. But it's a bit shit if you live in Tripoli. To be continued...
P.S. I almost forgot about Syria. Much like everyone else. It's a tough one Syria, because he's kind of a bad guy, but he speaks English and he hasn't actually attacked anyone, apart from a few demonstrators like the others. And the guys his dad attacked before were all troublesome beardies who might have wanted to fight to get the Golan back instead of just saying "grr" every now and then. In Arabic, to themselves, so we don't really notice.
Alas, the media have picked up on this one, so we have to say or do something. I know! Me, Mr President, me! I have an idea! We will freeze his assets. And his sister's! Yeah! They're Aye-rabs, they're bound to have all their money somewhere in Michigan...that'll show them. Well, it'll show CNN anyway...phew!