- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 26, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Among nations, as among individuals, there are self-evident long-term trends, often cataclysmic, but with unforeseen tripwires for setting in motion the denouement. At the moment, notable among these trends is the continued failure of modernization in the 1.3 billion-strong Arab/Muslim world.

What a few months ago seemed an irresistible wave of rising expectations forcing a renaissance in Tunisia, Egypt and other “moderate” Muslim societies, now has been stymied.

But the uprisings have had economic and political consequences. Other consequences, still unforeseen, are bound to come along, but for the moment we can note these:

• The bloodiest of all retrograde Arab dictatorships, in Syria, is doomed, its reluctant advocates notwithstanding. Saudi Arabia, chief expositor of a see-no-evil/hear-no-evil/speak-no-evil foreign policy, appeases and funds it. Washington and Paris cower, fearing Bashar Assad’s demise might lead to something even worse than his secular tyranny. Damascus’ strategic partners — Iranian, Lebanese and Palestinian Islamists — who are using it as a trampoline to Mediterranean power, can only wring their hands. Turkey, dreaming of an alliance ushering in neo-Ottoman glory, is befuddled by an onslaught of refugees.

• Egypt, long Islam’s cultural center, flops back into the lap of corrupt if camouflaged military government. The collapse of tourism and crippled local industry threaten the minimal growth achieved during the Mubarak era, with the country still facing a yawning demographic bulge of unemployed young Egyptians. Army leadership, shrewd enough to continue a half-peace with a formidable enemy, Israel, nevertheless flirts with populist anti-Semitism, while enriching itself through protectionist, crony-state capitalism, rather than opening the economy up to investment, technology transfer and rapid growth.

• Pakistan, the largest self-proclaimed Muslim state with nearly 200 million people (ironically, conceived as an Islamic modernizing force at its founding in 1947), is imploding. Its military, the only Pakistani “national” entity, has suffered a lethal blow from the unilateral surgical American strike killing Osama bin Laden. The perception of impotence and incompetence fuels rising opposition to the generals and their incestuous relationship with the country’s greedy Punjabi feudal elite. U.S. efforts to foster a make-believe, parallel, civilian-led democratic government only feed anti-Americanism.

The Obama administration, buying into the mythology of Muslim victimization reinforced by the president’s own pseudo-Marxian historical view, has no strategy for dealing with the Persian Gulf nations and the power they wield — however haphazardly — by virtue of their energy wealth. The administration’s muddled “alternative energy” policies — not excluding last week’s crassly political release of Strategic Petroleum Reserve oil — are ever more irrelevant in the face of vast new fossil-fuel discoveries, from shale gas and deepwater drilling to potential oil finds in the Arctic.

Libya encapsulates Mr. Obama’s failing attempt to wind down President Bush’s “war on terrorism.” Refusing to extend the full weight of U.S. arms to NATOs effort against Tripoli risks a resumption of Col. Gadhafi’s long history of terrorism against Americans. In the bargain, the Libyan crisis dramatizes long-ignored inadequacies within NATO, which has become increasingly dependent on American military muscle.

Mr. Obama’s Afghanistan-withdrawal announcement touched all the domestic 2012 electoral bases, but offered no solution to the fundamental problem — having taken on Islamic radicals, Washington has not struck the lethal blow. There is no Hitler bunker suicide, no Japanese militarists’ surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri, the Osama drama notwithstanding.

Probably unconsciously, the president has taken a leaf from Sen. George Aikens rejected Vietnam playbook; namely, “Declare victory and come home.” That approach, later recast by President Nixon and Henry Kissinger as “a decent interval,” failed, demoralizing the U.S. military and undermining domestic self-esteem for a generation.

Efforts to contain the spreading Islamist virus in Yemen with U.S. Special Forces drops armed with unmanned vehicles ensure the fight will continue long after the inside-the-Beltway “debate” over counterinsurgency vs. counterterrorism once again goes out of fashion. Gen. David H. Petraeus, a counterinsurgency champion, soon will be charged with clandestine warfare as the new head of the CIA. Whatever Gen. Petraeus success at Langley, Mr. Obama or his successor at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue cannot long avoid the basic problem, election or no election: protecting the U.S. from radical Islamic terrorism.

Sol Sanders, veteran foreign correspondent and analyst, writes weekly on the convergence of politics, business and economics. He can be reached at sol.sanders@cox.net. He also blogs at http://yeoldecrabb.wordpress.com.

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