- The Washington Times - Monday, February 21, 2011


The outline of what’s happening in the Middle East may not be as dim as the dimmest among us thought. The news is good only if reality gives the dimbulbs a shot of something stronger than more euphoria.

Turmoil in Libya, much of it aimed at Moammar Gadhafi, looks like good news, but only if a prudent man doesn’t look too close. Gadhafi has run away, perhaps to Venezuela or perhaps not, leaving his son more or less in charge. Junior quickly revealed himself to be quite the junior partner, cheering if not actually complicit in the Libyan air force bombing of the Libyan capital. Not the way to win friends and influence anyone.

Junior vows that the old man and his security forces will fight “until the last bullet,” but this sounds like the Arab bravado we always hear just before quitting time. Some Western observers in Libya are not impressed, figuring that when you start bombing your own capital the end must be near. “But I think Gadhafi is going to put up a fight,” says Julien Barnes-Dacey of the London-based security consultants Control Risks. “Libya, more than any other country in the region, has the prospect of serious violence and outright conflict.”

The insurgents celebrated in the streets of Benghazi, the second-largest Libyan city, and Al Jazeera, the sometimes reliable Middle East television news agency, reported that government planes had strafed demonstrations in Tripoli. Two protesting pilots flew their French-built Mirage fighter-bombers to Malta and sought asylum. A London-based opponent of the Gadhafi regime, who says he is in close contact with insurgents in Libya, hailed this as good news. “We’re all hoping,” he says. “If we take control of Tripoli, it means he’s out. We are worried about the foreign mercenaries. We don’t know how many of them are in the country.”

There’s a lot that all of us don’t know about what’s going on in the Muslim world, but experience teaches that most of it probably isn’t good. Pessimism, not optimism, must be the drug of choice in Western capitals. Despite high spirits over the hijinks in Cairo a fortnight ago, there’s dawning recognition that the losing rogues in the struggles from Tunisia to Iran might not be very different from the rascals who appear to be winning. There’s an overpowering flavor of radical Islam in the lamb stew.

A coalition of Muslim leaders in Libya, who don’t sound like either pious Social Democrats or harmless Episcopalians, issued a declaration that all Muslims have a duty to struggle against Gadhafi and his cohort. The evildoers in the government, says the grandly named Network of Free Ulema of Libya, “have demonstrated total arrogant impunity and continued, and even intensified, their bloody crimes against humanity. They have demonstrated total infidelity to the guidance of Allah and his beloved Prophet (peace be on him). This renders them undeserving of any obedience and support, and makes rebelling against them by all means possible a divinely ordained duty.”

The leader of the al-Zuwayya tribe south of Benghazi, which controls many of the nation’s most productive oil wells, threatens to cut off production to Western countries within 24 hours unless the “authorities,” whoever they are, stop the oppression of the insurgents. Some of this is the usual big talk from one-eyed fat men, but the price of crude jumped $4 a barrel on the news.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — who outranks Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the designated blabbermouth who usually makes the threats to drown the United States and Israel in vast lakes of fire and brimstone — says the protests across the region are “Islamic” despite friends of Pollyana who insist otherwise. “The enemies try to say that popular movements in Egypt, Tunisia and other nations are un-Islamic,” he told a conference of Muslim scholars meeting in Tehran. “But certainly these popular movements are Islamic and must be consolidated.” It’s necessary to remove the United States from influence in the Islamic world, he said, and now is the time to get on with it because “the country’s arch-foe is weak.”

You can’t blame the Islamic wise men for thinking so. The Obama administration appears to be befuddled and divided, and only last week its two top intelligence chiefs told the Senate Intelligence Committee they weren’t sure what to make of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, but not to worry, they seemed like good enough guys. More euphoria like this is supposed to make us all feel good.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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