A great article by Thomas L. Friedman, you can read it at NY Times or below:
There is an old saying in the Middle East that a camel is a horse that was designed by a committee. That thought came to my mind as I listened to President Obama trying to explain the intervention of America and its allies in Libya — and I don’t say that as criticism. I say it with empathy. This is really hard stuff, and it’s just the beginning.
When an entire region that has been living outside the biggest global trends of free politics and free markets for half a century suddenly, from the bottom up, decides to join history — and each one of these states has a different ethnic, tribal, sectarian and political orientation and a loose coalition of Western and Arab states with mixed motives trying to figure out how to help them — well, folks, you’re going to end up with some very strange-looking policy animals. And Libya is just the first of many hard choices we’re going to face in the “new” Middle East.
How could it not be? In Libya, we have to figure out whether to help rebels we do not know topple a terrible dictator we do not like, while at the same time we turn a blind eye to a monarch whom we do like in Bahrain, who has violently suppressed people we also like — Bahraini democrats — because these people we like have in their ranks people we don’t like: pro-Iranian Shiite hard-liners. All the while in Saudi Arabia, leaders we like are telling us we never should have let go of the leader who was so disliked by his own people — Hosni Mubarak — and, while we would like to tell the Saudi leaders to take a hike on this subject, we can’t because they have so much oil and money that we like. And this is a lot like our dilemma in Syria where a regime we don’t like — and which probably killed the prime minister of Lebanon whom it disliked — could be toppled by people who say what we like, but we’re not sure they all really believe what we like because among them could be Sunni fundamentalists, who, if they seize power, could suppress all those minorities in Syria whom they don’t like.
The last time the Sunni fundamentalists in Syria tried to take over in 1982, then-President Hafez al-Assad, one of those minorities, definitely did not like it, and he had 20,000 of those Sunnis killed in one city called Hama, which they certainly didn’t like, so there is a lot of bad blood between all of them that could very likely come to the surface again, although some experts say this time it’s not like that because this time, and they could be right, the Syrian people want freedom for all. But, for now, we are being cautious. We’re not trying nearly as hard to get rid of the Syrian dictator as we are the Libyan one because the situation in Syria is just not as clear as we’d like and because Syria is a real game-changer. Libya implodes. Syria explodes.
Welcome to the Middle East of 2011! You want the truth about it? You can’t handle the truth. The truth is that it’s a dangerous, violent, hope-filled and potentially hugely positive or explosive mess — fraught with moral and political ambiguities. We have to build democracy in the Middle East we’ve got, not the one we want — and this is the one we’ve got.
That’s why I am proud of my president, really worried about him, and just praying that he’s lucky.
Unlike all of us in the armchairs, the president had to choose, and I found the way he spelled out his core argument on Monday sincere: “Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And, as president, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.”
I am glad we have a president who sees America that way. That argument cannot just be shrugged off, especially when confronting a dictator like Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. But, at the same time, I believe that it is naïve to think that we can be humanitarians only from the air — and now we just hand the situation off to NATO, as if it were Asean and we were not the backbone of the NATO military alliance, and we’re done.
I don’t know Libya, but my gut tells me that any kind of decent outcome there will require boots on the ground — either as military help for the rebels to oust Qaddafi as we want, or as post-Qaddafi peacekeepers and referees between tribes and factions to help with any transition to democracy. Those boots cannot be ours. We absolutely cannot afford it — whether in terms of money, manpower, energy or attention. But I am deeply dubious that our allies can or will handle it without us, either. And if the fight there turns ugly, or stalemates, people will be calling for our humanitarian help again. You bomb it, you own it.
Which is why, most of all, I hope President Obama is lucky. I hope Qaddafi’s regime collapses like a sand castle, that the Libyan opposition turns out to be decent and united and that they require just a bare minimum of international help to get on their feet. Then U.S. prestige will be enhanced and this humanitarian mission will have both saved lives and helped to lock another Arab state into the democratic camp.
Dear Lord, please make President Obama lucky.