In 1956 France and the UK stood (together with Israel) against the US over the Suez crisis and were eventually forced into an embarrassing climb down. In 1976 the Iranian revolution placed an enormous chip on America’s shoulder and ever since they have been cautious about any kind of Shia power. In 1999 NATO enforced a No Fly Zone over Bosnia without the power of a UN resolution but it had chain of command issues that made it far less effective. In 2003, the UK and the US led the invasion of Iraq, but France kept out of what many consider to have been an illegal war as no second, explicit UN Resolution was passed.
Politically, US policy has been to talk of spreading democracy, while supporting autocratic Arab States such as Saudi Arabia, Mubarak’s Egpyt, Bahrain and the other Gulf States, none of which are either Shia or democratic. For years the US has been happy to maintain the status quo, swapping arms for oil but not really doing anything to protect the human rights or democratic ambitions of the Arab man in the street.
Scroll forward to 2011 and the Arab Spring. We in the West have seen how, far from extremist Wahhabis driving bloody revolutions to set up fundamentalist theocracies, the real man in the Arab street is not so far away from our own view of ourselves in wanting human rights, democracy and a fair deal and asking for them peacefully.
In Libya, the West’s dithering and talking but no action is costing lives and giving tacit support to the autocratic leader Muammar Gaddafi, a despot if ever there was one. In Bahrain, the West has been silent, even as Saudi forces have invaded the tiny island to forcefully put down the majority Arab Shia population to protect the Sunni Arab Royal Family.
In fairness though, France – and one step behind, the UK – have been pushing for action but their memories go back to 1956 so they don’t want to act without US support. While Obama has been happy to castigate Gaddafi and call for him to go, the lack of any firm action or support for anyone else taking action is perhaps due to memories from 1976 of the Iranian revolution and of course, Iraq. With memories of the Iraq war and all the criticism of not taking a second UN resolution, this time the US is hiding behind wanting a resolution. The problem with that is that both Russia and China say they would veto such a move (after all, they have both been pretty autocratic themselves recently in Chechnia and Tiananmen Square). Gaddafi’s forces are getting closer to Benghazi every day, and have said they are only 48 hours from victory. Even the Arab League has requested a No Fly Zone.
So the West is bound by indecision, allowing the scars of the past to create new wounds today. What wounds are these? Well, if they do nothing to support the Libyan rebels – who France has recognised as the rightful government of Libya – then Gaddafi will continue in power. Because the West has been calling for him to go, freezing his assets, talking about using the International Criminal Court and other fighting talk it is 100% likely that Gaddafi will go back to his old ways of sponsoring terrorists like the IRA, the Lockerbie bombers and many other groups across Africa and beyond. He will certainly create a blood bath in his own country, giving the West the reputation of all mouth, no trousers (something many people are saying about Obama anyway).
Gaddafi may even return to chasing nuclear weapons. He will see the West as having burned their bridges with him. His reactions are bound to be whatever he can do to upset the West and to cost them more money, influence or economic success. Maybe he’ll give exclusive rights to Chinese or Russian oil companies? Whatever he does, rest assured it will be a threat to the NATO countries.
Then there’s Bahrain. The King there is showing himself to be a bit of a plonker when it comes to strategy. The Crown Prince on the other hand seems more in touch with reality as he has backed moves towards a Constitutional Monarchy with democracy for the ordinary citizens. But the King is in charge, he has the money and he wants to keep it all. His intransigence is however pushing the currently peaceful population away from the path of peace and thereby opening the gates to more radical influences such as the Iranians.
We shouldn’t forget Egypt either. Their peaceful revolution is in a state of flux at the moment, with protestors hoping for complete freedom and democracy, the Army perhaps more conservative. We should not think that the new Egypt that comes out of all this mess in the Middle East will not be influenced in some way by what’s happening elsewhere right now. If they see the West as more in favour of despots and autocrats than freedom and democracy, they may be less compliant when it comes to responding to the wishes of the West in the future.
All of this is pushing America’s spoiled child, Israel, into a dangerous place. A lack of action by the West now is opening the door to the extremists which could increase the influence of their Iranian enemies across the whole region, from Bahrain in the East, to Egypt and Libya in the West. And that’s not mentioning the situation in Yemen or Oman or the Wahhabis.
If the West continues to contemplate its navel, evil will triumph and bad things could happen. Nobody can be sure what these might be exactly, but I’d rather make the Arabs my friends than my enemies (since they supply so much oil). Pushing them into the Iranian camp would place at risk world energy supplies and cause great instability. It could enhance the power of Russia which would become a more dominant supplier of oil, while for China the resulting higher oil prices could put an end to their rapid urbanisation and economic development program with detrimental knock-on effects for the world economy.