Last week I explained why I was ambivalent about the attacks on Libyan dictator Mohamar Ghadafi’s regime and the support of the rebels, and the more the Media celebrates the rebels’ success the more I think it was a bad idea. Yesterday I watched John McCain and Joe Lieberman, two senators whom I respect, speak in support of this war, even referring to the rebels as “freedom fighters.” Maybe it’s because back in the 1980’s that term was used a lot to describe the murderous thugs known collectively as the “contras” we supported in El Salvador and Nicaragua, but my stomach dropped a tad when I heard it.
Here is an example of a “freedom fighter” in Libya: rebel leader Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi. As the Daily Telegraph reports:
Mr al-Hasidi insisted his fighters “are patriots and good Muslims, not terrorists,” but added that the “members of al-Qaeda are also good Muslims and are fighting against the invader”.
Those are not the words of a freedom fighter; they are the words of a madman – but this being the Middle East there are plenty like Mr. al-Hasidi around. I realize that one of the problems America has had in the Middle East is that everyone in power – or chasing after it – has blood on his hands. The Martin Luther Kings, the Vaclev Havels, the Andre Sakharovs in the region have all been killed over the ages, and the institutions that support their creation – religious institutions and academia – simply don’t exist. Islam today is best considered to be where Christianity was during the Middle Ages: it offers no protection for anyone who doesn’t share its specific view of world domination. There are no Islamic peacemakers in the region, no leaders who could be considered as untainted by corruption and murder. Why? Because corruption and murder is how you survive in the Middle East if you dare to taste power; it has been that way since the days of Mohammed, and probably predates even him by millennia.
So we end up picking a side. Back in the 1950’s we backed the Shah of Iran. In the 1970s we chose Anwar Sadat after signing the Camp David Accords. After Sadat was assassinated we backed his successor, Hosni Mubarak. We’ve supported Saddam Hussein after the Shah was overthrown, King Hussein of Jordan and the Saudis and other assorted kingdoms in the Middle East. None of these men have the morality of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. None of them had the metanoia that turned Nelson Mandela from a leader advocating filling the air with the blood of white people to a man who with his mortal enemy guided the rebirth of his nation along a bloodless path (unfortunately for South Africa his successors have jeopardized this success, but I digress).
The problem is that by choosing a side, especially one which acts amorally depending on its circumstances, we open ourselves to charges of acting in our own interests (as if somehow this is a crime of states to do), backing murderous regimes with bad human rights track records (as we have in Egypt, Iran under the Shah, and in Saddam-ruled Iraq), or worse, sacrificing our ideals for oil (as if energy wasn’t a resource worth fighting for). We also inevitably find ourselves in the sights of the opposing side so that when one group of murderous thugs that happen to be “our” murderous thugs gets replaced by another, we end up being on their “shit list.” This almost guarantees that the arms and money we gave our murderous thugs will be turned against us.
Al-Qaeda and its Islamist allies merely complicate the situation. In the past when we backed or “bought” a side, at least our man stayed bought. Not so today with Islam. The most egregious example of this has been Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has been an “ally” that we picked up in the region after supplanting the British, yet the Saudis have built a global infrastructure with its petro-dollars dedicated to spreading fundamentalist Islam. Three-quarters of the 9-11 attackers were Saudi, as is the largest contingent of foreign insurgents attacking our soldiers in Iraq. If one of History’s great statesmen like Talleyrand came back from the dead and assessed the situation today where we treat Saudi Arabia as an ally, he would no doubt laugh. What we call our ally he would recognize as a very crafty enemy – a wolf in sheep’s clothing or in the case of the Saudis, a crocodile in a thawb. In fact most of our so-called allies in the Muslim world are this way: from Indonesia to Pakistan to Turkey and on to Morocco. All these states are happy to receive our support in terms of military equipment and money, but use at least some of both to attack us and undermine our position in the world.
We shouldn’t be surprised. Double-dealing allies have been around at least since the time of the Greeks; but the Greeks and Romans knew how to handle them. When these “allies” strayed too far, they paid a price – usually in blood and treasure lost. We have been unwilling to exact this price or worse, even to recognize the problem with our “allies” in the first place. The fact that Saudi Arabia and the Saudi Royal Family continues to breathe let alone remain in power after funding the deaths of 3,000 Americans on 9-11 is proof of this.
So what does this mean for Libya? It means that by refusing to watch one side slaughter the other we have chosen a side. Contrary to what Lieberman, McCain, Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton want to believe, this side will eventually turn on us – even as Mohamar Ghadafi turns on us for supporting his enemies. By involving ourselves in this conflict we have opened ourselves to attack from BOTH sides, not just the one we didn’t pick. How many of the AK-47 rounds we are providing to the rebels today will end up in our soldiers in the future? How many of the lives we saved in Benghazi are going to choose to end them in a truck filled with explosives or a suicide vest detonated in proximity to American civilians or soldiers?
There are many roads in the Middle East but they all lead to one place, and good intentions or “humanitarian imperialism” will not stop us from arriving there.