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Daily Archives: March 5, 2011

“Regime alteration” new US policy in Middle East?

According to the Wall Street Journal, that’s the outcome of “weeks of internal debate on how to respond to uprisings in the Arab world”.

To put it more succinctly, they’ve decided the “Bahrain model” is superior to the “Egypt model”.  I’m not sure I disagree.

In the Egypt model, the end result was the US throwing Hosni Mubarak under the bus … finally … and fully supporting the protesters.   Of course it didn’t end up pleasing either side in Egypt and it certainly didn’t please other Arab governments in the least.   They felt that President Obama had abandoned Mubarak and were worried he’d do the same to them as protests mounted.  The US eventually throwing it’s full support behind the Egyptian protestors had the governments of other countries very concerned.  Among them, interestingly, was Israel:

As Mr. Mubarak’s grip on power slipped away in Egypt, Israeli officials lobbied Washington to move cautiously and reassure Mideast allies that they were not being abandoned. Israeli leaders have made clear that they fear extremist forces could try to exploit new-found freedoms and undercut Israel’s security, diplomats said.

And there is evidence in Egypt that Israel’s concerns have a just foundation.  So, the administration approached the protests in Bahrain somewhat differently:

"Starting with Bahrain, the administration has moved a few notches toward emphasizing stability over majority rule," said a U.S. official. "Everybody realized that Bahrain was just too important to fail."

The reason it is “too important to fail”, to repeat the cliché, is because it is home to our 5th Fleet and other war fighting headquarters.  The fear was that if the government there fell, the new government would have ties and leanings toward Iran.  Suddenly “stability” became much more important than it had previously been. 

The solution hit upon has the goal of “help[ing] slow the pace of upheaval to avoid further violence.”

Why slow the “pace of upheaval?”  Well the most obvious reasons are to attempt to maintain stability and important strategic alliances while also attempting to persuade the effected governments to negotiate in good faith with protesters with the eventual goal of implementing reforms in each country which would make the government more representative. 

Yeah, admittedly, a little on the moon pony side.  The alternative choices, however, are few.

As the article points out there is a lot of opportunity for failure in this particular approach, but while it may be a lower probability approach, if it works it would actually end up strengthening the governments and our ties with them.  And in all honesty, there is no real “high probability” approach for the US in this situation.

However, the argument against it working are founded in some simple truths – A) autocratic governments don’t like to give up their power, B) people in revolt are leery and cynical about promises like that and impatient for change and C) a slower pace might allow other more destructive factions the time to organize while “negotiations” are under way.

Obviously, as one official said, this is all done on a “country by country” basis – with the obvious exception being Libya.  Libya’s in a civil war and it’s outcome is anyone’s guess – although, as I’ve mentioned, usually the most ruthless side wins, and right now the most ruthless side appears to be that of Ghadaffi.   Meanwhile the world dithers and discusses while the massacre proceeds.

Back to the new diplomatic approach.  Do I think it will work?  It might is the best I can say.  It obviously depends on good faith negotiations being a priority for both sides and a real willingness to make change.  Do I think that exists?  I’m not sure.  My gut reaction is “no”.  Instead I wouldn’t be surprised to see governments use the time such a policy offers as a means to consolidate their power while throwing a few bones to the protesters. Do I think it is worth a try?  Yes, given that the choices are limited and instability in the region is not in the best interest of the US.

But, let’s also be real about its chances – we’re talking about two very different views of outcome here (government v. protesters) and reconciling them wouldn’t be easy even if both sides were fully committed to good faith negotiations.  The question is have these governments been scared enough to actually agree to make significant changes or are they simply buying time and using the US as a means of doing so?

Old cynical me, again referencing Human Nature 101,  thinks it’s probably the latter.

~McQ

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