Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Soccer Dad's Mideast Media Sampler 8/24/11‏

Today's sampler and analysis of Mideast media content from my pal Soccer Dad:
1) Moammar Scaramanga?

From Babylon and Beyond:

Footage is still emerging online of rebels seizing control of Moammar Kadafi's Tripoli compound on Tuesday, including some odd images of fighters with looted gold-plated guns.
In one video, a rebel fighter wearing a scarf around his head and an armored vest, a long gun slung across his shoulder, holds up what appears to be a gold-plated rifle.
"God is great," he says in Arabic before striding off among the palm trees outside the compound as a compatriot flashes a V-for-victory sign.

The article mentioned that gold plated guns were also found in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein. But it made me think of the final James Bond novel.

2) Helping themselves

Anne Applebaum wrrites in Let Libya take charge of its revolution

The Libyan revolution needn’t end in civil war. But there is no guarantee that it won’t. Either way, our ability to influence the course of events is limited. We can aid the rebels, as we have been doing all along: In fact, the Libyan opposition has quietly received not only NATO air support but also French and British military training, as well as weapons and advice from elsewhere in Europe and the Persian Gulf, most notably Qatar. But we can’t fight their war for them, we can’t unify them by force, and we can’t write their new constitution. On the contrary, if we make ourselves too visible in Libya, with troops on the ground or too many advisers in dark glasses, we will instantly become another enemy. If we try to create their government for them, we risk immediately making it unpopular.
What we should do instead — to use a much-mocked phrase — is bravely, proudly and forthrightly lead from behind. When the NATO engagement started, I argued that Obama’s best weapon was silence: no false promises, no soaring rhetoric, no threats. Keep this their war, not ours. The result: The rebels who just marched into Tripoli and waved at Al-Jazeera’s cameras looked like a Libyan force, not a Western one — because they were. The images of them stomping on Gaddafi’s photograph looked a lot more authentic, and will play better in Libya and across the Arab world, than did the images of Marines pulling down a statue of Saddam Hussein in 2003, an American flag draped over his head.

I don't know if she's correct, especially because there is reason to believe that the rebels may not be liberal democrats or that the revolution will otherwise not end well. Even if the revolution ends up badly, though, Applebaum's argument would be that a less obvious American presence would be the source of less friction.

This translates to the opposite of Thomas Friedman "pottery store rule."

Let's start with the Bush hawks. The first rule of any Iraq invasion is the pottery store rule: You break it, you own it. We break Iraq, we own Iraq -- and we own the primary responsibility for rebuilding a country of 23 million people that has more in common with Yugoslavia than with any other Arab nation. I am among those who believe this is a job worth doing, both for what it could do to liberate Iraqis from a terrible tyranny and to stimulate reform elsewhere in the Arab world. But it is worth doing only if we can do it right. And the only way we can do it right is if we can see it through, which will take years. And the only way we can see it through is if we have the maximum allies and U.N. legitimacy.
We don't need a broad coalition to break Iraq. We can do that ourselves. But we do need a broad coalition to rebuild Iraq, so that the American taxpayer and Army do not have to bear that full burden or be exposed alone at the heart of the Arab-Muslim world. President Bush, if he alienates the allies from going to war -- the part we can do alone -- is depriving himself of allies for the peace -- the part where we'll need all the friends we can get.

Friedman was arguing that remaking Iraq was a major consideration of any invasion.

Daniel Pipes on the other hand argued:

This is in no way to argue against providing benefits to Afghanistan and Iraq; but it is to say that these are not a moral obligation. Nor should wars be launched for humanitarian reasons alone.
Should democratic leaders forget this iron law and decide to launch purely philanthropic efforts, the results will be unpleasant. Take the American case: When the population does not see the benefits to themselves of warfare, U.S. soldiers are pulled from the battlefield, as in Lebanon in 1984 and Somalia in 1993. There simply is no readiness to take casualties for the purposes of social work.
So, by all means, bring on "Iraqi Freedom." But always keep in mind, as President Bush has done, that the ultimate war goal is to enhance American security.

Pipes favored the first Iraqi Prime Minister, Iyad Alawi, and strongly opposed a massive American presence. But Allawi was interim and eventually replaced. Maliki has been moving away from the United States and towards Iran.

We don't know how the Libyan revolution will play out, though Barry Rubin is not optimistic:

To begin with, President Obama’s supporters are praising him for having overthrown Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qadhafi at no cost in American lives. I predict that the situation will break down within months into factional infighting, atrocities against civilians, and become a general mess. The main likelihood is not of an Islamist takeover but of rather nasty anarchy.

If Libya does descend into anarchy, then the smaller American footprint would likely be good in terms of evading responsibility.

There were two ironies in Applebaum's column. One was her own argument that while "leading from behind" may have been good from Libya's perspective; it was bad from NATO's. The other is that even as she criticizes President Bush's handling of Iraq, I think that the defeat of Saddam has to be viewed as a factor in the "Arab spring" as it showed that dictators were not necessarily invincible.

3) A photograph of you

The Washington Post's BlogPost republishes a photograph described here:

On Sunday, as hundreds of rebels swarmed into Tripoli and took control of large parts of the capital, and Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi’s rule looked close to collapse, a photo was shared on Facebook and Twitter again and again and again.
Taken less than a year before, the photo captured the ear-to-ear smiles of the leaders of several autocratic regimes. At the center of the photo stood Gaddafi, smiling and resplendent in his golden-brown robes and trademark sunglasses.
To his far left stood then-Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, laughing, and looking for all the world like he was invincible. To his right stood then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, with Gaddafi’s elbow jauntily on his soldier.

Surely the quickness with which these three fell from power is shocking.

But let's go back 9 years. All three were at the Arab summit in 2002, where the Saudi "peace initiative" were presented. I won't critique the peace initiative here, except to say that it seemed more like an ultimatum than an offer of peace. Consider this excerpt from a New York Times editorial from 2002:

The other important new element in Mideast diplomacy is the peace initiative begun by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah, offering Arab recognition and security guarantees to Israel in return for withdrawals from most of the Arab territory Israel has occupied since 1967.
The Saudi plan is gaining momentum. This weekend Arab foreign ministers gather in Cairo to prepare for the Arab League summit meeting at the end of this month at which Crown Prince Abdullah is expected to present his plan. Syria has given crucial support to the Saudi proposal. An unambiguous offer by the Arab world of security and recognition for Israel would fundamentally transform the equation that has brought more than half a century of bloodshed and tension to the Mideast.

Many of the participants at summit are now facing popular revolts at home or have been deposed. The New York Times and similarly minded "experts," who are now supporting the protesters against their leaders, were asking Israel, nine years ago (and subsequently) to trust these very same despots they now dismiss contemptuously.

4) Gaza's Middle Class

The AP reports Rise of Gaza middle class fuels resentment toward Hamas rulers, say wealth isn’t tricking down:

This middle class, which has become visible at the same time as a mini-construction boom in this blockaded territory, is celebrating its weddings in opulent halls and vacationing in newly built beach bungalows. That level of consumption may be modest by Western standards, but it’s in startling contrast to the grinding poverty of most Gazans, who rely on U.N. food handouts to get by.
Some of the well-off are Hamas loyalists. That rankles many Gaza residents because the conservative Islamic movement gained popularity by tending to the poor — through charitable aid, education and medical care — along with its armed struggle against Israel.
“Hamas has become rich at the expense of the people,” fumed a 22-year-old seamstress, Nisrine, as she stitched decorative applique onto a dress. She wouldn’t disclose her family name, not wanting to be seen criticizing the militant group.

I believe it has always been the case that the leadership of Hamas was (to borrow from Orwell) "more equal" than most residents of Gaza.

There are some other aspects of the story worth noting:

The blockade was a failed attempt to crush Hamas; instead it impoverished already poor Gazans, killed off trade and effectively imprisoned residents inside the territory.

The blockade is an effort to reduce arms traffic to Gaza. If the poverty caused by the blockade made Hamas unpopular with the residents of Gaza, that would have been an added bonus.

To circumvent the blockade, Palestinians built hundreds of underground tunnels crisscrossing the Gaza-Egypt border to bring in scarce consumer goods, as well as weapons. But after Israel started letting in more consumer goods a year ago, tunnels were freed up to bring in materials that remained severely restricted — such as raw construction materials.
The prices of raw materials dropped, sparking a flurry of construction.
Some 150 of Gaza’s estimated 700 tunnels are solely used for raw materials, said two tunnel traders who requested anonymity because they dodge Hamas taxes. Some 120 tons of raw materials are typically hauled daily through a single tunnel, they said. The rush of new building materials pushed down concrete from a blockade high of $900 a ton to $157. Gravel was $990, now it’s $28.

The incidental mention of weapon smuggling is interesting as Israel has charged recently:

In the two years since Operation Cast Lead, Hamas (with aid from Iran) has doubled and upgraded its rocket arsenal. It now has thousands of rockets of various ranges, both standard and homemade, including Fajr 5 rockets which can reach the center of Israel. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad has also upgraded its rocket capabilities.

Typical of the mainstream media, the threat to Israel is barely mentioned or minimized.

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