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Monday, March 28, 2011

Will Libya Intervention Change Arab Perceptions?

Prior to Obama’s decision to militarily intervene in Libya many Republicans criticized him for moving too slowly to aid the rebels battling dictator and terrorist Muammar Gaddafi. As the rebels began to get beaten back and the strong hold city of Benghazi looked like it might be overrun by Gaddafi’s superior air and armor ability, Obama and a coalition of mainly French and British forces intervened with air power. Currently, the forces loyal to Gaddafi are being pushed back to Tripoli. Now of course, the Republicans are criticizing Obama for intervening at all, setting up a very embarrassing situation for former Republican speaker of the house and potential Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich who is now condemning the intervention and trying to explain away  making two completely different arguments only days apart.
           Republicans criticizing Obama no matter what he does? You don’t say? What else is new? We can expect little more from that political party. So what of this action? Did Obama have a choice?
           The simple answer is “Yes” Obama could have done nothing. It is reasonable to believe however, that a humanitarian disaster would have followed. As Gaddafi’ s forces drew close to Benghazi he threatened to slaughter his own people; in fact, he said that his forces were “coming tonight” and would show “no mercy.”  There was little reason to doubt Gadaffi’s words since he was recently confirmed by his former justice minister of  having given the order to blow up Pan Am Flight 103 which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270  people in 1988. Gaddafi has also been a ruthless dictator in Libya for over 40 years.
           Obama’s rationale for initiating a military intervention on humanitarian grounds is therefore based on sound information. The immediate goal of the coalition was to halt the slaughter of civilians: mission accomplished. Now, the coalition is moving to bolster the rebels and remove Gaddafi. This is admittedly outside the mandate of the UN resolution but practically necessary, otherwise what is to stop Gaddafi from regrouping and  attempting to slaughter the rebels again? The US, the French , the British and the Arab league are determined that Gaddafi’s reign will end. So Gaddafi will be gone soon. What happens after that will be up to the Libyan people, but hopefully a democratic type government will come to be.
           In all the jockeying among Republicans threatening to run for President and the occasional conservative pundit, there has been little talk about how the Arab world will regard the United States after successful interventions in Egypt of a non-military nature and the currently military action in Libya. It is well established that there is an overwhelmingly negative view of the US throughout the Arab world. Most of this is a result of  our support of Israel over Palestine. Many Arabs feel the Palestinians have been maltreated, bullied and even murdered by an Israel supported and bolstered by American money and the American military.
           But the recent actions of the Obama administration show a different side. The US has been acting like the America of yore, fighting for the little guy evoking memories of the war against the Nazis and the Emperor of  Japan.  Whereas the Iraqi war was seen as nothing more then an unsuccessful attempt to seize oil, Egyptians have first hand knowledge that the US urged restraint on the part of the Egyptian military and negotiated President Mubarak’s peaceful exit from the country he had ruled for 30 years. Similarly, the entire Arab world is witness to the US stepping in to prevent the slaughter of common Arab people wanting only to be free of a dictator.  This is not Dick Cheney’s America where the Iraq invasion was seen in the Middle East and Europe (everywhere except in the US) as an unqualified power grab.  People see the US acting like it should be- requiring old allies to become democracies or get out – and asking nothing in return. This is the idealistic version of America we have not seen since Bill Clinton successfully intervened in the former Yugoslavia to prevent a war and ethnic cleansing from occurring. Every action the Bush Administration took seemed to have a lot of strings attached along with convoluted and often corrupt motives.
           The long term effect of all this could be a softening of the perception of Arabs toward America. Practically speaking, this could also lessen the number of young Arab men hoping to enter the ranks of Al Qaeda. It is difficult to hate a nation that stepped in to help the common Arab people when no one else would.   



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