Arab North Africa is in turmoil, and Americans are too tired, disillusioned, or self-absorbed to do anything about it. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
In Sudan, discontent has once again triggered unrest, while in Libya a budding strongman is on the rise. Unsavory outsiders — neighboring regimes, Islamists, Russians, Iranians, even the Chinese — are seeking to gain influence amid turmoil.
The Arab Spring that swept the region beginning in late 2010 quickly turned into a long winter. Chaos and terror slashed democratic hopes. Now Arab Spring 2.0 is upon us. Don’t expect a brighter outcome than from the first.
Sudan’s dictator, Omar al-Bashir, was the face of evil earlier this century. The International Criminal Court indicted him for war crimes in Darfur. The Hague-based court issued an arrest warrant that went nowhere as Mr. al-Bashir was fêted in capitals from Moscow to Pretoria.
Yet last week, Mr. al-Bashir was finally jailed. He was deposed, not by the fictional international community, but by the people he’d ruled for 30 years. In December, as Sudan’s economy sank to new lows, the streets erupted. Last week the generals under Mr. al-Bashir finally decided to throw him under the bus. (No cosmic justice here; those are the army officers who carried out Mr. al-Bashir’s Darfur atrocities.)
How long, thoughm will the generals stay in power? Awad Ibn Auf, who led the coup and was declared interim leader, was dismissed after one day, replaced by General Abdel Fattah Burhan. The street protesters won’t accept him or any of his old deep-state cronies.
These young rebels are still out in force, demanding a new beginning. More power to them, but they lack leadership and are united by little other than opposition to the current leaders.
And anyway, even Otto von Bismarck, George Washington, and Winston Churchill combined would find it hard to solve the economic and structural problems that led to Sudan’s rebellion. Great statesmen are scarce, so the rebellion could quickly turn into a chaotic mess.
As in Libya. Since America, leading from behind Europe, helped end Moammar Khadafy’s regime in 2011, competing would-be governments and armed militias have held on to various swaths of the country while fighting each other. Trying to unify it all now is Khalifa Haftar, a 75-year-old former general who has lived for a decade in Virginia, where he reportedly nurtured CIA ties.
Last week, Mr. Haftar brazenly dismissed international pleas, including from the United Nations, to forgo a planned attack on Tripoli. His army neared the capital, now controlled by a UN-recognized “government,” but the assault, for now, has stalled.
Various militias that have long fought each other nevertheless united to defend Tripoli and stop Mr. Haftar. Those include fighters affiliated with al Qaeda and other militant Islamists, such as Ansar Sharia. Yes, that’s the group that in 2012 murdered our ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans in Benghazi.
Is Mr. Haftar — who has vowed to end the chaos, fight the Islamists and slowly transform Libya — the answer? Egypt, the Saudis, and even France back him. Should America? Strongmen, after all, can bring stability, but for how long?
Picking a winning horse is tricky, and Washington’s recent record has been dismal. We went all-in on Iraq and botched it. Libya descended into chaos after a half-hearted NATO intervention.
Time and again, grim Arab realities have slapped advocates of democracy and good governance in the face. Yet sitting it out hasn’t always worked out, either, and those who call on America to stand down must face facts: A hands-off approach in Syria sent more than a million people into Europe and allowed Islamists to develop a vast caliphate across the Levant’s ungoverned spaces. And when the dust settled, adversaries in Moscow and Tehran came out triumphant.
So no, don’t force our way of life on Arab lands. To remain a world leader and protect its allies and interests, though, America must prevent enemies and competitors from edging us out of the region.
From the New York Post. @BennyAvni