A Field Guide to the Current Middle East Mess, Part Deux

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The ever-present turmoil in the Middle East compels a second edition of my Field Guide to the Middle East Mess.  

Is Morsi Mubarak With a Beard?

Who is shocked that the Muslim Brotherhood's (MB) hardline and opaque Shura Council leadership considers the Egyptian revolution's new democracy a convenient tool to impose its ultimate Islamist ideals on Egypt once and for all. "Compromise" is not an Arabic word in the MB's lexicon.  After all, the MB has been patiently waiting for this moment since it was founded in 1928.

Recall that, but for Col. Gamal Abdul Nasser's decision to round up the Brotherhood's leadership before they could arrest the coup's army leadership following the combined efforts of the military and the Brothers to overthrow King Farouk in 1952, the MB would likely have been ruling Egypt since then.

They are not about to let power slip out of their hands like the last time.

President Morsi and his bosses upstairs know that, unless they keep the military at bay and act swiftly to create a constitutional fait accompli, the disorganized opposition in Tahrir Square will coalesce quickly to mount a serious popular challenge to the Brotherhood's mad dash to consolidate total power under a Shariah sham constitution.  Having bought off the Egyptian military with candy-coated constitutional provisions that enable it to remain a "state within a state," Morsi and the military are about to spring the trap on Egypt's secularists by submitting the draft constitution to a "speed date" up or down referendum on December 15 that, in all likelihood, the masterly-organized Muslim Brotherhood ground game operators will win. Then the game is over until (and if) the Brothers permit a presidential election in the future.  Stay tuned.

Is there anything the U.S. can or should do to delay or moderate the Brotherhood from etching its eternal control into the Pyramids?  Not really.  The die was cast when the military was neutralized by buying into that very convenient constitutional unholy alliance.  The best we can hope for is that few lives are lost in the run-up to the December 15 vote and that, as the MB achieves its long-cherished power grab -- this time at the ballot box -- its domestic Islamist agenda does not unduly contaminate Egypt's foreign policy toward Israel or propel it into Brotherhood-instigated interference in other Middle East nations. But like any Islamist movement that gains power in the Middle East, the urge to procreate is too great for the MB to resist.  That is where Egypt's desperate need for U.S.-approved multilateral loans, debt forgiveness and U.S. bilateral military assistance will have the most leverage.  Otherwise, diplomatic effusions to urge calm and caution are about all one will hear out of the Obama administration, which will also mightily resist any Congressional attempt to condition U.S. foreign and military assistance to Egypt.      

In Israel's Likud Coalition -- All Politics Is Loco: 

So what is Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu up to by declaring that Israel will construct new housing settlements in the so-called E1 corridor linking Jerusalem to the Jerusalem exurb of Maale Adumim which, effectively, dissects the northern and southern parts of the West Bank?

Seems like national pride trumps national security.

Defying international approbation warning Netanyahu that any such brick-laying violates his own government's pledge never to do so, Netanyahu turned a deaf ear and defied Israel's strongest supporters in the west, including France, Britain, Canada and the United States. Ironically, Bibi is going to coast to reelection with or without E1 construction, barring some earth-shattering event.  His opponents are hopelessly divided, and Israelis are caught between voting for Likud or voting for "none of the above," particularly so soon after yet another inconclusive military skirmish with Hamas in Gaza.

Yet, instead of building a political campaign aimed at attracting Israeli voters who previously voted for more moderate parties such as Kadima, Netanyahu has decided to go "Tea Party" and become an even greater fan of Avigdor Lieberman's extremist Yisrael Beiteinu coalition ideology, even though Netanyahu has no real domestic political need to do so.  

Could it be defiant petulance directed at the Palestinian Authority's UN General Assembly victory granting Palestine elevated status in the UN?  Certainly!  And Palestinian President Abbas' hands are not clean, either.  After all, by marching to New York to secure what really amounts to a symbolic, and likely pyrrhic, victory, Abbas knew he was kicking sand in the face of the Israelis leader smack in the middle of an Israeli election campaign where, unlike in Egypt, democracy and votes do matter.

More likely, between Hamas terrorism and PA diplomatic adventurism, Netanyahu senses that Israelis are in a no-compromise mood. By pulling the electorate further to the right, he accelerates a trend of Israelis who, despairing of having a viable, unified and accommodating Palestinian partner, are using their vote to convert Likud into the unchallengeable, dominant party in Israel for years to come.  Great domestic politics, poor international policies.

Whatever the incentives, political or otherwise, driving a nail into an E1 home is the equivalent of driving a nail into the coffin of a potential two state solution. Once a settlement goes up on that land, it will never unilaterally come down, given its proximity to Jerusalem. If Netanyahu's coalition chorus is singing a defiant, counterproductive swan song to a two-state solution, Abbas is conveniently providing the sheet music.

Syria's Assad Is Surely Going, But Who Is Coming?

The "Friends of Syria" are meeting in Marrakech this weekend as Free Syrian Army forces close their pincers on Damascus marking, perhaps, the long-delayed death knell of the Assad clique.  But for the 21 million people of Syria, 42,000 of whom are dead, 137,000 wounded, nearly 1.5 million internally homeless, and nearly 450,000 made refugees on Syria's borders they face a terrible domestic existential calamity.

Even if Assad does not use his WMD as a last resort against his adversaries, Syria is awash with "black flag" al Qaeda extremists and Islamist opportunists who consider Assad's fall their manifest destiny to create a new Syrian "failed state."

For all the belated international hand-wringing about Syria's threat to regional instability, there is no effective "day after" contingency plan that has the actual power to stop the inevitable vengeance and retaliation sure to hallmark the post-Assad era no matter what the Friends of Syria decide to do.  If you don't like the current Syria book, you will hate the future Syria movie.  Think of every bewitching scenario:  Alawite remnants of the regime fighting for their very survival, Kurds struggling to free themselves and unify with elements of the outlawed terrorist PKK Kurdish movement, al Qaeda terrorists blowing up Free Syrian Army military leaders, Iranian Revolutionary Guards peddling WMD to the highest bidders, Hezbollah terrorists supporting Shiites against Sunnis -- the terrible list goes on and on.  What are we going to do, parachute in a Syrian equivalent of Ahmed Chalabi?  It's post-Tito Yugoslavia on the Tigris.  Whether Assad is able to flee to Iran or Russia or a safe haven in Latin America, the lid has been blown off Syria's dictated and militarily imposed internal cohesion.  Can any of this be avoided?

Yes, but it is going to take a consolidated, herculean effort on a massive international scale.  But even if the international will is there to mount such a national rescue effort the Syrian people, long neglected by the international community in their struggle against the regime, are not likely to welcome with open arms massive international military intervention now that the spoils of war are within reach.

So what can be done to put the best international foot forward despite the odds?

First, the huge stockpiles of Syrian WMD -- some of which have already been pedaled to Hezbollah and criminal elements notwithstanding the Obama's Administration's declared Red Line -- have to be secured by either incinerating them from the air or securing them on the ground (the latter means an international security force of tens of thousands of peace keepers).  Unfortunately,  regime Shabiha gestapo-like squads and Iranian Revolutionary Guards fighting for the regime are not about to pack up and depart, and they have the keys to the WMD stockpiles and are not about to turn them over to the west for safekeeping.

Second, Damascus, Homs and whatever remains of Aleppo will have to be secured by Free Syrian Forces who, in turn, will have to be convinced not to engage in looting and vengeance killing after the regime topples.  Who or what is going to stop that?

Third, all of the rebels fighting to free Syria from Assad are going to have to be willing to answer to the new political coalition recently formed in Doha.  So far, by all accounts, there is a total disconnect between the rebel army and the newly formed, unified political opposition that will be meeting in Morocco this weekend.  To prevent one military dictatorship from replacing another will require far more active involvement by the international community, including Russia, to convince the long-suffering rebels to cede power to masters who were not fighting or dying in the field with them.

What Double Game Is Qatar Playing in Syria, Libya and Gaza?

Tiny Qatar is determined to become the new Middle East Islamist bankroller and has a bottomless bank account to do so.  I happen to have some admiration for what Qatar wishes to become -- a major Middle East player -- but that does not include double-crossing U.S. foreign policy interests in the Middle East while pretending it has us hostage to its lease of a 6th Fleet base.  

It was bad enough that Qatar's Emir visited Gaza and dumped $450 million into Hamas bank accounts on the eve of its missile attacks on Israel, but Qatar has also been funneling arms into the hands of Islamist militants in Libya and Syria in direct contravention to U.S. foreign policy and the future stability of these two nations.  Qatar's leaders are beginning to play with real fire by fueling a regional Islamist agenda that is supported by Islamist arms shipments, and the Obama administration is acting quite obsequiously toward Doha for its willingness to be host and spearhead in efforts to overthrow, previously, Gadaffi and now Assad.

Money can only go so far in buying influence, and while Qatar may be punching above its weight it is beginning to punch the U.S. and its regional allies in the gut.  Qatar cannot in good conscience be a real "Friend of Syria" if it is secretly funneling arms to Islamist extremists and al Qaeda sympathizers in Syria while playing a generous host in Doha.  How about a timely reality check between us and our allies in Doha!  Qatar needs the protective U.S. military umbrella more than we need Qatar's billions.  If Qatar's leaders continue on the Islamist-empowering adventure they seem bent on pursuing (making the Muslim Brotherhood envious in the bargain) creative U.S. foreign policy needs to kick in to put some lid on it.
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