This is a contribution to the debate about US intervention in the Middle East which is restrained obviously by the fact that it comes from a non- American. It will be easy to dismiss any views of that kind with a simple reminder that they come from someone who does not pay any price for whatever he says. Yet, I believe it may be a plus to have an open debate with all views considered, which helps to overcome any timidity or hesitation in my part.
Thinking about episodes of the region’s recent history, it seems difficult to put a fixed formula to establish when and when not the US is called to interfere in the “internal affairs” of another country. At times, measuring the motives of such an intervention in direct and “crude” – for lack of another word - economic interests is short sighted if gauged even by these very economic interests. The case of Qaddafi could be an example. In the short term, it may be in the interest of the US to guarantee the continuation of the flow of oil and the stability of that country, therefore to support Qaddafi, and allow him to continue restoring order in his bloody way under the guise that if he is gone we do not know who will replace him or whether the country will not be divided. But in the long term this will jeopardize the US economic interests there. For it was clear that the continuation of the Qaddafi regime either by him or by any of his sons was a prescription for more troubles in Libya in the future. Almost all the major tribes have blood separating them from Q and his family. It was only a matter of time before the US would pay a price for the position it took.
Therefore, the total detachment of moral and economic consideration is only theoretical in this case. We can only imagine what can happen if Qaddafi prevails-oil pipe lines explosions, foreigners in oil fields kidnapped, Al-Qaida presenting itself as the champion of the struggle against the infidel regime and the infidel crusaders that support it. There will hardly be any kind of stability. Secretary Gates say “I think we should be alert to the fact that outcomes are not predetermined and that it’s not necessarily the case that everything has a happy ending. . . . We are in dark territory and nobody knows what the outcome will be.” But what was the alternative?. Qaddafi’s rule was pronounced unsustainable the moment a massive popular revolt started as we have seen. True that he is the devil we know, but this devil’s grip on the country has ended then. This would be the case in many countries in this corner of the world because regimes there are protected by a thick wall of fear before they are protected by anything else. Once this wall collapses, they become history sooner or later.
Is it possible then to extract certain parameters to guide any views of when and when not the US should interfere, and in what form?. Based on the understanding that the position of the people of a certain country towards its regime inevitably changes, and the ability of any regime to govern and preserve stability changes in consequence, such parameters should exist in the status of this tough equation- in its ever changing nature-and our ability to read it. Unfortunately, we do not have this magic “thermometer” that can tell us how far we are from an eruption of a massive and sustained popular protest. Until we have such an instrument, the US should refrain from supporting any opposition movement in advance. I am told that the “face book party” in Egypt was assisted by the US. I think that this assistance, if true, was of marginal significance.
The rules of engagement so to speak should be changed completely once a popular uprising takes place. Is it opportunistic to do so? Moral terminology does not apply here without a counter argument. The US will simply be letting it to history to sort it out. The US should neither interfere if the regime, an ally or not, is restrained in its use of force. And it should not interfere to support an oppressive regime if it uses excessive force. But the most important parameter is whether or not this uprising is anti-American, or if it threatens deliberately, by its nature or platform and leaders, the interests of the US. There is no factory that make revolutions somewhere which we can bomb, or direct its products to Iran instead of Saudi Arabia for example. The US should not enter the field of making revolutions or suppressing them. Neither should it enter into the field of “spreading democracy’ and all that laughable stuff. What should be done is to measure its position based on the general rule that people remain and regimes, particularly oppressive ones, go.
Should the US cut its relation with these regimes before a popular revolt happens, and based on the fact that they are oppressive? No. It is not only absurd to assume that the US should take such a step as others will jump to fill the space, it is also meaningless. As the case of Egypt shows, people do not mind much what the Americans did prior to their revolt. But when they are in the confrontation fields with their regime, people tend to be extremely sensitive to who supports them and who stands by their oppressors.
In other words, the “dark territory” that we are in has in fact some guidelines thrown in here and there. An intervention before the people of the place call for it through a massive popular uprising- and not through some fake opposition groups - is not right. In this sense, the war in Iraq was wrong. The form of this intervention could be military only in one case, which is when the regime uses excessive and brutal force against its own people. This military intervention must only be based on humanitarian reasons which should be valid also everywhere in the world and not exclusively in the Middle East.
Therefore, there are relatively separate phases. The position of the US prior the revolt should be based on persistently advising allies in the region to reform before it is too late, and perhaps assisting that effort if ever it is there. Adversaries should not be threatened by empty words and actions of supporting opposition groups that turn to terrorism in the course of events. Such threats are empty indeed simply because revolts cannot be prefabricated and exported.