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Where Are We Headed in the Middle East?

Posted by Larry Doyle on March 30, 2011 5:43 AM |

I do not believe during my lifetime that the world has ever been faced with such a wide array of risks and challenges. Stop and ponder the breadth and depth of the risks emanating from Japan, Europe, and the United States. Volumes will be written on how these economic arenas handle the substantial challenges currently facing them. Truth be told, I believe it will be decades before we are able to properly review and fully assess how the world’s central bankers and political leaders navigated the current challenges. We may never know the full truth of what really occurred and how situations were really handled.

While each of the hot spots referenced above could occupy all our focus, the fact is I believe the rapidly moving pace of turmoil in the Middle East represents the greatest risks on our world stage. These risks run from the political and economic to the humanitarian. Beyond that, though, we would be naive to discount that the current rapidly moving developments and unsettledness within the Middle East may lead to extended military engagements with unknown consequences.

Prudence and diligence dictates that we keep a keen focus on the Middle East. To that end, I welcome introducing readers to commentary provided by Gerard Group International. As Ilana Freedman of GGI writes,

As the Rolling Revolutions of the Middle East continue to spread and escalate, the world has still not come to terms with the complex issues that drive the rebellions, the forces behind them, and the fact that there is still no international consensus about where this is leading. The most compelling characteristic of these events is that they are driven by the laws of unintended consequences. The actions taken today will most certainly lead to events that those who decided to take them never anticipated.

Those dreaded unintended consequences. Let’s navigate further and get Ilana’s ‘inside read’ on developments in Libya. The other day she wrote, Libya-The Non-War That May Change the Middle East,

The following is our assessment, based on the latest intelligence received from both open sources and our own proprietary sources in the field.

THE STORY: The big story is still Libya, but it extends far beyond Libyan borders – to Iraq, to Gaza and Lebanon, to Syria and Pakistan, and to the seats of power in Europe and North America.

The rebellion began with non-violent demonstrations in the eastern city of Benghazi, and was met with an extraordinarily violent response by Gaddafi’s forces. Students of the Middle East should not have been surprised by the ferocity of the response.

For the first few days of the conflict, the mainstream media barely mentioned the events in Libya. However, Gaddafi’s use of mercenaries from neighboring countries, hopped up on drugs and alcohol, and armed with heavy firepower (meant for anti-aircraft but used against unarmed civilians), finally woke up the media. International opinion was quickly swayed towards the rebels. The press used Gaddafi’s own incoherent ramblings and violent military actions against his own people to support the view that in his madness and ruthlessness, he must be brought down.

As President Obama said quite plainly, “Gaddafi has to go!” But Gaddafi’s troops made serious inroads as they moved east into the rebel-held territories. Until the coalition became involved, and the tide turned against Gaddafi’s forces. The rebels began to gain ground, pushing back westward with coalition support from the air. As of this writing, the situation remains fluid and new reports could still provide surprises.


But who are the rebels against whom Gaddafi has been fighting and for whom we are now providing support? Are they really the good guys, or are we just trying to replace the devil we know with a devil we don’t know yet? How do we assess this new war in which we now find ourselves embroiled?

Consider this:

1. Is it useful to know that 20% of the foreign fighters who were attacking and killing American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan were from east Libya, home of the rebellion?
2. Or that some of these same men have returned and have joined the fighting in Libya?*
3. Or that al-Qaeda issued a call for supporters early in March to back the Libyan rebellion, telling them it would lead to the imposition Islamic law in Libya?

In other words, the same men whose mission was to kill American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have now joined the revolution in Libya and are fighting against Gaddafi’s troops—with our support. If Muammar Gaddafi is a brutal tyrant who needs to be removed, and if the opposition is led by anti-American fighters dedicated to leading their country into the path of Islamism (not unlike the situation in Iran in 1979), which side is the right side?

The Cost of a Non-War

The United States was slow in committing itself to entering the Libyan ‘no-fly zone’ action. We frustrated our allies France and the UK, whose interests in Libyan oil gave them strategic reasons for supporting their involvement. But once the decision was made on Saturday, March 19, within 24 hours, the US had taken the lead and fired 110 cruise missiles into Libyan territory.

Each missile costs, on average, about $600,000. Within the first week, we had spent upwards of $1 billion on this military effort in a country which, according to our Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, posed no threat to our national security and was not a ‘vital national interest’.

President Obama has made it clear that this is not a ‘war’ but rather he called it “a humanitarian effort”. Yet, until the end of the first week, no humanitarian aid had arrived in Libya from America, only missiles. And up until this moment, our mission in Libya remains undefined and without a strategy.

One of the lessons that children learn along the road to adulthood is that not all problems have solutions, and that even those that do, may not have any solutions that are good ones. The unfolding unrest in the Middle East does not provide us with easy answers to the question “which side are we on?” We need to pick our wars wisely, and enter them with care. And we need to understand clearly why we are fighting them, and how we want them to end.

So why Libya?

The Middle East is unraveling. And in places where we have much stronger vested interest than in Libya. These include countries such as Bahrain where we have an important naval base, and Egypt, where our long term relationship was deeply invested in Egypt’s influence as a stabilizing influence on the region.

There are currently at least twelve countries in which the unrest has already led to major upheaval, so why did we ignore Tunisia and Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen, but choose to get involved in Libya? What will we do if the current violence in Syria turns into the lethal levels for which the Allawi government is so famous? Will we turn our military attention to Syria as well? At what point will we recognize that our resources—human, military, and financial—are not endless, and that we cannot continue to involve ourselves in battles in which we have no strategic interest.

A Very Slippery Slope

The United Nations has set a very dangerous precedent with its adventure in Libya. And it is likely to spill over throughout the Middle East.

Today, the biggest emerging story is not in Libya at all, but in Syria, where the demonstrations are growing rapidly in both size and violence. The climate is right for a much more dangerous conflict than we have seen so far.

Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has already stated that the Libyan precedent has laid the groundwork for American intervention in Syria. And Hamas has already asked for UN intervention in Israel, based on Resolution 1973 which called for the coalition ‘no-fly zone’ in Libya. Where will this end?

Great question? Where will this end? How will this end? What will the Middle East look like when it does? How will all of these developments impact us here in America from a political, economic, and militaristic standpoint?

Larry Doyle

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I have no affiliation or business interest with any entity referenced in this commentary. The opinions expressed are my own. I am a proponent of real transparency within our markets so that investor confidence and investor protection can be achieved.


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