Opportunity and Risk in the Middle East

Like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, I believe that freedom is a right of all human beings and that the world will remain on a nearly inexorable path towards expanding freedom to more people and countries over time.  There will be steps forward, setbacks, tragedies, triumphs, millions of deaths in sacrifice, but over time the line of the chart of freedom will work it’s way north.  There is one great risk to this though, and it can be summed up this way:  If the world does not have a leader providing an overall “umbrella” of physical protection, a shining example, and outbound moral leadership, the path to human freedom will be blocked, and despotism could dominate much of the world.  This “leadership” element will not come from the UN or NATO (though these can help marginally).  I’m talking, of course, about the United States.

Events in the Middle East over the last 30 days reveal the opportunity and the risk I am referring to.  Who will take over in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood or a more secular government?  What will come from the bedlam in Libya, and the smaller but important uprisings in Bahrain and Tunisia?  What will be the effects of all of this on Saudi Arabia and other important countries?

I ask many questions in the preceding paragraph, but here is perhaps the most important one of all:  Will America help lead these countries in the direction of freedom, will we support the groups that share our beliefs on human rights, and will we make the bold (and risky) decisions and statements required to improve the odds of freedom reigning?

It is here where I must express some pessimism.  While I have great faith in our career senior officials in the State Department, I have very little faith in the two most important players in this situation, our Secretary of State and our President.

Why such little faith?  It boils down to one word.  Experience.  First, our President has never led anything in his life, and he has only in the last 24 months had to make difficult decisions.  He was a community organizer, a college professor, a state senator, and an active US senator for less than 12 months before running for President.  He has no international relations experience of any significance.  None of these things qualify him for being the leader of the free world at a time of this magnitude.  He is intelligent, yes, but intelligence is probably 20% of what is needed in the formula for success in these matters.

As for our Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton is the least experienced person to run the State Department in modern history.  Yes, she is intelligent too.  Her experience?  Attorney at the Rose Law Firm, other legal positions, but nothing significant internationally except serving as First Lady.    Compare her background to our most recent Secretaries:  Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, and Condoleeza Rice.  Secretary Clinton is a novice compared to these lifelong students and experts of world history and geopolitics.  Arguably she only received this position as part of a deal with President Obama to drop out of the Democratic race just prior to the convention.  One may disagree this is how she got the position, but one also cannot make the argument that she received this job based on her resume which is completely devoid of experience in this area.

It is difficult to judge their performance thus far in the recent Middle East uprisings, though I have commented on this blog on their abysmal performance in almost every other strategic hot-spot in the world.  I have also commented on their seeming lack of sensitivity towards human rights in most matters prior to the Middle East uprisings.  Most experts seem to agree our Egyptian actions were weak and lacked clarity, and that our Libyan positions have been muted at best.  Secretary Clinton’s first instinct, to go to the Human Rights Council (of which, believe it or not, Libya is a member) was so lame as to provoke ridicule from all sides.  Susan Rice (US Secretary to the UN) struggled to get the Security Council to impose sanctions (delayed and watered down by the criminal state of Russia, and the immoral state of China– 2 countries from whom we seem to feel the need to gain their approval for many actions).  Sanctions were finally imposed but will take months to have an impact.

Peril and opportunity stand before us.  Much will happen the same way no matter what actions we take, but I am certain the factors that make the difference in the Middle East will be dependent on the things America says, the positions we advocate, and the principles which we stand by and back up with money and force.   We won’t be perfect, but we must be good, and overall we must be good enough.  The lives of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, hang in the balance, as does the freedom of more than 100 million people.

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