Bin Laden, Middle East Upheavals, and Rethinking American Policy

Yes, we have a new Middle East landscape with immense implications for the region and for American and allied interests. And yes, the killing of Bin Laden also has implications but they are also different. While the death of Bin Laden is important as a symbol of American determination to fight terrorism, it will not, of itself, stop attacks on America and others. Nor will it change in major ways the dynamics of the Middle East conflict between Israel and Palestine.

These changes in the regimes of Middle East countries, however, are likely for Israel making the “neighborhood” far less predictable and perhaps more dangerous unless a balanced peace agreement can be brought forth before too long.  The requirement must be for all sides to see this as an opportunity. But getting there seems, at the moment, a “bridge too far” for the opposing sides unless America and the other key global players act more directly than they have in the past. As with the current Middle East unrest, waiting only means a much larger price to pay at the end when the Tsunami of instability and long term hatreds and frustrations hits.

What is happening in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria, and other countries with serious unrest is far more important to peace, security, prosperity, and democracy than the killing of one man.  It is in these countries’ future that the future security and direction of the Middle East will be determined.

I had a letter published on this question in the Financial Times of May 2nd, which I will share with my blog readers as it tries to address this issue:

“Better we agree now to commit civilian resources”
Financial Tines, Published: May 2 2011
From Mr Harry C. Blaney III.
Sir, There have been a number of assertions about the “end game” in Libya, including your editorial “The economics of the Arab spring” (April 25) and the letter from Prof Jeffrey Sachs (April 27). The problem we have as we debate the desired outcome we wish in Libya, and, I might add, elsewhere in the Middle East where radical transformation is taking place, is the fallacy of either a policy of “hands off” or as some would call it “benign neglect”, or unilateral “nation-building” with troops and huge commitment of people and resources. Neither of these options gets us very far towards a desired end.

The fact of the matter is that the west, writ large, has major interests in the region. It is very likely that if the west and the international community generally were to turn their backs on Libya or for that matter on Egypt, it is likely that others with less benign intentions – or simply chaos – will take over. What will those who hoped for a better life in those countries, or those that have committed costly armed might to the effort, then gain?

Better that we agree now to commit civilian resources to rebuilding with the support of aid agencies, non-governmental organizations, the United Nations and the World Bank and so on. A major multilateral approach has many advantages, and fortunately the means are there, given the oil in Libya and the innate talents of the people in the region.
The upfront key is helping to support or helping find capable, responsible leaders to assist a broadly supported transitional system of governance once the old rascals are out.”

To carry further my argument in this letter, we need now to think in a long-term perspective even before all the fighting and unrest ends. We have lost too many of our key desired outcomes by short term thinking and acting. Take just two examples, namely Iraq and Afghanistan, at their initial start of intervention. Need I say more?

We also have an internal American problem with Republicans on the Hill that cut some $8 billion dollars from the FY-2011 foreign affairs budget and are now threatening to cut our foreign affairs budget FY-2012 in such a massive way that we will not have the economic resources to help shape the better outcomes that we seek. The imbecility of this myopic sentiment of penny wise and pound foolish is uncountable!

The upheavals we have seen should change that equation but probably won’t.

We welcome your comments!

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