Friday, February 25, 2011

US outlook is like "Whac-a-Mole"...

   "... As US officials survey the Middle East, they are trying to assess the likelihood of new flare-ups and the consequences of ongoing as well as successful uprisings.  Dependent on reporting from Embassies in the region as well as US intelligence sources, they have, at best, only a notion of what is likely to come. "It's a bit like "Whac-A-Mole," said one Administration insider this week referring to a popular arcade game.  "Up pops one problem just as quickly as another seems to disappear."
    The major problem this week is, of course, Libya.  Although some analysts believe that Libyan strongman Mouamar Qaddafy has descended into nearly complete madness, others are not counting him out so quickly.  "He has got a plane fueled and ready for escape," said one US official.  "But it is not clear yet whether the opposition can take Tripoli or an all-out civil war could be in the offing.  What is certain, say key US officials, is that no matter the outcome, it will not be pleasant for the Libyan people.  "Even if Qaddafy is overthrown, there is no civil society to replace him," says one veteran State Department official.  And there is considerable concern in Washington about the power emerging in the eastern part of Libya where the rebellion has had its greatest success because it is also home to the radical Libyan Islamic Action Front.
    However, it is the outcome in next door Egypt that is of the most concern.  There the peaceful revolutionaries who toppled Hosni Mubarak, while having ambitions to create a democratic society, still, in the view of long time US analysts, are at a disadvantage vis-a-vis both the Moslem Brotherhood and the Military establishment.  The latter, led by Defense Minister Muhammad Tantawy, is, for the time being in firm control.  And some US analysts are skeptical that the military will give real power to civilians anytime soon.  Says one key State Department official, "I think the best we can hope for is the old Turkish
model, where an elected civilian leadership must always be careful not to alienate the military -- either politically or economically.  The worst outcome would be for something along the lines of the Pakistani model where the military rules in all but name."
    What still rankles many in the State Department, not to mention key allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia, is the way the White House helped to push Mubarak from office.  "The Saudis were in a state of disbelief," says one key State Department official. He argues that the White House "kept moving the goal posts" and points out that when former Ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner was sent to talk to Mubarak, the Egyptian leader agreed not to run
again for President this fall, nor allow his son, Gamal to run in his stead.  Mubarak also agreed to begin to set in motion a series of reforms.  However, just days later the White House was pressing for his departure from office.  "The President's advisors cared most about getting their man out in front of the curve, not keeping promises," complains this official.
    The counter argument offered by the White House centers on how crucial it was for the US to win the battle for the trust of the Egyptian people.  "There could be no stability without deep reforms and Mubarak was not the man to do it," said one well- placed source.  "Cosmetic change would only buy time."  However, no one sees Tantawy as an architect of deep reforms.  Already he has sidelined Vice President Omar Suleiman, considered by many the most capable military leader.  
"They all have much to work out before democracy comes to Egypt, " says one State Department expert.   Some believe that among the civilian leadership the most likely man to emerge will be Amr Moussa, Secretary General of the Arab League, a secular man of the Egyptian elite ["He loves his afternoon scotch and cigars," (egypt has been longing for a guy like this!) says one veteran US official] but also a man who ran afoul of Mubarak. Administration officials concede that he will be a "handful" to deal with both for the US and Israel but insist he buys into the US/Israel/Camp David accords approach to the Middle East.
    The other key country all are watching carefully is Saudi Arabia.  Although not yet directly experiencing unrest, concern is about events next door in Bahrain.  Here, as in Egypt, the Administration is pressing Bahrain's leadership for reforms.  And this week they see signs of success.  They note there has been nearly a week without violence and Bahrain's King Hamad al- Khalifa took the unprecedented step of releasing nearly two dozen political prisoners.  Ultimately, however, most analysts believe that if Khalifa's Sunni monarchy is truly threatened...
    US officials find it telling that Iran, which has fomented trouble in Bahrain in the past, has not been active there now. The reasoning among US officials is that Iran has been both caught by surprise by events throughout the region and conflicted about them...
    For some observers, Iran has scored real success as a result of US friends discomfiture.  And top US officials admit that Teheran, in the words of one policy maker "...has indeed been an incidental beneficiary."  From an arms control perspective, the near total focus by top Administration officials on Egypt and other uprisings, Iran has bought some time, say US officials involved specifically in reigning in Teheran's nuclear program. That has left the US with a decision on how to implement the next set of sanctions -- which are likely to target Iran's central bank and its oil exports.Israeli officials are especially keen to see the focus back on Iran.  And they are still insistent that the military option be kept on the table...." MEPGS (excerpts)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You may be interested by Frank Wisner Sr.

I recommend two books :

"America's Nazi Secret" by John Loftus

"A Mosque in Munich (...)" by Ian Johnson

A few pages are on :