Check my new book out New Beginning in US-Muslim Relations: President Obama and the Arab Awakening at Palgrave Macmillan official website.
This book carries out a comparative study of the US response to popular uprisings in the Middle East as an evaluation of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy commitments. In 2009, Obama publicly pledged “a new beginning in US-Muslim relations,” causing eager expectation of a clear shift in US foreign policy after the election of the 44th president of the United States. However, the achievement of such a shift was made particularly difficult by the existence of multiple, and sometimes conflicting, US interests in the region which influenced the Obama administration’s response to the popular uprisings in five Muslim-majority countries: Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, and Syria. After providing a detailed analysis of the traditional features of both US foreign policy rhetoric and practice, this book turns its focus to the Obama administration’s response to the 2011 Arab Awakening to determine whether Obama’s foreign policy has indeed brought about a new beginning in US-Muslim relations.
Enjoy your reading!
Last May the organization Judicial Watch obtained through a Freedom Of Information Act lawsuit a cache of US government’s declassified documents.
Two documents in particular struck my attention.
One is a document produced by the Pentagon. This document shows that by October 2012 the Obama administration was aware that arms from Libya were being shipped to the opposition in Syria. In particular,
Weapons from the former Libya military stockpiles were shipped from the port of Benghazi, Libya to the Port of Banias and the Port of Borj Islam, Syria. The weapons shipped during late-August 2012 were Sniper rifles, RPG’s, and 125 mm and 155mm howitzers missiles.
During the immediate aftermath of, and following the uncertainty caused by, the downfall of the ((Qaddafi)) regime in October 2011 and up until early September of 2012, weapons from the former Libya military stockpiles located in Benghazi, Libya were shipped from the port of Benghazi, Libya to the ports of Banias and the Port of Borj Islam, Syria. The Syrian ports were chosen due to the small amount of cargo traffic transiting these two ports. The ships used to transport the weapons were medium-sized and able to hold 10 or less shipping containers of cargo.
The second document is by the Defense Intelligence Agency. It reveals two important facts.
One is that by August 2012 the Obama administration was aware that Al Qaeda in Iraq and other extremist groups were leading the Syrian uprising. An uprising publicly supported by the West and its regional allies.
Another is that the Obama administration (and other foreign backers of the Syrian opposition) foresaw the possibility of the establishment of a Salafist principality astride Syria and Iraq and actually welcomed such a development as a counterweight to President Assad forces in Syria. This was in August 2012, that is two years before the Islamic State came into being!
I believe that these declassified documents should make people rethink what they thought they knew about US involvement in the Syria and Iraq crises.
Follow me on Twitter @Eugeniolilli
A bit of self-promotion.
Foreign Actors: A Double-Edged Sword Over Contentious Politics In The Middle East is the title of a chapter that I wrote for a forthcoming book published by Palgrave Macmillan: Contentious Politics in the Middle East (September 2015).
While most chapters in this book focus on the role of popular agency in the 2011 Arab uprisings, my chapter takes an opposite perspective and, without neglecting the importance of domestic actors, it seeks to highlight the role foreign actors played in such protests. To prove this point the essay adopts a comparative approach and analyzes the specific cases of Bahrain, Libya, and Yemen. Popular movements arose in a number of Arab countries which shared common calls for socio-economic and political change eventually aimed at achieving better living standards and a greater participation by the people in their nations’ political systems. There has been general agreement that these protest movements were the result of the spontaneous mobilization of independent domestic actors predominantly interested in addressing domestic grievances. However, once the unrest began the response of foreign actors had a decisive influence on the development and outcome of such uprisings. In some cases foreign action supported popular movements and facilitated change whereas, in others, foreign action backed existing regimes and helped to maintain the status quo.
Here is the link to the book webpage. Have a look!
When the other day I listened to US President Obama’s statement authorizing military strikes in Iraq I could not help thinking about the US president’s remarks about the precedent US military intervention in Libya in 2011. The two presidential speeches, in fact, present striking similarities. Let’s have a look at them.
1) The proximate cause for intervention: a city and its innocent inhabitants are in danger.
Iraq: In recent days, these terrorists have continued to move across Iraq, and have neared the city of Erbil, where American diplomats and civilians serve at our consulate and American military personnel advise Iraqi forces. To stop the advance on Erbil, I’ve directed our military to take targeted strikes against ISIL terrorist convoys should they move toward the city.
Libya: […] speaking of the city of Benghazi — a city of roughly 700,000 people — [Qaddafi] threatened, and I quote: “We will have no mercy and no pity” — no mercy on his own citizens.
Iraq: ISIL has waged a ruthless campaign against innocent Iraqis. And these terrorists have been especially barbaric towards religious minorities, including Christian and Yezidis, a small and ancient religious sect. Countless Iraqis have been displaced. And chilling reports describe ISIL militants rounding up families, conducting mass executions, and enslaving Yezidi women.
Libya: For decades, [Qaddafi] has demonstrated a willingness to use brute force through his sponsorship of terrorism against the American people as well as others, and through the killings that he has carried out within his own borders.
3)The United States has a responsibility to act.
Iraq: When we face a situation like we do on that mountain — with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help — in this case, a request from the Iraqi government — and when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye. We can act, carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide.
Libya: […] the United States did not seek this outcome. Our decisions have been driven by Qaddafi’s refusal to respect the rights of his people, and the potential for mass murder of innocent civilians […] the United States of America will not stand idly by in the face of actions that undermine global peace and security.
4)The importance of US leadership.
Iraq: […] our leadership is necessary to underwrite the global security and prosperity that our children and our grandchildren will depend upon.
Libya: American leadership is essential […] We will provide the unique capabilities that we can bring to bear to stop the violence against civilians.
5)On the decision to use the US military.
Iraq: […] there is no decision that I take more seriously than the use of military force […] As Commander-in-Chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq […] American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq.
Libya: […] there is no decision I face as your Commander in Chief that I consider as carefully as the decision to ask our men and women to use military force […] The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya.
The two presidential speeches show an incredible rhetorical consistency in the themes and ideas used by President Obama to justify the use of US military power both in 2011 Libya and 2014 Iraq. The same consistency is perhaps lacking in the practical use of such a power. Off the top of my head is the three year-long crisis in Syria that has not resulted in a similar US policy…
After the ousting of Col. Qaddafi, Libya has experienced a constant state of instability. The latest round of confrontations marring the North African country pits forces loyal to a former Libyan military officer, Khalifa Heftar, against a number of Islamist militias. Ongoing violent confrontations in Libya recently spurred the United States to evacuate its staff from the US embassy in Tripoli.
Following are two interesting articles providing opposite assessments about the overall effect of the 2011 UN-sponsored NATO-led military intervention in Libya.
Conor Friedersdorf on The Atlantic criticizes the “successfulness” of 2011 intervention:
Most of all, I am struck by the willingness of prominent interventionists to have publicly declared their instincts in Libya vindicated when the country’s future remained very much in doubt, as if they couldn’t conceive of an intervention that would result in more lives lost than the alternative even as the possibility of that outcome was extremely plausible. As in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Washington, D.C. foreign-policy establishment seemed to perform no better at foreseeing how events would unfold than non-expert commentators who simply applied Murphy’s Law.
Hisham Matar on The New Yorker presents a different view:
Those who regret the end of Qaddafi’s regime ignore how the current chaos is the product of four decades of oppression. ‘Wasn’t Qaddafi better?’ is the wrong question, because it doesn’t illuminate the objective reality of post-revolutionary Libya. To understand today’s events, one must remember what life was like under Qaddafi. The state was designed around an individual and his family; it resembled more a Mafia than a political structure. And so ending the dictatorship meant ending the state […] In light of this history, creating a political atmosphere that permits and encourages difference and plurality will be difficult