An Unpredictable Region

Posted: Aug 23, 2011 10:19 AM

No one in the Obama Administration was hanging a "Mission Accomplished" sign in front of the White House yesterday as it became obvious that the Libyan rebels had all but taken complete control of the country.

But, this isn't a game of "capture the flag." The rebels now have control of nearly all the land area of Libya, but it is not at all clear they control the sewer systems, the electricity production facilities, or a police force.

The man recognized by NATO forces as the opposition leader is named Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who is the chairman of the Transitional National Council. What is not quite as clear is whether Jalil has the clout to consolidate all the anti-Gaddhafi forces under his flag and begin to build a functioning society.

In the fog of war things are, by definition, hazy. As an example, late Sunday night (Eastern time) it was widely reported that Saif al-Islam, the son of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi, along with at least one and perhaps two of his brothers had been captured by the rebels.

But last night Fox News was reporting that Saif had appeared at a hotel and announced that

(a) He was not under arrest;

(b) The rebels had been lured into a trap and that pro-Qaddhafi forces will crush them; and,

(c) His father remains in Tripoli and he is alive and well.

By the time you read this none of these assertions may have been proved true.

While it is hard to believe the rebel advance into Tripoli was nothing more than a clever rope-a-dope maneuver by the Gaddhafi forces, it is useful to remember that Libya is a nation of about 6.6 million people, most of whom have survived (and/or thrived) during the 42-year reign of old Muammar.

American military and State Department officials have not forgotten what happened in the days following the capture of Baghdad (albeit by American forces, not Iraqis) when control of Iraq was wrested from Saddam Hussein.

Looting to the level of rioting became rampant which led to the perception that the Americans were not omnipotent which led to first random, then organized, mayhem, disruption and bombings which, in turn, led to our military forces still being there more than eight years after the mission was supposed to have been accomplished.

As we look across the landscape of the "Arab Spring" we see something less than a region covered with flower petals of goodwill and imbued with brotherly love.

In Tunisia, where the uprisings began, elections which were to have been held last June have been postponed until at least October.

In Egypt the ruling military junta has already decided to ban international observers when it holds its parliamentary elections and is, in any case, considering postponing the planned September elections for "from one to three months" according to a recent Wall Street Journal Article.

In Yemen, the near-fatal attack on its president in early June has left the nation in, according to the NY Times, in "a standoff, a leaderless twilight of uncertainty."

Bahrain, which is a tiny island nation in the Persian Gulf, saw the majority Shiite Muslims demonstrate against the royal family and societal elite which is made up of Sunnis. Since the crackdown on the demonstrators the government has been holding formal discussions with Shiites but tensions remain, and changes have not been forthcoming.

Syria is the next big hot spot. The leader, Bashar al-Assad, has employed the most brutal means to put down opposition demonstrators having killed upwards of 1,700 protesters and, again according to the NY Times, "more than 10,000 were reported to be either in custody or missing."

While all this has been going on, the Israelis and the Palestinians have increased the tension levels between them with rockets and small arms fire going back and forth across the borders which has been largely drowned out by the din of all the other aggravation in the region.

Small wonder, then, that President Obama wisely declined to sing the Ren & Stimpy Happy, Happy Joy, Joy song during his brief statement yesterday.

The only predictable thing about the Middle East/North Africa region is it's unpredictability.