Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Libya War and US priorities in the Middle East

Doyle McManus writes that Libya's only a part of Mideast equation McClatchy Newspapers/Los Angeles Times04/19/2011. His main point is that the interests of the United States are more obviously at stake in Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. He puts it this way:

The eyes of the world are on the battle for Libya. It's undeniably a compelling drama: Spirited but untrained rebels, plus NATO airstrikes, pitted against an eccentric dictator with a cinematic wardrobe.

But it's the wrong drama to worry about. The brutal truth is that Libya doesn't matter very much. It's a desert backwater of 6 million people with little influence over the rest of the Middle East.

The main reason Libya matters at all is that President Obama and his NATO allies have taken it on as a challenge. Now that Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have staked their reputations on toppling Moammar Gadhafi, they have no choice but to make it happen. [my emphasis]


This is an important point. The Obama Administration decided to intervene militarily in Libya without Congressional approval based on dubious justification.

But now that we've intervened, America's credibility and power are on the line, as Leslie Gelb puts it. At least in the imperial logic that dominates respectable foreign policy thinking in the Beltway Village.

Why is Bahrain so significant. Aside from the American naval base there - a significant policy factor in itself - an escalation of the Sunni-Shi'a conflict in Bahrain, where Saudi Arabia has intervened militarily on the side of the Sunni government, could lead to a wider Sunni-Shi'a split. One possible consequence:

In a worst-case scenario, warned Charles Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, a Sunni-Shiite split could prompt the pro-U.S. government in Iraq to ally itself with Iran, scrambling the basic foundation of U.S. security policy in the area, which aims to make Iraq a bulwark against Iran.
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