Recently in light of the conflict in Mali several articles in major US newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Times, have attempted to connect the “Arab Spring” of 2011 with the perceived increase in fundamentalist Islamist activity in North Africa. The argument made by these commentators is that the break down of strong governance in the region led to the ability for fundamentalist groups to organize and ethnic tensions to boil over into open conflict. This echoes earlier criticism of the various mass movements in the US media, where elites expressed wariness at the supposed influence of Islamist groups which often opposed American backed dictators and interests.
Like any major political upheaval the events of the Arab Spring have been followed by instability and uncertainty. However, the recent events in Mali and Benghazi have less to do with the Arab Spring directly, and more to do with the US response to the Arab Spring, specifically the Libyan offensive. The Obama administration’s war effort in Libya was not only blatantly unconstitutional, but it also appears that the offensive is directly responsible for exacerbating ethnic tensions in Mali and leading to the arming of Islamist rebels with a large supply of sophisticated weaponry.
I don’t think I’m qualified to judge whether intervention in Libya was successful in achieving a humanitarian mission in protecting Libyan civilians, but it is pretty clear that the events in Libya have had negative consequences for Mali. It also appears that these consequences were given little consideration by NATO in the aftermath of the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011. What is particularly certain, is that the our country’s reaction to the Arab Spring shows a profound problem with the state of American democracy and the way we view the world.
As mentioned earlier, the decision to go to war was made unilaterally by the president and largely approved of by his supporters, who had a mere three years earlier bitterly complained about the Bush administration’s willingness to violate our nations laws, make major decisions in secrecy and otherwise abuse the power of the presidency. No effort has been made in the wake of the Libyan offensive to curtail the power of the president to engage in what are clearly acts of war without the consent of the American people. Regardless of whether the Libyan offensive was a justifiable use of force, the decision to go to war should be a more carefully considered decision and should certainly not be the decided at a presidential whim.
Furthermore, the Libyan offensive outlined a major problem with how Americans view the world. The Arab Spring was often described in the media as something that happened spontaneously as a result of popular unrest. The cause of the unrest was rarely discussed, but even at the time the largest indication was that an increase in food prices caused by poor agricultural planning and water allocation was the main culprit in finally providing the pressure to oust dictators who had otherwise successfully ruled for decades. Despite this obvious cause and the solution in desperately needed infrastructure development and dealing with the rampant speculation on Wall Street which saw Egypt’s food prices double as a result, the American media obsessed on the role of American media technology such as Twitter and Facebook. The American response wound up being what it has always been in the Middle East, cynical defense of American interests through handpicked dictators whenever possible and military action in the guise of higher ideals.
Attempting to stop civil wars with drone strikes only seems to spread the problem to other countries. If our wars in the last half century should have taught us anything, it is that attempting to win an asymmetrical war through air strikes only leads to our opposition thriving from the ever constant recruitment provided by the remnants of our “collateral damage”. Also, what does it say about us when our “humanitarian intervention” is obviously designed to ensure that our soldiers are as far removed from combat as possible, even if it means that our intervention will be less capable of preventing the spread of violence and death of those we supposedly came to protect.
These are all questions we should ask ourselves before we decide to jump head first into another “intervention”.