The Arab Spring, Iran and the Neocons

A lucid analysis of recent events tends to prove that foreign involvements abroad are not as stigmatic as the press would have you believe.

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The case for intervention in Libya was solid
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Fabio Rafael Fiallo
On 31 May 2011 11:17

It has become fashionable nowadays in Europe's mainstream press to say and repeat that the Arab awakening has dealt the final blow to neoconservatism, and notably to the priority it attaches to democracy promotion as an essential ingredient of American foreign policy. The Arab revolts are purely endogenous and do not want foreign involvement, exclaims Europe’s conventional wisdom.

A lucid analysis of recent events, however, tends to prove exactly the opposite.

The tens of thousands of Iranians who in 2009 took to the streets of Tehran and chanted "Obama! Obama! Are you with them, or are you with us?", were they not asking for robust help from the United States? The Libyan rebels who fight with weapons inferior to Gaddafi's troops and tanks, have they not demanded more than once a strong military involvement on the part of NATO and the US? Was it against a neoconservative stance, or rather in line with it, that the Syrian opposition leader Maamoun al-Homsi declared that "the world must intervene" in Syria?

Moreover, the Iranians who, confronted with fierce repression, had to cease the street manifestations due to lack of assistance from the world's leading democracies, and the Syrians who for similar reasons are on the verge of having to do the same, would have been delighted to find at the White House someone receptive to the neoconservative discourse instead of a President Obama who doesn't seem to know how to react to autocracies that fire real bullets against peaceful and defenceless crowds.

The key argument employed to attack neoconservatism consists in alluding to the chaotic situation that followed the ousting of Saddam Hussein.

What that argument neglects is the fact that American planes, tanks and troops were not dispatched to Iraq with the aim of "exporting" democracy to that country. The declared objective was the overthrowing of a regime, Saddam Hussein's, that was deemed to represent - rightly or wrongly is another question - a menace to the United States. Democracy promotion was the consequence, not the goal, of that endeavour. A fortunate consequence, by the way: What would the world have said if, after unseating Saddam, the US had tried to install, not an embryo of democracy, but a new dictatorship in that region?

Without doubt, the period after the fall of Saddam Hussein was chaotic to say the least. Yet, the cause of that muddle lay, not in democracy promotion, but in the staggering lack of perparation of the Bush administration for meeting the challenge of the political reconstruction of Iraq in the post-Saddam era. Proof of this: the sectarian violence and the anarchy of the first period receded dramatically when General Petraeus, without giving up on Iraqi democracy, put in place a coherent nation-building program for that country.

The progress made by Petraeus' strategy was so impressive that Vice-president Joe Biden attempted to cash in on it by declaring in February 2010 that the Iraq war "could be one of the major achievements of this administration". President Obama himself, in his Arab spring speech on May 19, referred to Iraq as a “promise of multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian democracy”.

Europe's mainstream press also appears to be mesmerized by President Obama's fondness for "multilateralism" (read: recourse to UN forums) as opposed to the neocons' reluctance to place US foreign policy at the mercy of a Chinese or a Russian veto at the Security Council. The problem is, President Obama cannot to date boast any major foreign policy success obtained through multilateral channels. Security Council resolution 1973, allowing the use of force against Gaddafi's regime, is not an achievement of the present US administration: It originated in a diplomatic initiative launched by France and Britain. Moreover, that resolution is so constraining that it soon had to be circumvented or interpreted loosely - some say: transgressed - by NATO forces in order to ensure the survival of Libyan rebels.

Furthermore, the chances are slim of seeing the UN Security Council give the green light for a similar operation in Syria or Iran.

Be that as it may, the fate of men and women living under oppression cannot be left at the discretion of dictatorships whose veto power at the UN enables them to block - for obscure and sinister designs - whatever humanitarian intervention they may wish to prevent. This is why neoconservatism has not lost relevance in today's world.

Fabio Rafael Fiallo is a writer and a retired UN official. His latest publication, “Ternes Eclats” (“Dimmed Lights”), Paris, presents a critique of multilateral diplomacy, including of the anti-Israel bias that prevails in a number of international forums.

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