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Response to pampango (Original post)

Fri Dec 30, 2011, 01:51 PM

1. Two paragraphs

7. The Arab Spring is a Western plot. This allegation was made by the Qaddafis in Libya and is currently asserted by many in Syria’s Baath Party. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is quite clear that the upheavals in the Arab world came as a surprise to the G8 nations, and were mostly at least initially unwelcome. France’s minister of defense offered help with police training to Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s Tunisia once the demonstrations got going last year this time. The US initially signalled support for Hosni Mubarak during the rallies against him of late January. Hillary Clinton said she was sure that the Mubarak regime was “stable.” Vice President Joe Biden was constrained to deny that Mubarak was “a dictator.” Obama only saw the writing on the wall with regard to Egypt at the last minute, and was starting to be a target of protest posters in Tahrir Square. The US was reluctant to use an ally against al-Qaeda in Yemen such as Ali Abdullah Saleh, and still has never sanctioned him for killing hundreds of innocent protesters. Washington was likewise unhappy with the uprising in Bahrain, and at most urged the king to find a compromise (the US Fifth Fleet is headquartered in the capital, Manama, and so the US did not feel itself in a position to support the protesters strongly). Obama was famously reluctant to get involved in Libya. There is substantial ambivalence over the upheaval in Syria, and so far the main form of intervention is targeted financial sanctions. If there is anything that is already clear as we catch history on the run here, it is that the uprisings were spontaneous, indigenous, centered on dissatisfied youth, and that and presented the status quo Powers with unwelcome challenges.

8. The intervention of NATO in Libya was driven primarily by oil. European sanctions on Libya began being dropped in the late 1990s, and US sanctions were lifted in 2004. Western oil companies had sunk billions into the Libyan petroleum sector by 2011, and it is highly unlikely that they would have wanted to risk instability there or the advent of a new government that might not honor their bids. The oil majors suffered substantial losses because of the loss of Libyan production last spring and summer. The conservative government of David Cameron in the UK and that of Nicola Sarkozy in France allegedly feared that if Qaddafi were allowed to crush the Libyan reformers by main force, he might drive them into the arms of al-Qaeda, as had happened in Algeria in the early 1990s. And, they may have feared that Qaddafi would provoke a big exodus to Europe at a time when European economies are poorly situated to absorb such immigrants in large numbers. Sarkozy may have felt the need for a quick victory to bolster his position in the polls ahead of next year’s presidential elections. Cameron, as a conservative, may have sought to rehabilitate the use of military force to enforce international order, which had been tarnished in UK public opinion by the Iraq disaster. Those who say Europe would not have intervened in the absence of the petroleum factor forget the Balkans, which presented similar challenges of massive violence on Europe’s doorstep. Likewise, oil isn’t everything; Bahrain has very little, and so it cannot explain Washington’s reluctance to lambaste the monarchy there. To argue that Western Europe had interests in Libya that drove its intervention is common sense. To peg everything to oil is vulgar Marxism.

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