In a world of headlines that change from hour to hour, it is a struggle to keep up even with the volatile ‘now’. Everything needs to be condensed in sound bites and judged in isolation rather than correlation. However, from time to time, it is imperative that we look back — to at least the recent past — to determine how it shaped the ‘now’.
In this context it would be interesting to look at recently concluded operations to highlight the difference in temperament between the Bush and Obama administrations. Thank God for President Obama — otherwise we would have been stuck in another Iraq.
Make no mistake: a positive outcome to the ‘Arab Spring’ is vital to American security. Prior to these Middle Eastern uprisings, tyrants in the Gulf Region seemed to have successfully driven the opposition underground. This resulted in a suppressed anger geared not only towards their own dictatorial regimes, but aimed at the U.S. as well. In fact, in some cases the tyrants were deflecting the anger towards the U.S. in order to protect their own corrupt regimes.
Invasion of Iraq changed the game.
Prior to this invasion the dictators in the Gulf Region were seen as infallible. The only way to take down a dictator was by way of a military coup which only resulted in a change in the dictator; the dictatorship itself remained rooted in the ground. People were still being tortured; the only thing that changed was the torturers.
This changed with the invasion of Iraq. The speed with which Saddam Hussein was toppled gave hope to the people in the Gulf. It proved to them that no one is infallible; for the first time in the last few decades people in the Gulf region had ‘hope’, a possibility of ‘change’ and the possibility of better future.
From a certain angle, it is possible to view the Arab Spring as a direct result of the U.S. invading Iraq. While still not justifiable, one at least understands the chain of events on some level that make it possible to say that there was a purpose behind the Iraq war. This is why we saw Iraqis cheering U.S. forces during the early days of the invasion.
However, one needs a ‘Bush’ (or two) to take a reasonable concept and completely mess up the implementation. Former President George W. Bush, ‘Bush II’, showed remarkable consistency in managing to appoint the worst possible people in charge of policy in Iraq. The war he ‘created’ after 9/11 was designed to eliminate Saddam’s ability to use his ‘weapons of mass destruction’ — thus protecting the U.S. and its allies from terrorism, which was supposed to make us more secure. Instead, he and his cowboys took this country further down the terror-infested route. What other President in the world can parallel Bush II’s achievement: Taking down the only secular government in the Gulf Region, spawn rampant sectarian violence and incur the wrath of Islamic fundamentalists?
It was a horrible mistake by Bush I in 1991 coupled with his son’s policies that ultimately turned Iraq into a minefield. Comparing what happened in 1991 with what has recently transpired in Libya can help us understand how President Obama has managed to avoid another catastrophe like the one created by both former President Bush and his father in Iraq.
It was February of 1991 and the Gulf War in Kuwait was ending. The first President Bush and his ‘think’ tank were convinced that Saddam could easily be toppled. He then launched a media campaign to incite insurrection. He appeared on television asking the Iraqi people to rise up and overthrow their dictator. Not only was this message broadcast on Iraqi TV, the U.S. also distributed millions of leaflets with the same message by air-dropping them across Iraq.
Appearing on “Voice of America” Bush I delivered the following message :
“There is another way for the bloodshed to stop, and that is for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside and then comply with the United Nations’ resolutions and rejoin the family of peace-loving nations.”
The administration made further misleading statements that led people to believe that the U.S. military was prepared to intervene on their behalf against Saddam. The long- oppressed Shi’ite community took the bait and rose up against Saddam Hussein. They thought they were doing exactly what was expected of them. Their uprising was met with brutal retaliation from Saddam’s forces.
Unfortunately for Bush I and his think tank, Saddam did not leave as a result of their instigation. Even more unfortunate for the Shi’ite community was facing the realization that the U.S. had no intention of backing them up. The U.S. did not even strictly enforce the no-fly zone they enacted in the area. The end result was a massacre of tens of thousands of civilians and families by Saddam’s forces. Around two million Iraqis fled for their lives during this period. This is the primary reason why Iraqi Shi’ites hate the U.S. This is the reason for the violence we still see in Iraq, despite the end of the U.S. war there.
Now contrast that to the events in the early days of the recent uprisings in Libya.
Like Bush I, President Obama also encouraged the rebels to overthrow the oppressive regime of Muammar Gaddafi. The Libyans rose up against his brutal regime. The similarity stops there. For unlike Bush I, President Obama followed up on his words. He was instrumental in enforcing a no-fly zone. He even went so far as to send warships near the Libyan waters. Yet, unlike Bush II, President Obama did not see the need to put American boots on the ground there.
While Iraq is still smoldering, a new spring has already blossomed in Libya. The United States has received the undying gratitude of millions of ordinary Libyans. Now with the arrival of change that has come to Libya, can we have a round of applause for President Obama?