by Bernard Jenkins
Freedom's Caravan has hit quicksand as it wends its way across the Middle East and North Africa. Much to the delight and relief of the fake kings, tyrannical sheiks and presidents-for-life, who were contemplating their doom but had so far avoided the much deserved fate of Tunisia's crooked President Ben Ali and the out-of-touch and out-of-luck pharaoh Mubarak. No doubt the ditherer Obama, not exactly a full-throated defender of Middle Eastern democracy from the git-go, is also breathing easier for the moment.
They can thank Col. Crazy, long-time strongman of the massive sand trap called Libya.
Shortly after the thugocracies of Tunisia and Egypt tumbled like ten pins to the rolling thunder of democracy demonstrations, tremors of revolt began to be felt in Libya. While Col. Crazy sat in his tent in Tripoli, rebellion overtook Benghazi and the oil ports along the Mediterranean. There was dancing in the streets.
But the Libyan dictator, who had ruled this vast sandy emptiness since 1969, who looks like he dresses in the dark, is surrounded by buxom female bodyguards and is considered as crazy as an outhouse rat and just as indestructible, decided, unlike his brother barbarians, Ben Ali and Mubarak, not to fold his tent and steal away with his boodle and two deranged psycho sons, but instead to destroy the democracy uprising by killing everyone in the country.
He swore he would never surrender his iron grip to the dreams of democracy and scamper off to exile, but would die in his homeland. But first, everyone else would.
With billions in cash under his magic carpet, he quickly hired mercenary killers from darkest Africa, marshaled his air force and artillery and began bombing, shelling and machine-gunning his helpless citizenry, even sending his killers door to door to drag off the innocent inhabitants to a fate worse than death. Lightly armed, largely untrained "rebel" fighters fought back feebly.
The thugs and thieves who rule Saudi Arabia, Syria, Algeria, Yemen, Bahrain and even Iran, who had been closely checking airline schedules and quietly planning their escape if need be to cushy exile in Monte Carlo and Marbella, decided to hold off and see what would happen in Libya.
If Col. Crazy, whom they all hated, succeeded in holding power through massive brutality and bloodbath, so might they.
For days, their cynical calculations for survival gained credence as Col. Crazy's marauders relentlessly attacked the "rebel" liberated towns outside Tripoli and along the Mediterranean coast. At the same time, America, NATO, and the UN publicly wept crocodile tears for the poor outgunned opposition, but did nothing. Perhaps hoping Col. Crazy would quickly triumph and rid them of any necessity to do anything.
The rotten rulers and tyrants drew lessons from this international squeamishness.
Yemen, a backward outpost and US War on Terror ally had been roiling with protests since January. The other day, the villainous Ali Abdullah Saleh, president for 32 years and not ready to retire, ordered his militia and gunmen to open fire on crowds of demonstrators in the capital, Sana'a. At least 52 peaceful Yemeni protesters were shot dead and several hundred wounded in the fusillade.
In Syria, where longtime tough guy Hafez Al-Assad crushed opposition to his iron-fisted rule over 40 years ago by completely flattening the town of Hama, killing thousands, democracy demonstrations had barely caused a ripple in the regime of Al-Assad's son, Bashar Al-Assad, since the Freedom Caravan had arrived in Tunisia and Egypt. But in the last days, crowds in cities from Damascus to Aleppo to Dara'a gathered to shout "Freedom! Freedom!". Regime goons and gunmen immediately moved in on the scenes, thumping anyone they could reach, killing 3 demonstrators in Dara'a and locking worshipers inside the renowned Al-Umayyad Mosque in Damascus before they could join the crowds outside.
In the tiny make-believe kingdom of Bahrain, the Shiites may have hit the fan. Little more than an inkblot in the Persian Gulf, the island country is oil-rich and therefore a big deal. The US Navy Fifth Fleet is based there. The self-coronated king Hamad ibn Isa Al-Khalifa, a Sunni Muslim, rules ruthlessly over a population that is largely Shiite Muslims. When the winds of change even began to blow in Bahrain, the Shiite underclass mounted vociferous demonstrations practically up to the gates of the Sunni king's palace. At first the king essentially tried throwing petty cash at the crowds and their families in the hope of pacifying them. Obama, hoping to buck up the landlord of our naval base, offered the usual feeble "can't we all get along?" tripe, suggesting the little king throw some reforms to the crowd as well as chump change. When that didn't work, the Sunni king called out his thugs and shooters to quell the protests. When that didn't work either, Al-Khalifa, declared the democracy uprising nothing more than an Iranian plot (Iran being, coincidentally, 90% Shiite), and called for help from its big neighbor Saudi Arabia
Of all the repressive, undemocratic regimes along the route of Freedom's Caravan, Saudi Arabia is the biggest, richest and perhaps the worst. Since the first almost unnoticed tremors of resentment and revolt began to ripple and then rumble across the Middle East, the Saudi regime has been feverishly, perhaps even frantically, working behind the scenes to head the caravan off at the pass. They have now ostentatiously answered the 911 call from Bahrain, and immediately dispatched 2,000 of their own troops across the 25-km King Khalid Causeway to Manama, the Bahrain capital. While the Saudi military provide highly visible standby muscle, the king of Bahrain's bullies continue to bloody and beat up the opposition protesters. It might work this time.
The big bad Saudis, fundamentalist Wahabbi Sunni Muslims, who probably hate Shiites more than they hate Israelis (20% of their population are also underclass Shiites primarily living near the oilfields) and have enthusiastically echoed the Bahraini cry : "The Mullahs are coming!! The Mullahs are coming!! Yikes!!", have more to lose from a democracy revolution than any other regime in the region.
The Saudi "Royal" Family, descendants of a Bedouin bandit, who created the "Kingdom" out of nothing but sand dunes in the 1920s, today rule over the world's largest oil reserves and gather riches beyond the dreams of avarice as the world's number 1 oil producer. Equally important to them, if not more so, they are the rulers of Mecca, the heart, soul and ground zero of Islam.
Saudi moolah oils every financial market in the world. It also funds and not so subtly controls almost every mosque and madrasa in the Sunni Muslim world. It should not be alzheimered that 15 of the 19 World Trade Center terrorists were Saudi citizens (none were Iraqis!!). Mecca is the biggest pilgrimage/tourist destination in the world. Women are 2nd class citizens in Saudi Arabia and slave labor (or its near equivalent-a kind of indentured servitude of foreign workers) is alive and well in the kingdom. The Saudi "royals" will fight to the death to retain their rule. Or get others to do it for them.
Which brings us to the just declared "No Fly Zone" over Libya.
After weeks of fiddling while Libya burned, the Western democracies have reluctantly voted in the UN to mount an air campaign to try to stop Col. Crazy from bombing defenseless Libyan citizens and the dwindling "rebel" militias.
Over the weekend, US warships (out of that base in Bahrain??) fired 100 Tomahawk cruise missles at Col. Crazy's air defense systems while British and French fighter jets did their deadly thing attacking Libyan tanks and troops along the road to Benghazi.
Will one of those cruise missiles or bombs "inadvertently" land on Col. Crazy's tent in Tripoli? If so, what then? Likewise, if not, what then?
Is this No Fly Zone gambit a short-term humanitarian mission to relieve Col. Crazy's siege of Libya's democracy faction? Or has America and its European cohorts, like the nuclear poison pouring out of the busted Japanese reactors, fatally contaminated Freedom's Caravan with their big-footing into the squabble.
How long before we see the old "Death to the Great Satan!", "Down with Israel!", "Long Live Osama Ben Laden!!" banners again dominating the Arab street demonstrations, like giant Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade floats? How long before the Terror Industrial Complex, whose multi-billion-dollar revenue stream might have been threatened by the Freedom Caravan making that bugaboo irrelevant, begin to issue the tired old breathless ominous warnings that the "The wolf is coming!! The wolf is coming!! Be afraid!!"? How long before worrier-turned-warrior Commander-In-Chief Obama once again dusts off the old Vietnam/Iraq/Afghanistan script that we need to build democracy in these bedeviled lands by destroying the seeds of it before they can blossom. Or that we need another $1 trillion dollars of taxpayer money to defend our longtime Arab allies (who actually lured us into this trap) rather than supporting the Middle Eastern masses, who actually, believe it or not, still admire us and our democracy (such as it is, or seems to be).
What is Plan B after we have swatted the Libyan flies? Or have we trickerated ourselves into quicksand and simultaneously turned Freedom's Caravan into a new version of the Donner Party?