Crying “wolf” and Arab revolutions

By Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

In recent popular uprisings sweeping through the Arab countries, the Western (read: US) support has been muted at best. Whatever has happened to “supporting freedom around the world”?

Let´s recap the recent events in North Africa/Arab Middle East.

Tunisia: people revolted against the corrupt and authoritarian ruler. Initial Western reaction was … zero. Just a bit nervous about prospective refugees and a bit embarrassed when certain facts about cozy affairs between European politicians and the autocrat started coming to light. Kudos for the Tunisians who managed on their own, without foreign intervention.

Egypt: people revolted against the corrupt and authoritarian ruler. The Western reaction was … calling for a “stable change.” (What a convoluted mind one must have to even coin a phrase like that?!) At least, the US did not rush to prop Mubarak, even though he was in essence their man in Cairo. Again, luckily for Egyptians, they managed by themselves.

Libya: people revolted against the authoritarian and corrupt ruler. Resolved to hold onto power at all cost — literally! — Gaddafi is becoming increasingly entangled in civil war and allegedly crimes against humanity are being committed. The Western reaction, after prolonged hesitation, resulted in the UN resolution endorsing humanitarian action. But the US is pretty much just reluctantly tagging along, this time raising indignation in some quarters for failing to act in face of human rights abuses.

Unrest is boiling in Yemen, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrein… no comment.

Finally, people started to protest in Syria, whose regime is regarded as less than favorite in Washington. However, protesters are being murdered, without as much as a peep from the Pentagon.

What a contrast to the previous US activism in favor of intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. Back then, the US administration was going out of its way diplomatically, deploying sticks and carrots and even plain lies, to get international support for military action, and failing to obtain that went in anyway. Were the stakes perhaps higher? Hardly. Stability in Egypt is no less important for the US security than stability in Afghanistan (for a number of reasons). A friendly regime in Syria would also come in just as handy as a friendly regime in Iraq. So, what is different now?

The answer is not just the change of administration. Judging by a number of other facts, the Obama administration´s policies are pretty consistent with those of the Bush administration (except for the Healthcare Law, perhaps, which has yet to survive). The Guantanamo is still there and will continue for the years to come. Big businesses still do their own thing. And not only hasn´t the US withdrawn from Afghanistan but on the contrary the US military presence has considerably increased under the Obama presidency.

The most obvious difference is a total lack of domestic public support for another expensive military adventure abroad. The public, already fed up with fabrications that justified the previous campaigns, now refuse to believe or sympathise with even undeniable, unequivocal facts of gross human rights violations and alleged war crimes, and do not buy any arguments in favor of exporting democracy at tax-payers´ expense.

Come to think of it, the previous US military interventions essentially tantamount to the proverbial crying “wolf” when there was none. We know what that means: nobody believes you after that even when there is a genuine emergency. Unfortunately, this shortsightedness and lack of integrity on the other side of the world means that people of several Arab countries who momentarily saw a phantom of liberty but do not have strength to reach it will be the ultimate losers.