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BLOWBACK: AN OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT


Mr. President:  Just three weeks ago (August 31, 2012), this letter asked the question, "How long will it be before these groups turn on their erstwhile supporters as they have in Afghanistan?"  The question referred to our support for religious fundamentalist (even fanatical) groups to topple Gaddafi's secular regime in Libya, and now through proxies in the Syrian civil war employing Al Qaeda elements from North Africa.

No one expected the answer in quite such a short time.  The U.S. Ambassador and three others have been killed in an attack on their safe house in the city of Benghazi, the cradle of the Libyan revolution.  His trip from Tripoli considered safe turned perilous in the riots following the TV revelation by an Egyptian commentator of a "YouTube" trailer for a movie produced in California denigrating Islam and the Prophet Mohammed.

In the aftermath of the Libyan revolution, the lid held down by the secular Gaddafi regime over the fundamentalist movements has been removed, and they have spread like wildfire across the Sahel.  Mali, long a democratic state with a tradition of elections and peaceful power transfer, has been ruptured.  Tuareg nomads, numbering just three million and living across the north, have long felt marginalized in Mali.  This time their breakaway attempt was aided by Ansar Dine and, by some accounts, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.  The better organized fundamentalists have now taken over; like the Taliban, their uncompromising brand of Islam has led them to destroy old shrines of revered Muslim Sufi saints, and introduce a strict restrictive version of Sharia law.

Similarly enriched  by the flow of arms from Libya, the once moribund Boko Haram in Nigeria has been revived, causing fresh headaches for the elected government in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state.

Fundamentalist influence is no longer receding in other areas of North Africa including Mauritania, Morocco, and Algeria.  And the domino theory once applied to Communism, particularly in Indo-China, has re-emerged  in an ideology so peripheral as to be almost non-existent a half-century ago.  Yet now it serves as a spearhead for destabilization, thanks primarily to a bungled Western policy of foreign interference.  Of course the meddling has other consequences as well, namely, the hundreds of thousands of casualties, the millions of displaced refugees, and the many more millions who once looked up to America as a beacon of hope but now hate us.

In Syria, the proxy wars have been escalated to yet another level.  We are involved not through proxies but through proxies of our proxies (Saudi Arabia and Qatar) — a kind of proxy-squared involvement which affords even less control over the situation or the actors.

This democratization agenda, even where genuine, is blinded by ideological blinkers, ignoring centuries old traditions of basic loyalty to family, tribe, religious affiliation — a combination fatal to a flourishing, genuine democracy.  Thus the majority Shia are in power in Arabic-speaking Iraq, and their Sunni countrymen are running a clandestine war against them.  Meanwhile, the Sunni Kurds run an autonomous state in the Kurdish north fracturing Iraq.  Not that failings of this nature are restricted to the Middle East.  A look at Belgium, Northern Ireland, Canada, Ukraine, the horrors of former Yugoslavia, are quick confirmation. 

The best one can hope for is that we stop stirring up the pot, and devote our efforts instead to minimizing human suffering, even if it means curbing religious or ideological zeal, or worse, perceived political advantage — often wrong as Iraq has demonstrated vividly.

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