Commentary Magazine


Libyan Fallout Dooms Arab Spring Hopes

As I wrote earlier today, the announcement that NATO is prepared to let Muammar Qaddafi stay in Libya as part of a peace settlement is a defeat for the United States and an illustration of President Obama’s failure to exercise leadership. But the consequences of this astonishing turn of events will be felt beyond the borders of that unhappy North African country. While those who supported the Arab Spring revolts may have thought intervention in Libya put other dictators on notice their time was coming to an end, Qaddafi’s apparent victory sends the opposite signal.

In particular, the West’s decision to start backing down on Libya will have an enormous impact on the outcome in Syria.

For months, dissidents have taken to the streets of Syrian cities and braved attacks from the military as well as other security forces. While the Bashar al-Assad government has made symbolic gestures toward establishing less repressive policies, the essence of this dictatorial regime remains unchanged. It is estimated that government forces have killed more than 1,600 persons and hundreds of protesters have been jailed.

But unlike Qaddafi, Assad has faced no foreign threats other than the weak sanctions that have been imposed on this already impoverished country. Though the chances for change, peaceful or otherwise, were already slim, Assad can only be further encouraged by NATO’s apparent failure of nerve.

But the repercussions of this fiasco don’t end there. The strengthening of Assad’s hold on power also is a boost for his ally Iran and its terrorist surrogates Hezbollah and Hamas. Where once the Arab Spring promised an end to authoritarian governments around the region, the only beneficiaries appear to be Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and its extremist friends.

Several months ago, more than one commentator likened the springing up of revolts around the Middle East to the cataclysm of 1848 in which conservative regimes were similarly toppled all over Europe. But for those who knew their history, this was an ominous analogy. Virtually every one of the 1848 revolts ended in defeat for the democrats as an alliance or reactionary powers repressed the new republics that had popped up across the map and reinstalled the old regimes. Though history has not quite repeated itself, it looks like the final results of the Arab Spring will be similarly depressing as dangerous regimes such as that in Iran and its allies have gained power and influence at the expense of more moderate rulers.

While we can still hope–as was the case in the aftermath of 1848–the seeds of freedom have been planted for future generations to reap, the short-term results of the Arab Spring seem dismal.