From Arab Spring to Europe’s Autumn of Refugees

September 3, 2015

The West has misread and mismanaged the Arab Spring. The first glaring mistake was the Sarkozy-led Libya intervention (*). PM Cameron readily became his partner and President Obama felt that he had to join in.

In introducing Resolution 1973 (2011) on Libya Alain Juppé, then Minister for Foreign Affairs of France, said the world was experiencing “a wave of great revolutions that would change the course of history”, as people throughout North Africa and the Middle East were calling for “a breath of fresh air”, for freedom of expression and democracy. Such calls for democratic transition had echoed through Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco. Everyone had witnessed the events with great hope and he believed “this new Arab springtime is good news for all”. The changes required the international community not to “give lessons”, but to help the people of those countries build a new future. He said that the urgent need to protect the civilian population had led to the elaboration of the current resolution, which authorized the Arab League and those Member States wishing to do so to take all measures to protect areas that were being threatened by the Gaddafi regime. “We have very little time left — perhaps only a matter of hours,” he said, adding that each hour and day that passed “increased the weight” on the “international community’s shoulders.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, France, Gabon, Lebanon, Nigeria, Portugal, South Africa, United Kingdom and United States voted for the resolution. Brazil, China, Germany, India and Russia abstained. So much for the “international community” myth…

After the vote, the German Representative Peter Wittig stated that decisions regarding the use of military force were always extremely difficult to take. Indeed, in the implementation of the resolution just adopted, Germany saw great risks, and the likelihood of large-scale loss of life should not be underestimated. Those that participated in its implementation could be drawn into a protracted military conflict that could draw in the wider region. If the resolution failed, it would be wrong to assume that any military intervention would be quickly and efficiently carried out. Germany had decided not to support the resolution and would not contribute its own forces to any military effort that arose from its implementation.

On 19 March 2011, a day after the adoption of Resolution 1973, a conference in Paris, held under French, British and US leadership, decided to start air operations against Qaddafi’s forces to protect the civilians. Within hours air strikes began. It soon became clear that the purpose all along had been regime change. In reality Resolution 1973 while authorizing member states to take all necessary measures to protect civilians while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory had given priority to the facilitating of a dialogue to lead to political reforms necessary to find a peaceful and sustainable solution; (BBC’s initial analysis of this was the following: ”This indicates that a final settlement to the crisis in Libya must be political and reached by the parties to the conflict themselves.”).

Had the “international community” engaged in a fresh endeavor for a political solution following the adoption of Resolution 1973 more Libyan lives could have been saved. The culture of vengeance among different groups could have been discouraged. Libyan arms could have been handed over to the legitimate security forces of a new regime. And most important of all, the Security Council could have taken a different attitude towards the Syrian civil war which could avoid Russian and Chinese vetoes.

This is why I was so impressed by President Obama’s frankness when I read what he told Thomas Friedman of the New York Times in August 2014.
He said:
“… we [and] our European partners underestimated the need to come in full force if you’re going to do this. Then it’s the day after Qaddafi is gone, when everybody is feeling good and everybody is holding up posters saying, ‘Thank you, America.’ At that moment, there has to be a much more aggressive effort to rebuild societies that didn’t have any civic traditions. … So that’s a lesson that I now apply every time I ask the question, ‘Should we intervene, militarily? Do we have an answer [for] the day after? ”

In the case of Syria the West again rushed for regime change and again miscalculated. In November 2012, France, followed by some others, became the first Western power to recognize the newly united Syrian opposition as the only representative of the Syrian people. All one heard from the EU and the US was tough talk to take down Assad although other concerns now seem to eclipse this.

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) in wonderland, attempted to revive o modern-day version of the Ottoman Empire through their advocacy of the Muslim Brotherhood and gave every support to every group fighting the Assad regime. Miscalculating Assad’s capacity to survive the JDP extended an open invitation to those suffering from Assad’s atrocities. Now Turkey herself is suffering from lost trade, lost security borders and is host to more than two million Syrian refugees.

Gaddafi was a tyrant. So is Assad and he will never rule a united Syria should there remain one. But in both cases political/diplomatic channels were not exploited to the maximum. Political and economic greed again blurred vision. Instead of tough talk and military assistance to no matter whom, the West should have remained to this very day committed to the cause of political dialogue, compromise, give-and-take

The EU is now struggling with the refugee influx. It is in a conundrum. A controversial proposal for “fair quotas” is reportedly under study and the subject of heated debate. New tensions in already strained relations Turkey may not be far away despite words of appreciation for what Turkey has done for the refugees. If the UE member States are looking for criteria to establish those “fair quotas” I have a suggestion: Establish a political study group to determine which EU countries bear greater responsibility in the misreading of the Arab Spring conflicts and let them have the honor of providing homes to a greater number of refugees.

It appears that, as Mr. Steven Erlanger wrote in yesterday’s New York Times, ”…this summer’s migrant crisis — as with the unfinished debt crisis in Greece and the confrontation with Russia over Ukraine — Germany once again finds itself at the center of a European drama, compelled or condemned to lead by its wealth and size and by the lack of leadership from Brussels and other states in the European Union.
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(*) My earlier spot entitled “Arab Spring: The Libya Lesson” of January 11, 2015.

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