THE “LES” COUNTRIES

By Harlan Ullman

The term “BRIC’s” is a virtual cliché. Brazil, Russia, India and China were lumped together as the globe’s “emerging” economic dynamos. Now, if even handedness applies to politics, we should declare the “LES” countries, drawn together by public rebellion against decades of autocratic rule. Libya, Egypt and Syria are the charter members. Whether what happens in each represents the Arab Spring and the budding of democracy or turns into winters of discontent and chaos remains to be seen. At this point, however, the “AII” countries (Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran) may be harbingers of what to expect in the “LES.” A disclaimer is important. Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran are NOT Libya, Egypt and Syria and vice versa. Still, what transpired in the AII states should not be discounted either as suggestive of possible outcomes, realizing that events are volatile and unpredictable. For example, the highly publicized arrest of Moammar Qaddafi’s son was repudiated when Saif made a surprise appearance to brief journalists in a Tripolian hotel apparently as a free man. By the end of 2001, the Taliban had been routed in Afghanistan. The Bonn Conference of early 2002 proved inadequate as Afghanistan, ignored by George W. Bush in the run up to the Iraq war a year later, careened down a path of violence and instability. The crowds in Kabul once the horrible Taliban rule was lifted, as in Baghdad after Saddam Hussein was overthrown, in Tahrir Square a decade later in Cairo and at least for one night in Green now Martyr Square in Tripoli all rejoiced at the prospect of freedom. What has been learned from the “AII’s? In Afghanistan, at least three levels of conflict were and are being fought. NATO, led by the United States, brought the war on terror back to al Qaeda. That war predictably has morphed into a war against the Taliban. Divisions between the Northern Alliance and the Pashtun majority in the south continue and could metastasize into another civil war. The battles between the central government and the periphery and among war and crime lords persist. And all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, so far, do not appear to have set Afghanistan on a course of either stability or some form of democracy. In Iraq, April’s euphoria over Saddam’s fall turned into looting and violence exacerbated by the inexcusable and disgraceful failure to plan for the peace. Aside from the benefit of ridding the planet of a particularly unsavory character, the majority of Iraqis are not better off today; Iran has been the substantial benefactor whose influence has spread; and violence among Sunni, Shia and Kurd is far from contained. In Iran, the people celebrated the end of the Shah in 1979. Ayatollah Khomeini, orchestrating the rebellion from safety and luxury in France, was the returning hero. And from an autocracy, Iran became a mullahocracy in the grips of a ruling council of theocrats not democrats. One could also cite the false expectations after Fidel Castro routed Cuba’s President Batista over Christmas 1959 and what happened since as a further warning. In Libya, events are still to unfold and many are opaque such as Qaddafi’ whereabouts and what he may or may not do next. Will he surrender; seek martyrdom; or head for the hills to wage a guerilla war? All is unclear. Memory of the Fedayeen Saddam who turned the immaculate march to Baghdad into bloody urban war is not so long ago to be forgotten raising the question of whether Qaddafi has his equivalent band of not so merry men. The National Transition Council has not been in existence long enough to judge its competence and character. No one in the West has volunteered as the trustee for Libya or for that matter Egypt where similar concerns about its future are serious. The UN, NATO, EU and Arab League lack the wherewithal and, unless the wealthiest Arab states, i.e. Saudi Arabia, dip deeply into their bank accounts, it is hard to see where development money will come. Of course Libya has oil. And so does Iraq! Syria may be the most depressing of all. The United States has joined the growing chorus demanding President Bashar al Assad leave. Yet, who would replace him? There are no democratic institutions in Syria. So the next regime almost certainly will come from the Army, B’aathist Party or Alawite minority. Is that an improvement? The plain truth is that much of the west is simply war weary. A decade of fighting since September 11th has drained our patience and our wallets. We will do what we can. Unfortunately, for the moment, it would seem that the LES will turn out more akin to the AII than to the former Warsaw Pact states who did make a remarkable transformation to democracy. Harlan Ullman is Chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business and is Senior Advisor at Washington, DC’s Atlantic Council.

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