EYE Brother Obama, where art
thou? Pepe Escobar
MENA (Middle East/North Africa) is on
fire. The diffuse rage - even if manifested by a
tiny minority - is distinctly anti-American.
Protests in Cairo have reached Sanaa in Yemen and
even Bangladesh. The administration of US
President Barack Obama is perplexed beyond belief.
There will be revenge. What's really going on?
It does not matter whether that infamous,
crude, made-in-California anti-Islam and
anti-Prophet Muhammad flick - actually
financed/produced by an Egyptian Christian Copt
and American protestants, instead of a
non-existent Jewish real-estate developer - was
just a pretext that led to the killing of the US
ambassador in Benghazi and the protests in Cairo
and beyond. Let's try to identify the
ballet The strategic target of the
Salafi-jihadis who killed the US
ambassador in Benghazi was
to torpedo the (already shaky) Obama-Muslim
Imagine if that had
happened in Syria - or with a visiting US diplomat
to Iran, for example; Pentagon-based revenge
already would be in effect. US consulates were
never attacked when Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was in
power in Libya; it happened under the watch of a
"NATO rebel" regime fully sponsored by Washington.
Libya is now militia hell - from
neighborhood-watch outfits to mini-armies. They
won't disarm. They refuse to be part of government
security forces because their logic is tribal.
They're fighting one another. No weak central
government in car-bomb-infested Tripoli will rein
Another way to put it is that
"liberated" Libya is now warlord country. Home of
vendettas in the desert and tribal pogroms against
other tribes - and even whole towns.
Salafi-jihadis - with whom Washington, London and
Paris were unashamedly in bed during their
humanitarian bombing campaign - are based in
Cyrenaica, eastern Libya. Some have come from
Iraq. Some are shuttling back and forth to and
from Syria, aiming to destroy yet one more secular
They include the heavily
armed gang that attacked the US consulate - the
self-described Imprisoned Omar Abdul Rahman
Brigades, which surfaced only four months ago.
Three months ago, hundreds of AK-47-equipped
Salafi-jihadis held Benghazi hostage demanding
The (disintegrated) police and
army of "liberated" Libya could not possibly face
them down. Local tribes don't care. Salafi-jihadis
have been attacking Sufi mosques and tombs; Sufi
Islam is infinitely more moderate - and
intellectually sophisticated - compared with
The training camps are
near Derna - which has a history of being a top
source of al-Qaeda-style jihadis, especially
active in occupied Iraq. This does not mean all
the Salafi-jihadis are affiliated with al-Qaeda in
the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM); it's a much more local
Anyway, by now Derna must
be under watch, millimeter by millimeter, by
Obama's drones. Hellfire missiles will be raining
down over Derna in no time. There will be
collateral damage. No one will shed a tear.
As much as Salafi-jihadis are a minority
in Libya, they are a highly motivated, trained and
weaponized minority. They won't go down quietly.
They will react if the Obama administration goes
for all-out droning and a Hellfire feast; they
will attack the weak central government in
Tripoli. Somalization looms.
Hellfire time Egypt is a much tougher,
nuanced proposition - because it's the model for
the uneasy Washington-Muslim Brotherhood (MB) love
affair, with the US betting on moderate Islamists
as provisional substitutes of friendly dictators
of the Hosni Mubarak kind. A complicating factor
is that Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi is in
direct competition with local Salafis - who got
25% in the congressional elections. So the MB
won't be very forceful in denouncing them - even
though they are hated by the Salafis.
There's virtually nothing the Obama
administration can do to pressure Morsi. He has
been extremely cunning - playing the US, the House
of Saud and Qatar against one another. Whatever
happens, the brief honeymoon between the Obama
administration and the MB is destined to sour. The
only regional actor to savor this will be Israel -
which detested the honeymoon in the first place.
The Obama administration was forced into
this dead-end because - foolishly, one might
stress - it has been playing the sectarian card,
aligning itself with the medieval House of Saud
and cunning mini-superpower Qatar, key protector
of the MB, but also with all sorts of
Salafi-jihadism, especially in Syria. All this to
ultimately defeat the self-described "axis of
resistance" - Iran-Syria-Hezbollah - whatever it
takes. It takes facing repeated instances of
blowback all across MENA and beyond.
what is Obama to do? The cosmically mediocre Mitt
Romney accused him of being weak in the face of
"terra-rists", but Romney is a foreign-policy
pigmy, whose neocon-instilled agenda boils down to
treating both Russia and China as enemies and
bombing Iran. The Republican Party simply has no
clue of what's going on in MENA.
Obama has much to rely on. The old, cozy,
dictator-led order has collapsed after Tunisia and
Egypt. Washington is being kicked out of Iraq.
Obama himself cannot position Egypt as an ally or
a threat. What's left is to drone - somebody,
anybody - to death. Send the marines. Deploy some
warships. Display some military muscle. And hope
for the best.
The last thing Obama needs
now is to gloat over his success in finishing off
al-Qaeda, or to get embroiled in a messy Arab
Spring debate. If, as stellar pollster Nate Silver
attests, he has an 80% chance of winning
re-election, all he has to do is to calculate each
and every move to prevent any serious controversy.
After November, it's another story. The US may
even develop a sound, coherent MENA policy.
Pepe Escobar is the author of
Globalistan: How the Globalized World is
Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007)
and Red Zone Blues: A Snapshot of Baghdad
During the Surge. His new book, just out, is
Obama Does Globalistan (Nimble Books,
2009). He may be reached at
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