22 August 2011


With the rebels capturing Tripoli this weekend, the U.S. military involvement in Libya, as part of a multinational campaign that it briefly led to give the rebels a level playing field against military grade heavy weapons like aircraft attacking lightly armed people on the ground, is essentially over. The war in Libya may not be over, but the U.S. can safely disengaged.

The U.S. involvement in Iraq, already winnowed to the point where there are no designated front line "combat troops" in the country, and scheduled to end entirely in December, may still linger into 2012 with a small contingent of U.S. forces to train and interface with Iraqi soldiers, but it will be as much over as U.S. involvements in places like South Korea and Japan and Germany and Italy at thhat point, perhaps not quite as safe, but simply as a long term small base, not as an occupying army.

The war in Afghanistan, despite being almost ten years old, is no where near complete, with years to go, but the brief surge there that President Obama undertook is well on its way to being reversed with troops drawing down from peak levels already. The death of Osama bin Laden and establishment of a reasonably friendly civilian government to replace the Taliban have left some partial successes. The casualty levels, despite a helicopter crash that was the worst single day ever of the war earlier this month, are not escalating and the size of the U.S. force there has always been fairly modest. The is genuinely a low intensity counterinsurgency war. The Taliban's foreign patrons, mostly from Pakistan these days, are not Cold War China or the Soviet Union. We are sliding into an era of relative peace and geopolitical tranquility

The wave of totalitarian government in the name of Islam has mostly fizzled in the face of an Arab Spring that has turned the concept of Arab democracy that many politicial scientists had feared might be inherently self-contradictory into the norm replacing most of the Arab dictatorship in North Africa and the Middle East that is not a monarchy (although the monarchies, while making some modest reforms have endured). This undermines the Taliban geopolitically.

Tunsia, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen have seen autocratic regimes fall, the Iraq and Afghan wars replaced autocrats with fledgling democrats. Politically strong monarcies in Jordan and Morocco have instituted democratic reforms. Turkey has quitely asserted civilian dominance over the military for the first time. Syria is fighting for its political life. Iran, on the verge of full fledged democracy in its last couple of elections has stepped back a bit from that trend, but the theocracy's hold has still weakened. South Sudan has cast off oppressive rule from the rest of Sudan, although that rump Sudan regime appears secure in the face of feeble protests. Pakistan displaced a coup installed President with an elected one, although violent factions in their society as it fights an active counterinsurgency war in the Northwest remain and it lacks full civilian control over the military-intelligence apparatus. And, don't forget that Indonesia is now ruled by a democratically elected civilian after decades of dictatorship, and that Bangladesh and Kashmir are in reasonably democratic and peaceful moments of their national lives after violent military led unrest and international tensions respectively. Bahrain crushed an uprising with Saudi Arabian support, and the Saudis have kept a lid on their own regime, but as annual host of pilgramages from Mecca and a wealthy country where people have satellite television, the shifting political balance of the Islamic world can't go unnoticed, at least for long. Algeria seems relatively untouched by the recent wave of uprisings, perhaps weary from its own ahead of the wave round of stuggles, but the dictators of the Sahara and Sahel must be justifably paranoid that their fall is only a matter of time. There is every reason to hope that a tipping point has been reached and that the future portends democracy for the Islamic world, and perhaps some moderation with it, rather than an intractable never ending conflict between the Islamic world and the West waged via terrorism. Frustration with local, Western backed despots has always been an important factor in anti-Western Islamic sentiment. Maybe that can change now.

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