• 2011
  • MY SAY: When the Arab Spring is the West's surreal summer

MY SAY: When the Arab Spring is the West's surreal summer

Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
The Edge Malaysia - 04-07-2011

It has been six months now with no clear end in sight. The Arab Spring — which witnessed an unprecedented series of mass protests that started in Tunisia but quickly spread to almost the entire Arab world — has gone on longer than anyone expected, opening the doors even wider to extra-regional powers to subtly slip in their own agendas.

Some are quite blatant about it, given their vested interest in the region, especially in the supply of economic resources — or oil.

Until now, except for a couple of leaders, most of the region's heads of state are still hanging on, but maybe not for too much longer. Those who have not got the stamp of approval from the Western powers are most likely to go in contrast to others that are more subservient. Increasingly, there is no pretence why there must be selective regime change even though it means violating the mandate set by the international community.

The Arab Spring — like the seasonal spring — symbolises the hope of better things to come but it is not always pleasant, especially when there is intervention from external forces. And like the seasonal spring — sandwiched between the two extremes of cold winter and warm summer — its potential emergence could be retarded if one or the other extreme persists longer than usual.

Such is the analogy that comes to mind when the West forces itself on the Arab Spring, turning it into some kind of summer when the traditional hunting and shooting season opens! And what a busy season it has been with such a large array of "game" to be shot at despite the risk of accidents, even in high places. Remember Dick Cheney's hunting incident in February 2006 when the then US vice-president shot Harry Whittington, a Texas attorney, during a quail hunt? At least one lead-shot pellet lodged in or near Whittington's heart, although he survived.

But not all cases have a happy ending. In a recent shooting exercise carried out by Nato in Libya, nine civilians, including two children, were killed in a residential neighbourhood in the capital on June 19. Nato confirmed that one of its airstrikes went astray and in a statment said: "It appears that one weapon did not strike the intended target and that there may have been a weapons system failure which may have caused a number of civilian casualties." Nevertheless, some contend that this was a "deliberate bombing".

Giving Nato the benefit of the doubt, this, for sure, is not the only "system failure" we have been privy to. Bruce Ackerman, a professor of law and political science at Yale University, argues that US military involvement in Libya is without any foundation in US law.

The author of The Decline and Fall of the American Republic said in an opinion piece in the International Herald Tribune on June 22 that President Barack Obama had failed to request Congressional approval for military action as required by the War Powers Act of 1973.

It is, he said, "a troubling precedent that could allow future administrations to wage war at their convenience — free of legislative checks and balances".


Ackerman made categorical comparison to what the administration of George W Bush did post-9/ll, which later led to the approval of the now infamous "torture memos". While noting that the players in the Obama administration are different, he said "the dynamic is the same". Ackerman emphasised that Obama is creating a decisive and dangerous precedent for the next commander-in-chief. He wrote that "from a legal viewpoint, Obama is setting an even worst precedent".

This, no doubt, signals another systemic failure of the so-called world's greatest champion of democracy and human rights. As Ackerman suggested in his book, the structure of the current US system of democracy is about to break down when the presidency functions as the sole legislator and executor by ignoring Congress.

To illustrate the gravity of the failure, Ackerman argued: "If the precedent Obama has created is allowed to stand, future presidents who do not like what the Justice Department is telling them could simply cite the example of Obama's war in Libya and organise a supportive 'coalition of the willing' made up of the administration's top lawyers. Even if just one or two agreed, this would be enough to push ahead and claim that the law was on the president's side."

Perhaps, this is what is meant by the so-called "new responsibility of helping the Libyan people determine their own destiny", as the US permanent representative in Nato Ivo D Daalder claims, crafted from another systemic failure which in this case seems more deliberate than "accidental".

The Arab Spring is really open season for the West to exercise the ambitions of a few among them to bring home and show off their most desirable trophies through Nato despite the apparent schisms within the world's mightiest bully alliance.

Sarwar A Kashmeri, a senior fellow in the Altantic Council's International Security Program and the author of NATO 2,0: Reboot or Delete? (2011), referring to the Nato-led war in Libya, pointed out that "only six out of 28 Nato countries are participating and only three of those actually attack Libyan targets to enforce the UN mandate".

The Arab Spring may, after all, be slow to emerge because of the unbridled desire of the West for a surreal summer.

* The writer is the Vice-Chancellor of Universiti Sains Malaysia. He can be contacted at vc@usm.my