And, as I paid
$71.38 to fill my Toyota Highlander's gas tank this week, I thought that this
also is a question that hits close to home. I think U.S.-Saudi relations are
going to get real interesting in the coming months. Mega-reporter Karen DeYoung
has an interesting article about a supposedly conciliatory letter
President Obama has sent to Saudi King Abdullah. But I think the Saudis sense
(correctly) that Obama's heart is not on their side. They saw how he jumped on the
freedom train in his Libya speech, and they fear that train is steaming
straight at Riyadh.
By Charles A. Krohn
Best Defense guest
How can an informed American keep his or her head from spinning out of control,
given reports of Mideast violence and conflicting claims from good guys and
One day we are mesmerized by demonstrations in Cairo that Egyptian
youth hope will herald in a new era of democracy and domestic tranquility.
The next day we learn that the Islamic Brotherhood that earlier shunned
revolution and kept its distance from rebels is now supporting elections later
this year. Is it possible that some Islamics hope to gain power via the ballot
box? In the meantime, rebels who toppled the Musharraf regime are back in the
streets, calling for the ouster of army leadership, based on the army's
repression of new demonstrations. Can "students" really challenge the
institutional army with any realistic hopes of winning? If not, are endless
demonstrations the wave of the future?
Who will stand and tell us what Egypt will look like in a year, maybe less? I
don't expect to see any official predictions in writing, given the political
differences, social mess and regional psychology.
Meanwhile, it looks like the outcome of the civil war in Libya is far from
certain, downgrading the ebullience of the rebels and their allies,
including the United States, of just a week ago, when it appeared the rebels'
path to Tripoli was nearly open. At what point does President Obama decide who
will have access to the estimated $100 billion in Libyan assets frozen in the
rush to isolate Qaddafi?
Should Qaddafi win the civil war, which appears likely at the moment, some
international precedent must exist that will refund the money to the legal head
of state. And can we deny he's the head of state, if the rebels only control a
small portion of the country? Should the plan to topple Qaddafi fail,
seizing Libyan assets only to release them will make us look pretty silly. But
all things being equal, the silliness may be lost in the noise level of
setbacks elsewhere. Will the European interest fade or mobilize?
The news from Afghanistan is mixed, at best, and it's not much better from
Pakistan. The hard part for many is to separate the linkage to identify winners
and losers. It seems we may not have visibility into the process for years to
come. That may be the best case, because it looks like our ability to influence
the outcome is waning by the hour. I wish this weren't the case. General
Petraeus is a great warrior, and certainly a model of honor, but he's no
I hope the resumption of Hamas attacks from Gaza is a temporary phenomenon, but
one wonders if the rising blood isn't triggered by the hopes of its supporters
in Iran and Egypt, via Syria. And who knows where that ends? One
can visualize a far more virulent Hamas, with little effort, and more
retaliation from Israel that could trigger events nearly unimaginable.
Saving the worse for last, what happens if sinister forces in Iraq (hardly
a surprise, of course) are determined to make our departure later this year an
exercise in chaos, just to humiliate us during what should be our finest hour?
Images of rooftop evacuations come to mind, possibly returning our nation to
the days of great malaise last experienced in 1975.
After Vietnam, we crawled back into our cave,
as it were, hoping a renewed focus on the Soviet Union would draw Americans
together against a common and very powerful foe. We didn't venture from the
cave until 1991, when we responded to Saudi concerns about Iraq invading
Kuwait. Saudi Arabia wasn't the only interested party, but the one with the
deepest pockets and most to lose, should Saddam succeed in spreading his power.
As we slowly learn that our power to
influence events in the Mideast isn't what it once was, real or imaginary, the
Saudis are again concerned they may be isolated by Iranian ambitions to be the
dominant power in the region, now that we neutered Iran's traditional
threat, Iraq. The region would be tsunamied if the Saudis thought they were in
the fight, alone. At the moment, I think that ain't going to happen. But
A. Krohn is the author of The Lost Battalion of Tet,
and is now retired to Panama City Beach, Florida. He served in Iraq in 2003-2004
as public affairs advisor to the director of the Infrastructure Reconstruction
Program. He later served as public affairs officer for the American Battle