Friday, May 23, 2014

'Arab Spring' is going the way of 'Prague Spring'

The use of the term "Arab Spring" is becoming as archaic as "Prague Spring," which some readers might recall was the hopeful transformation in the Czechoslovakian capital in 1968, before Soviet-allied troops quashed the liberalization. Like that earlier spring, the "Arab Spring" appears headed for a cold winter.

The latest news from Libya looks a bit like the news from the 1960s, when Colonel Qaddafi took control of the nation. Since Qaddafi's overthrow by a popular rebellion in 2011, the country has been a chaotic morass of competing armed militia and a weak or non-existent central government. Into the morass steps Khalifa Heftar, a retired general who has accumulated enough firepower to take on at least some of the Islamist militias that control segments of the country. Heftar sees himself as the country's salvation, but so did Qaddafi.

As for the "Arab Spring," high winds have blown away that welcome breeze, and it seems unlikely ever to return.

The United States has been largely on the sidelines of what is happening in North Africa and the Arab world. President Obama and Congress, reluctant to engage in another ground war in the Middle East, were extremely cautious in lending support to the anti-Qaddafi rebels three years ago. Some air support was provided, but American lives were not put at risk. A year later, Islamist terrorists killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and other Americans in Benghazi.

While Washington seems fixated on the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya has slipped further and further into the quagmire of ungovernable militias and sectarian violence.

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