Lebanese Protests Lead to Cabinet Resignations

83739393

Tens of thousands of Lebanese citizens took to the streets Saturday for a third day of protests aimed at tax increases and government corruption. Following today’s demonstrations, four ministers from the Lebanese Forces Party, a traditional ally of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, resigned from his cabinet. Samir Gaegea, the head of the party released a short, simple statement explaining the reasoning behind the resignations: “We are convinced that the government is unable to take the necessary steps to save the situation.” Protesters in Beirut responded to news of the resignations with cheers and celebration. So far, the demonstrations and protests have been peaceful and there are no indications that will change anytime soon.

Still, the Lebanese government has reason to worry. The rising costs of living, and tax increases are what prompted the protests. Right now, even though the tone of the demonstrations has been peaceful, citizens are angry and frustrated at what is largely perceived as the government’s inability to address the nation’s poor infrastructure, official corruption, and high unemployment. These frustrations are very similar to those recently voiced by Iraqi citizens, which led to violent, bloody demonstrations across Iraq.

Cronyism, unemployment, and crumbling infrastructures have become common issues around the Middle East. Iraq and Lebanon are not alone. In other nations civilian frustrations are simmering though it remains to be seen if the recent protests in Iraq, and Lebanon inspire similar actions in Tunisia, Egypt, or even Kuwait, and Bahrain. If so, do not expect the next wave of political instability will not become the radical-fueled conflagration that Arab Spring did in 2010 and 2011.

Will Venezuela Become Another Libya?

gettyimages-1019408426

The past weekend’s violence on Venezuela’s borders with Colombia, and Brazil has prompted some analysts, and journalists to openly wonder if the time is coming for US military intervention in Venezuela. At first glance, this does appear to be a fair question to ask given the positions the Trump administration has taken on the Venezuelan crisis, and the Maduro regime. Venezuela is approaching the status of being a ‘Failed State.’ The economy is in ruins, citizens are fleeing the country by the tens of thousands, and just beneath the surface a civil war is brewing. As the pressure on Caracas rises, Maduro’s actions are becoming more violent, and less predictable. Citizens who openly defy him and attempt to bring relief supplies into the country are being targeted by paramilitary squads. This led to the bloodshed and violence over the weekend.

The US has a history of using the ‘Failed State’ argument to justify intervening militarily in the affairs of nation-states that were, for lack of a better term, about to go down the tubes and potentially take its neighbors down with them. Libya is the best recent example. The US spearheaded diplomatic efforts aimed at gaining UN authorization for NATO to intervene militarily in the First Libyan Civil War in 2011. The US also spearheaded the NATO military effort that came shortly afterward. President Obama took action to save the lives of innocent protesters, and other Libyan civilians who were being targeted by Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi. Along with terrorizing his own people, he also posed a threat to the progress of Arab Spring, which was sweeping away authoritarian regimes in the region at the time.

Obama’s intervention helped rip Qadaffi from power and for a short time Libya settled down. However, Qaddafi’s ouster eventually created a power vacuum in Libya that touched off a second, even deadlier civil war, and also led to the waves of Libyan refugees swamping Southern Europe.

Libya in 2011, and Venezuela of the present day share a number of similarities. Both fit the definition of a Failed State. Oil was unable to save the Qaddafi government from ruin, and it doesn’t seem to be of much help to Maduro’s regime either. Venezuela is fast becoming the pariah of South America, much in the same way Libya was treated by most of North Africa and the Middle East.

Despite these common traits, Venezuela is not Libya. Maduro doesn’t pose a threat -real or perceived- to the United States and the Western world. Venezuela is not being used as a base of operations by international terrorist groups. The Venezuelan military, while having a handful of advanced US and Russian aircraft and weapons in its inventory, is not a force capable of aggression beyond its borders. The humanitarian crisis that Maduro’s actions have created are a tragedy, but not strong enough to act as the platform for military intervention by the US, and other Western powers.

If change is going to come to Venezuela, it will have to come from within. The US, most of South America, and Europe are content with limiting their responses to recognizing Juan Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela, donating relief supplies to Venezuela’s impoverished citizens, and imposing economic sanctions on Maduro’s government. Unless something dramatic happens, this will not change.

Opposition Energized in Venezuela

34534543

The opposition in Venezuela has finally emerged from the political wilderness. The National Assembly’s challenging the legitimacy of Nicolas Maduro’s government has rejuvenated opposition groups across Venezuela. These groups that are in direct opposition to Maduro are rallying around Juan Guaido, the president of the National Assembly, and the man who has assumed the powers and duties of the Acting President of Venezuela, giving the country two leaders claiming to be the rightful leader. Guaido is receiving recognition, and support from many nations, and international organizations in the Western Hemisphere. The United States is backing him, and the National Assembly-led opposition to Maduro. Brazil and Colombia are two of the Latin American countries that have recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s president.

Following violent protests across the nation last night, Venezuelan opponents to Maduro are preparing for a major march today. Even though the opposition is energized, and has the momentum, a Caracas Spring is not guaranteed. We’ve been down this road before with a series of violent, mass protests breaking out around Venezuela for days at a time. In the end nothing changed for the better. Maduro remained in power, and the opposition was fractured. This time around, the hope is that outcome is decidedly different.

The wild card is the Venezuelan military. Its support of Maduro has been steadfast and if it remains so, Maduro will stay in power. If Guaido’s call for the armed forces to disavow Maduroa is answered by even a handful of units, the situation in Venezuela could change immeasurably. At best, the military turns on Maduro completely, while the worst-case scenario would be a bona fide civil war breaking out.

Wednesday could very well end up being a critical day for Venezuela.

Syria: The Coming Storm

Arleigh-Burke-Class-Destroyer-Disrupts-Pirate-Activity-in-Gulf-of-Aden

 

The Syrian Crisis has entered a new phase with the reported chemical weapons attack on 21 August. The US is preparing to intervene in the civil war if it turns out that the chemical weapons usage was in fact committed by the Syrian government’s forces. As time goes on, it appears that Bashir Assad was responsible for the attack. Western military intervention is all but certain at this point. However, the size and scope of that intervention has yet to be decided upon. Neither has the diplomatic side of the intervention equation.  The only cast-iron certainty at this point is that the number of questions outnumber the answers available by a considerable margin.

It is widely held that the US and her allies have not yet intervened in Syria. That is not true. The US and her allies have not overtly intervened militarily. Up till now the United States military role has been behind the scenes and limited to the delivery of weapons to opposition groups deemed to be ‘acceptable successors’ to the Assad regime. It is safe to assume that US Special Forces groups are operating in Southern Syria to help instruct the opposition fighters on weapons and tactics, as well as paving the way for a larger US military role in the future should the situation call for it. The time for that larger role could be fast approaching.

If and when it comes, what will intervention look like? Will it be unilateral, or will the US build an international coalition to confront Assad’s regime? Will it be a limited strike restricted to the use of Tomahawk cruise missiles and air launched stand-off weapons against a small number of targets? Or will it take the shape of a larger effort to topple Assad? An operation using the Libyan blueprint as its foundation.

Given the outrage caused in Washington by the use of chemical weapons, the destruction of Syria’s remaining chemical weapons stockpiles should be an immediate objective of any intervention. Destroying them will not be an easy task. Assad no doubt has them dispersed in hardened, well defended locations throughout the country. When the locations are determined, it will not be as easy sending a fighter or bomber overhead to drop bombs on them. Air defenses have to be degraded, command and control sites neutralized and most importantly, air superiority must be established across the width and breadth of Syria.

The aforementioned things need to be done prior to any military action aside from a limited strike. Right now, the US forces in the area are limited to four destroyers and an unknown number of attack submarines in the Eastern Med, as well as a contingent of USAF aircraft in Jordan. More military assets will be needed. The numbers and types of forces that move into the region in the coming days will provide an idea of what type of action is coming. British aircraft are already arriving at RAF Akrotiri. US aircraft are probably not far behind. Akrotiri, bases in Jordan and the large airbase at Incirlik, Turkey are all available locations for US warplanes, as well as warplanes belonging to the other nations of a forming Anti-Assad coalition.

 

 

The Next Phase Of The Egyptian Democracy Experiment Is Underway

Egypt-Coup

 

Last month the Egyptian people were forced to make a choice. Challenge the democratically elected Mohammed Morsi and disrupt democracy in Egypt while still in its infancy. Or, remain inactive as Morsi’s hold on power became more absolute. The citizens of Egypt opted to challenge Morsi and the military stood beside the people for the second time in two years. This battle between secularists and Islamists in Egypt has been won and lost. The war, however, continues on.

Whether or not the military was justified in its handling of the crisis depends on perspectives. Many western observers quickly labeled the toppling of Morsi as a classic example of a coup d’état. An elected president was removed from office by the military. For the average Egyptian citizen, Morsi was an unpopular president who was making fundamental changes to many facets of Egyptian life. The average person’s life has not improved in the past year. In fact, things have become more difficult for Egyptians since Morsi’s election in 2012. The military may have moved to save the nation from dissolving into chaos and civil war.

The coming days and weeks will determine whether or not the military’s intervention was successful. The quicker Egypt returns to civilian rule, the better. Interim President Adly Mansour cannot afford another ‘massacre’ like the one that the Muslim Brotherhood claims happened outside of Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo yesterday. A large number of Morsi supporters were allegedly killed by security forces and police.  The Muslim Brotherhood claims the ‘massacre’ took place during prayer time. Other reports are that the demonstrators shot first when they tried to storm the headquarters building where Morsi is being held. Details are scarce and what really happened may never be determined.

So far, the democratic experiment in Egypt has not brought forth the stability most people were hoping it would. But the path to democracy is a marathon course, not a 100 yd sprint. Something to keep in mind.