When we look at the TV, and see the latest news from the Middle East we can think that there's been accurate reporting on the goings on of the Jasmine Revolution. And yet you should hardly need a reminding that the more you watch TV, the less you know. Right now, that's certainly the case with Libya.
There are a number of major misconceptions that the American public has about Libya and current events. Generally, there might even begin to be a more realistic vision of the goings on over there from 9/11 when the vast majority of all Americans thought that all Arabs were basically terrorists. The reporting on what's been going on since Tunisia appears to have had a positive effect on American public opinion overall, as people are seeing average men and women struggling for democracy and freedom. Thus there is some realization that people over there are yearning for the same kinds of things that we cherish in our country. All of this is to the good.
The American intervention in Libya may have complicated things a bit, as there certainly is a division of opinion as to whether President Obama's actions were right or wrong, and this split in opinion is reflected at every level of society from the bottom to the top. This is refreshing, too, as it demonstrates a breakdown from the usual partisan splits and wars that we see all the time, with the current goings on in Congress as being no exception. And certainly, there's probably some understanding that our previous involvements started by George Bush might have something to do with the situation in Libya now.
HOW AMERICA SEES ITSELF IN THIS, AND WHY THIS IS NOT TRUE
To this, I can only say, " don't get your hopes up too far. " While we can look at these attitudes and see some progress and thoughtful thinking on the part of the American public, there's still plenty of ignorance to go around. First, most people assume that we have the most powerful military in the world, and therefore we should be able to easily control any situation over there. This couldn't be further from the truth. You can see our failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there's absolutely no guarantee that we can automatically achieve our objectives in Libya. And what goes on Libya right now has absolutely nothing to do with our involvement in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Many people are very worried about the possibility of a long term intervention in Libya and its costs to us. There is the fear of another ongoing war. I believe that these fears are overblown as well. First of all, Libya is a desert country with a few cities and huge swaths of vacant desert land. With the intelligence capabilities that the US has, it's very easy to pinpoint where friendly and hostile forces are outside of urban areas. Hopefully, American and other military forces can deploy their weapons in such a way as to easily identify Quadaffi supporters and prevent them from attacking "rebels." And the news that President Obama has deployed CIA support to the anti-Quadaffi supporters strengthens the American position vastly.
Many people are worried about the fact that American involvement in Libya is not in our best interest, and this is a valid question. However, I would say that President Obama acted out of legitimate humanitarian instincts, and he did so after a careful review of the costs and potential benefits of committing our military forces.
The false thinking that affects most Americans in this area ultimately can lead to a misreading of the actual situation over there. And if for some reason the military action in Libya is prolonged, those fears might be justified. However, my thinking leads me to say that our actual military footprint of dropping bombs and waging war over there will actually be very brief.
Most Americans don't have a clue about the real nature of Arab (or Libyan) society. There's some understanding that Quadaffi is a bad man and a dictator. But beyond that, most Americans have no more of an idea as to the way things are in Benghazi or Tripoli than they have of the moon. My understanding is not as great as it should be , but I think I have a better knowledge than most people.
First, unlike America, Arabs and Libyans have a strong tribal identity. This is completely unknown in the USA. To a certain extent, it's based on the concept of family. However, the concept of tribes is much more far reaching than that, going back to prehistoric times. Even the most modern and secular Arabs still identify with their tribes over identifying with their country. This fact alone shows that Americans just don't understand Arabs at all. The American vision of Islam as an all-powerful single minded religion is bunk, in good part because of the numerous tribes that Arabs belong to. In fact, two of the major tribes in the Middle East, Sunni and Shiite base their differences on different interpretations of the Koran, the Muslim holy book. Islam has as many different interpretations of the "true" nature of its religion as Christianity. We should all think of Islam as a diverse collection of different opinions about their religion, not disimilar to Catholicism, and the many branches of Protestantism.
When we look at the competing nature of tribalism and the various factions of Islam, things get even more complicated when we add the concept of 21st Century modern thought into the mix. Most Americans don't differentiate between one Arab and the other. Whatever we see on TV must represent reality, right? So that means that there's no difference between a sheik and a terrorist. WRONG! This misconception is most important, and when Americans don't understand the complexity of the Arab world, they're risking a big disaster if such thinking is carried out by our military, as George Bush did.
The fact of the matter is, that Arab society is a mixture of both religious and non-religious, modern and very traditional (or as some stupid Americans might say, primitive). We all pretty much know what the history of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are. We don't have a clue as to how different Libyan society is from those two countries. One of the things that Americans have completely missed is the role that Al Jazeera has played all over the Middle East with its broadcasts. While you haven't looked at what Donald Rumsfeld called the "Terrorist News Network" I have. And I can tell you that its constant message has been promoting democracy, freedom, and human rights.While secular and traditional elements are fighting the good fight against that madman Quadaffi and other dictators all over the Middle East, they've done so in good part because of their exposure to Al Jazeera.
As the days and weeks go by, we'll see how the military struggle plays out. I'm fairly optimistic about the chances of obtaining victory against Quadaffi. The struggle after that revolves around the way that Libyan society copes with forming a new government. I can tell you that there are significant elements in Libyan society right now that are as worldly (or more so) than you or I. Because of this, I'm an optimist about what I see as being possible over there. The odds are very high that some kind of democracy will occur over there, and Barack Obama made the right move.