Would the US Military Stand Down in the Face of Civil Unrest?

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In recent comments during a trip to Israel, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates discussed the escalating situation in Syria saying:

I’ve just come from Egypt, where the Egyptian army stood on the sidelines and allowed people to demonstrate and in fact empowered a revolution. The Syrians might take a lesson from that.

I would say that what the Syrian government is confronting is in fact the same challenge that faces so many governments across the region, and that is the unmet political and economic grievances of their people.

On the heels of the Libyan invasion, it’s becoming clear that events transpiring in the middle east for the last three months may not be as they seem in the mainstream. Rising food prices and a hungry populace have been suggested as one of the key triggers for what was followed by several incidents of self immolation and then wide-spread civil unrest. The state sponsored media has provided ample reason for the protests and riots breaking out in a dozen countries, focusing on the peoples’ yearning for democracy and change as the primary motivator.

It’s been parroted for weeks that mid-east leaders in countries like Egypt, Yemen, Libya and now Syria, are dictators and a threat to their people, as well as the United States. On February 4th, 2011, President Obama, speaking on the protests in Egypt, essentially gave a public , but cloaked decree to President Mubarak, recommending he resign:

“What I recommend to him is, he needs to consult with the people around him in his administration. He needs to listen to what was voiced by the Egyptian people and make judgments about the way forward that is orderly, but it must be meaningful and serious.”

“The key question that he must ask for himself is, ‘How do I leave a legacy in which Egypt is able through this transformative period?’ My hope is that he eventually will make the right decision.”

While not aggressively calling for Mubarak’s resignation, Mr. Obama’s words were interpreted by US and Egyptian media as exactly that. Even President Mubarak understood what was happening, and began a partial hand over of power to his newly appointed Vice President. A few days later, Mubarak declared his refusal to resign. When the riots broke out, he likely believed that the US would fully support the Egyptian government. After all, they had been our “friends” for decades. The official policy and attitude of the United States towards Egypt was clearly defined by President Bush in January of 2008, when the President visited with Mr. Mubarak in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt:

It’s an important stop for me because the United States has a longstanding friendship with Egypt. It’s important for the people of Egypt to understand our nation respects you, respects your history, respects your traditions and respects your culture. Our friendship is strong. It’s a cornerstone of – one of the main cornerstones of our policy in this region, and it’s based on our shared commitment to peace, security and prosperity.

I appreciate very much the long and proud tradition that you’ve had for a vibrant civil society. I appreciate the fact that women play an important role in your society, Mr. President. I do so because not only I’m a proud father of two young professional women, I also know how important it is for any vibrant society to have women involved in constructive and powerful ways. And I appreciate the example that your nation is setting.

Progress toward greater political openness is being led by the Egyptians themselves, by pioneering journalists – some of whom even may be here – bloggers, or judges insisting on independence, or other strong civic and religious leaders who love their country and are determined to build a democratic future.

Here’s a nation once described by President Bush as a longstanding friend and an example of political openness, women’s rights, and vibrant civil society, only to be declared a dictatorship by Western media almost literally overnight.

Similar themes have been playing out throughout the middle east, including Tunisia, Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Libya and Syria.

With the exception of Iran, no one in the White House or mainstream media really had any derogatory assessments of these other countries. And now, without warning, their people desire democratic governments? To be sure, the people of these countries have every right to protest, but something just isn’t right when you consider how the storyline has been developed.

After the perceptive buildup of dictatorial, power hungry leadership in the middle east, it was only a matter of time before an example needed to be set. Enter Gaddafi.

Libya, undergoing protests, riots and near civil war, seemed to be headed in the direction of Egypt, with an eventual voluntary transfer of power. Unlike Mubarak, however, Gaddafi rejected the West’s call for his military to stand down and pursued would-be rebels, going so far as to say they would be given “no mercy” if they continued their revolution.

What happened next makes inquiring minds wonder if Egypt’s President Mubarak wasn’t privately “asked” by elements of Western governments that he should pull back his military and resign, or end up hiding in a hole like Saddam Hussein.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates may have just given the Syrians the same option. If the Syrians don’t take it seriously, or come to the conclusion that Mr. Gates is bluffing, they may very well host the next Libya-style no fly zone.

Reasons provided by the US and coalition forces for the incursion into Libya is that the West is protecting innocent people from slaughter – a storyline that only sheep of state sponsored television could believe considering that the government of Bahrain allowed hundreds of Saudi troops to help quell the rebellion that threatened their monarchy. Government sponsored police forces are authorized to eliminate anyone who threatens the government, including unarmed protesters, many of who were shot in drive by executions:

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