To understand where things currently stand in Libya, I turned to Libya expert and historian Jason Pack, author of Libya and the Global Enduring Disorder, Senior Analyst for Emerging Challenges at the NATO Defense College Foundation, and the President of Libya-Analysis LLC. Besides developments in Libya, we also touched on the war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian mercenaries, and what the UAE and Saudi snub of Joe Biden means for the geopolitics of the Middle East.
Our conversation, conducted over the phone and edited only for content, is below.
When the Arab Spring spread to Libya in 2011 and Qaddafi began to crack down on unarmed protestors, I had a knee-jerk reaction that the West had to act. But looking back, if Qaddafi had remained in power, would the West have been better situated to work with the Qaddafi regime on economic reforms versus how things actually played out?
The way in which you phrased the question is a bit too Western-centric for me. I lived in Libya during the late Qaddafi period and go back as much as I can. I was there a few months ago. Obviously, the situation is much worse now. But it is important to recognize that as things were playing out, the Libyan people made it clear from February 15, 2011, onward that they were going to overthrow the Brother Leader or die trying.
That is not to say that in the early 2000s, Western governments couldn’t have pushed for reforms. Saif al-Islam, the so-called reformist son, decided on February 21, 2011, just a few days after the Uprisings began to throw in his lot with his father, which was very surprising to those of us who had high hopes that Saif might oversee a range of political and economic reforms. But when he showed his true colors, it was then too late for any reforms.
If the West had not supported the rebels, we would have been in a full-on Syrian civil war situation with a neo-rogue Qaddafi regime supported by Russia and other rogue states like Venezuela, Iran, and North Korea. The ensuing implications for the global system and Libyan civilians would have been probably much worse than even the Syrian civil war and of course lasting for many, many years. So, the premise of your question that once the Arab Spring got started the West could have somehow directed the anti-Qaddafi movement and revolution more towards economic reform rather than straight regime change does not check out.
That said, I do think back on what Obama said to Thomas Friedman about what was his greatest foreign policy mistake: he said it was not doing more on the reconstruction in Libya in the 2012-13 period. This gets right at what my book is about — we in the West didn’t even try or were unable to sort the coordination complexities about the reconstruction phrase with the Libyans or other Western nations. That’s what was so critical in a place like Libya, where its reconstruction could pay for itself and benefit every power on earth. It could have been very, very positive-sum. However, without a leader or any hegemon ordering the allies, it was not possible, as foreign actors and Libyan factions were all pulling in different directions.
Is there anyone who can pull Libya out of its quagmire and unify the people? Is it too fragmented with Haftar and others?
It’s too late now, but there were many opportunities both before 2014 and after. Before the civil war started in 2014, there were still some opportunities and some hope. Unfortunately, given the state of global politics today, it’s not going to be easy to have a coalition making compromises to help Libya out of its quagmire, as you say. Any coalition to rebuild a post-conflict state can only work if it has the Russians and Americans on the same side and the Emiratis and Qatar on the same side, and that seems rather less likely now.
And you also have the Egyptians in there….
The Egyptians are quite pragmatic, which is why I didn’t mention them above as a destabilizing actor.
Gulf State Analytics’ Giorgio Cafiero authored a piece on Sisi’s pragmatism, and his concerns regarding Libya are security-related.
I would say Sisi has been pragmatic the whole time because Egypt has a border with Libya where jihadis and arms flow back and forth, and he needs to get his guest workers in. He can’t be as ideological as the Emiratis. I do think [Sisi] is much worse than Mubarak. Of course, it’s very repressive inside Egypt, but Egypt still has an important role to play in helping Libya overcome its current challenges as part of a larger coalition.
Do you think our focus on human rights versus a stable region is wrong? We’re not going to be able to change Sisi’s governing philosophy, so essentially you have to work with the devil you have.
That’s certainly the way that some Washington think tanks frame the issue. I get what you’re going after. Philosophically, I don’t think the legalistic doctrine of human rights as embodied in various legal conventions should have much of a role in foreign policy decision-making. I don’t even understand the meaning of human rights as a legal concept in international relations. Taking actions to promote human dignity in the context of other strategic interests and as part of trying to promote sustainable outcomes, I understand, but not basing the conduct of international diplomacy solely on human rights: like to support certain regimes or leaders based on their human rights record and ignore the fundamentals of strategic or economic interests. That doesn’t make sense to me. But then conversely, it’s not for us in the West to say we’re going to just support the incumbent rulers. When Mubarak was in power, we supported Mubarak, and now with Sisi in power we support Sisi. That’s also crazy.
In a place like Libya, we need to look at the fundamental underlying economic incentive structures. Those structures make no sense in terms of maximizing wealth or efficiency and lead to corruption. As a result, they have negative human rights implications and also give rise to the militias.
Still, I don’t think of human rights in the way that the left of the Democratic Party conceives it, and I don’t think it makes sense in terms of a basis for who to support in foreign policy terms. We can’t change our relationship with the Saudis because they imprisoned a given blogger, you know. A lot of these new Biden appointees are like, “well, you know, because Trump was in bed with the Emiratis, we’ve got to really push back against the Emirati treatment of these bloggers.” And it’s like, wait a second, we have so many important and real interests in the Emirati relationship, we can’t just abandon it entirely. That said, we should realize that having a bad human rights records of regimes like the Saudi and the Emirates has long-term destabilizing implications that we need to be aware of and try to mitigate.
So that’s why I think human rights is dealt with poorly when we treat it as a cause rather than seeing it as a very distal symptom. The regimes that have bad human rights records are always fundamentally dysfunctional and corrupt on other things anyway. Those things could go wrong when much, much higher up the decision tree you have corrupt economic incentives, bad governance, ungoverned spaces, and so on. As a result, you also have human rights abuses. If you genuinely want to fix human rights, or promote human dignity as I see it, try to reform broken economic structures in places like Libya and Russia first.
What is your general take on elections in Libya?
It’s a complicated topic and to some extent, it is that complexity that allows the Libyan status quo actors to prevent the elections from happening. People who are not following this issue very closely feel like there was this “scheduled December 24 election” that almost happened but now is postponed. They think that’s a problem, but this kind of framing misses the point.
Elections of one form or another have been being postponed since the first Civil War arose from disputes surrounding the results of the June 25, 2014, HoR election. You might argue that all of what has happened in Libya since June 25, 2014, has been myriad battles about who gets to control how elections are conducted and who gets to block elections from happening. These December 24 elections were no different. The only period of time when there was anything different was the time when Stephanie Williams took over from Ghassan Salame as Acting UN Special Envoy. In that role during late 2019 and all of 2020, she smashed heads together and really got the international community on board for what’s called the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) process. That process culminated in the GNU, and it also undid the prior mistakes about the attempted April 14, 2019, National Conference through the creation of the LPDF. And if Stephanie had been allowed to stay in place, it could have worked to get us to elections.
However, the Russians disrupted all of that. They succeeded in making sure that Stephanie was never fully appointed as Special Envoy but only Acting Special Envoy. They blocked the Algerian and Bulgarian potential appointments for Special Envoy and then got the Slovakian Ján Kubiš, who was a shill for Moscow and did his undergrad at Moscow State University and seems to have taken orders directly from the Kremlin. His whole thing was to just make the elections fail, and he succeeded in taking the ability to make the elections happen away from the LPDF and UN and giving it back to the HoR. When the process left the hands of the international community and was back in the hands of the HoR, they built it to fail so they could stay in power.
It was clear from June 2021 onward that the elections were never going to happen. It’s amazing how those who wanted it to fail but did not take responsibility for it managed to let people think until about December 17 that the elections might just be happening on December 24, which was delusional. It’s a showcase in what I call ‘incumbent psychology’ and just incumbency in general. How the Russians play the whole game, in terms of where we are now, is a showcase of this as well. Because of the shambles that Kubiš made, they have had to bring Stephanie back in, but she’s still only a special advisor. She doesn’t really have the full powers to get the elections or other power transition frameworks back on track.
Since the world is quite distracted, Stephanie doesn’t have many powers just to get sanctions going and to do all the things that Macron claimed he cared about during the 2021 Paris conference. “Oh, I’m going to sanction the spoilers to the electoral process.” Well, he was never going to sanction spoilers, because the French are very complicit in all of this and are happy to have a Haftar-friendly government in power. So now we have this new, illegitimate unelected General National Stability government, which is really a Haftar government. It’s shocking how many one-degree removed from Haftar people are in the government.
As we are doing this interview it’s unclear who is the prime minister and if or when there will ever be elections. People are talking about the Constitution as a way to not have the elections. And at this moment, Libya is at its peak of complexity and opacity, so as to allow the people who are in power to stay in power. That this has played out this way is really all about the economic system and how the semi-sovereigns keep doing what they have always done.
And furthermore, the elections have never really mattered. All that matters is reforming the economy, the subsidies, and the way that the semi-sovereigns work. And this is a point that I make in my book. It’s something I have been writing about since 2012. People say ‘We can’t talk about economic reform. There’s a war going on.’ To that, I would say you can’t talk about some kind of power-sharing agreement or peace conference when there is a subsidy situation going on. Everything goes back to the subsidy situation, John, and it doesn’t matter if they have elections or not until there are some serious reforms to the Libyan economy.
Do Libyans care about elections?
Libyans would like to have elections because they dislike the current batch of crooks that are in office or vying for power. Some think that if a new lot comes into power, maybe [they’ll] tackle the real bread and butter issues. But based on past performance we can assume that won’t happen unless there are structural reasons pushing them to do so.
So essentially Libyans are trapped in a cyclical pattern of Haftar’s forces and various power players like the Russians and the French manipulating their body politic?
In a place like Libya, there are many benefits to being an incumbent actor and engaging in status quo government and politics. It doesn’t matter if it’s Haftar or some other warlord. These guys are a product of the structures that give rise to them, just like I say about Trump in my book. Same with Putin. I’m very disappointed with the Western media coverage that narrates the current war in Ukraine as being all about Putin, Putin, Putin. No, Putin is the product of the structural features of the Russian economy, which was never really reformed when the Soviet Union collapsed.
It’s the same in Libya. There was no reform to the Qaddafian economy, so we have the same kind of outcomes in post-Qaddafi Libya as in Qaddafian Libya because the economy wasn’t reformed. Post-Soviet Russia has economic dynamics just like Soviet Russia in terms of the benefits of being a status quo actor, because Yeltsin and Co. tried to do political reforms without doing functional economic reforms.
I mean, that’s kind of my novel contribution that I bang on about in the book. And it’s the same in Ukraine. If we didn’t have the 2014 Maidan stuff, Ukraine would be exactly the same as Russia and Libya. They inherited all the same corrupt and corrupting semi-sovereign statist institutions from the old regimes. It’s the same structures that led to Yanukovych and all the dominant oligarchs there and, you know, has created perverse economic incentives. In Ukraine, it’s the gas transit subsidies and opaque state-holding companies that stop the country from functioning properly.
Russian mercenary groups like the Wagner Group are often in the headlines. Can you touch on what role they play in Libya?
The role of the Wagner Group in Libya is frequently overstated. They barely fought the 2019/2020 war for Tripoli. If you thought they fought well, you are missing something. They were on the losing side and their actions were characterized by incompetence. People have talked about 8,000 Wagner mercenaries. In reality, there were probably never more than 1,200 even at the peak, and they’re in the hundreds now. They don’t fight grand battles and they were bested by the Turks in cyber, drones, anti-aircraft, and counter-aircraft measures. Sure, Wagner initially did some good drone recon, and even anti-aircraft and counter aircraft work, until the Turks deployed en masse to Libya from November 2019 onwards. They brought a new kind of warfare that I described in my article “Turning the Tide” for the Middle East Institute. I explained how the Turks invented a new kind of drone warfare and anti-aircraft, and anti-drone tactics that were more sophisticated and integrated than any conducted ever before. They just demolished the way in which the Russians had gone about doing their drone warfare and anti-aircraft anti-drone warfare. People like to talk about Wagner Group, but they’re clearly not that great when it just took a few Turks from the General Staff to use Bayraktar drones and TB2s in a different way and absolutely rout the Wagner Group-aligned forces.
Wagner’s role in other African countries is a bit more nefarious. Correct?
It is nefarious in Libya as well, they killed a lot of civilians in the southern outskirts of Tripoli. I just don’t think that they’re that competent. Obviously, in a place like Mali where there isn’t much military competence at all, they can tip the scale more easily.
What the Wagner Group may do now that the West is at war with Russia, and make no mistake about it, I argue we’re at war with Russia, is that they may use their presence in Libya to turn off the pipelines and try to hike global gas prices up even higher. It’s not easy for them to turn off the natural gas that’s produced through the Greenstream and goes through to Italy, but they can certainly do what they’ve done in the past by promoting oil blockades like the one we have as this is going to press. Now in this world of very, very tight oil prices, it is easy to imagine Wagner working with Haftar to achieve this whenever it suits Russia.
Wagner’s presence in Libya also prevents the Turks from taking over the whole country. It’s just that they never did the fighting. There was that horrible BBC documentary, I don’t know if you saw it, about Wagner in Libya, which implied they were the real power behind Haftar. And yes, they set some booby traps and mines and whatnot. Of course, it’s horrible if your kid gets killed in the southern Tripoli suburbs by stepping on a Russian landmine. But you would be misled into thinking that Wagner fought the whole war on behalf of Haftar, that they won, and that they almost conquered all this territory. That’s not the case. There were just some Russian guys sitting in villas, sending text messages, laying mines, and once in a while doing things with drones, they never fought in any of the important land battles of the War for Tripoli.
My impression from reporting by The Daily Beast or Vice is that the Wagner Group had a more fundamental hold over Libya.
This is one of the things that sucks about media coverage of the non-white world. It doesn’t matter if it’s Blackwater, Erik Prince, or Wagner. Mercenaries are sexy, and especially if they are white, they get clicks. Vice and Daily Beast have capitalized on this. They will say random things about these mercenary types being important in Libya without actually explaining what’s actually going on in Libya. So the coverage of Wagner is very distorted relative to their actual import.
Jason, let me ask you about a topic some writers have covered about the return of the monarchy. We both agreed it’s hogwash, but they do touch on an important aspect of the 1951 constitution.
I’ll just say one thing about the 1951 constitution. Federalism is not something that even people in eastern Libya want today or even understand. It’s a code word used by a select few groups who would benefit from separatism. They want the East to become a separate country so that it can legally sell oil to Russia and others, as such sales are currently illegal. This would serve to break the monopoly of the Tripoli-based institutions.
Do you have any hopes for Libya’s future or is it stuck in a state of perpetual anarchy?
I will start by saying that I lived in Syria for many years and I don’t have high hopes for Syria. I didn’t even have hopes while I lived there from 2004 to 2005. But I have a lot of hopes for Libya’s future. Libya is very wealthy. Their oil and gas are worth more now than even just a few months ago, there are no major sectarian divides, it’s not that populated, and it’s not that polluted. Plus, Libya has an unbelievable geostrategic location, maybe one of the best in the world. These guys just need to get their act together. Might they have to burn through more reserves? Yes. But the fundamental characteristics of Libya are too good.
Think about Kuwait as an example. If things started to go wrong there, you would think “I cannot imagine that this is going to be screwed up for too long,” because it’s Kuwait. The international system simply won’t stand for it. They’re at the head of the waters of the Gulf. They’re so important, not only for shipping lanes of other people’s oil but their own oil and their small, educated population. Of course, Libya is tribally and ethnically more complicated than a place like Kuwait or Qatar, but I’m still hopeful as the fundamentals are so good. However, I think that you need to have a medium-term outlook. We’re not even 11 years out since the Qaddafi regime was overthrown. I could easily see things getting worse for the next three to five years more, but thereafter is where I see a major potential for things to get better.
You can’t expect democracy to flower overnight even after nearly 11 years. What expectations did the West have?
Well, my argument in my book is that it’s not really about democracy at all. You can’t expect a post-conflict transition to happen when the global system is not an order, but a Global Enduring Disorder. We’re in this Enduring Disorder and that is manifest in Libya, whose brokenness spits the Enduring Disorder back out onto us. It’s a feedback loop. If Qaddafi was decapitated in the 80s, which almost happened when Reagan launched a military strike to assassinate him, a sustained civil war most likely wouldn’t have followed at that point. But imagine that one had broken for some bizarre reason. You wouldn’t have had the Italians and French backing opposite sides of the war. You wouldn’t have had the Emirati and Qataris essentially fighting each other through special ops, it wouldn’t have been allowed. Reagan would have just made a few phone calls and it would have stopped instantly. Now, we live in a non-polar/non-unipolar/non-hegemonic world where this kind of Enduring Disorder can play out in a place like Libya.
Can you touch on Ukraine and Putin’s strategy? His air force flattened whole Syrian towns and villages to keep Bashar al-Assad in power.
Ukraine is the world’s most strategically important territory. We have been seeing images of white people being killed and fleeing their homes on our screens, which tend to resonate with Western publics differently than when Arabs are being killed or fleeing. If Putin were to employ the tactics he used in Syria in Ukraine beyond what has already happened in Bucha and Mariupol, the Western public would force their governments to go into an ever-deepening global economic war with Russia.
What that would entail in terms of sanctions and the global economy and inflation and the risk of nuclear escalation is a pretty big deal that Western nations want to avoid. Do I think he might do it? Yes. He made a miscalculation because we had appeased him too much previously from 2008-2020. I talked about this in my New Lines piece “Why Putin is Playing Poker, Not Chess” as well as my Foreign Policy piece “It’s Time to Beat Putin at Poker and Call his Bluff”. It’s reminiscent of what the West did with Hitler at Munich. “No, no, no, the Sudetenland, please this will be the last thing. Okay. It’s fine. It’s your last thing. It’s fine.”
We’ve been giving Putin everything he wanted from 2008 until just recently. He was reflecting on the Syria Red Line, Crimea, and so on. Putin must have been thinking “these guys are paper tigers, they will never really fight.” Now that we’ve finally stood up, it’s a bit of a mess. None of the major leaders thought that we would get to this point. Neither Trump nor Obama, who both appeased him, thought it would ever come to a full-blown war. The very nature of humans is that when we get surprised, when our backs are against the wall like this, you don’t know what will happen. Putin might lash out, he might behave crazily. He has a bruised and wounded ego now, and he knows that if he backs down now, his generals and the Russian people will probably get rid of him. He needs to try to salvage something from us. To try to declare victory in the Donbas or in upcoming negotiations.
Putin is unpredictable, to say the least, but Obama had rolled over.
Which is pretty embarrassing, John. We, as well as the Brits and the Russians, were party to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum that made the sovereignty of Ukraine inviolate. We told the Ukrainians that if they gave up their nukes we would have their back. We promised them in ‘94 that their territorial sovereignty is different than any other territory on Earth. It has a tripartite guarantee from Britain, Russia, and the U.S. And then in 2014, we let Putin annex it. No one ever mentioned at that time as it was happening that we were violating our Budapest Memorandum commitments. Even the Budapest Memorandum Wikipedia page is not particularly well fleshed out and has inaccuracies. There’s barely any foreign policy literature about it. Because it’s like inconvenient for most analysts and politicians, neither on the right nor the left and neither in America nor in England do people want to remember this shameful episode. It’s shocking and so relevant, but it seems like no one wants to hear about this and what can be done to fix it.
I’ll see a mention on Twitter of the Memorandum, but you’re right, it’s not really brought up much.
Exactly. But if I had ten bucks for every time they say, “Article Five” on CNN, I’d be a wealthy man. If I had a thousand bucks for every time they say Budapest Memorandum, I’d barely be able to buy a car.
Even though Article 5 doesn’t apply…
It’s not only that Article Five doesn’t apply in Ukraine, but Article Five is no more important to the institutional framework of the global order than the Budapest Memorandum in my view. Article Five is important, but I would argue that the Budapest Memorandum is the defining treaty that ended the Cold War, even though relative to the U.S. Senate, it’s not a treaty. As much as we hear about Article Five on CNN and MSNBC, we should be hearing about the Budapest Memorandum. It’s arguably more important for the global order, but it’s just not convenient as a talking point on these networks for people’s partisan positions.
Do you think Putin has a chance of eventually taking Kyiv?
I’m not a military strategist and I’m certainly not a Ukraine expert, but it is safe to say that Russia was initially considered to be one of the world’s greatest military powers. As much as we have been arming the Ukrainians, they were relatively unprepared. It’s amateur hour. Obviously, they’ve been very heroic, but if the conflict goes on and on, Russia might win. This doesn’t mean that they will eventually take Kyiv, but they might win nonetheless, or they might lose. However, would it be worth it for Putin? Putin is claiming to be saving a fellow Slavic people who are really Russians. Does he want it bad enough for that rhetoric to be turned on its head when five million of them to flee and hundreds of thousands are killed? That’s the question. We have to hope it doesn’t come to this and now that the Ukrainians have had some successes, perhaps the war can be confined to the Eastern and Southern regions. And just perhaps with billions upon billions of dollars of Western armaments, the Ukrainians might prevail.
Do you think Putin was led to believe that we wouldn’t react the way we have based on what happened in Afghanistan?
I mean, as I talked about in my piece, it’s not just Afghanistan. It’s a culmination of non-responses to Russian or Russian-associated violations of international norms: when the Syrian Red Line was violated, annexing Crimea, the ongoing war in the Donbas, his separatists shooting down the passenger jet MH17, even that there’s been so many opportunities for us to seize oligarch assets in tax havens for years and nothing has been done.
Just imagine for a second that you work as a check-out clerk. One day you steal from your employer, you run the cash register and just underreport the money that comes in. Now, imagine your boss catches you taking a small amount, but doesn’t do anything about it and lets you keep working. You would probably think you can get away with it and keep stealing. If this continued for eight years, you might be inclined to think that if you empty the entire register your firm would do nothing since they never did anything before – i.e. that your boss is spineless. That is how Putin saw the West prior to February 2022.
My analysis is that Putin did not think that we would do anything when he invaded Ukraine this time. This was also a diplomatic failure since we failed to communicate our exact ‘real’ red line, rather than previous ‘fake’ red lines. I would say that the red line shouldn’t have been an invasion of Ukraine, because Russia was already in the Donbas. Therefore, the red line that was needed was something extremely clear: if you go beyond Donbas and Crimea and if you bomb civilians in unoccupied Ukraine, we will treat this as the same as attacking a NATO country. It was really difficult for Western leaders to make that statement so it was not made, because the thing that mattered to ground that statement in international law was the Budapest Memorandum, which America and Britain had already let be violated without retaliating. So when the conflict began to take shape in early 2022, Biden didn’t have a great hand, but I’m sure he could have played it differently and better. Personally prior to his becoming president, he failed to articulate his individual clear red lines to Putin, even after Congressional commissions on Russia’s influence in the 2016 U.S. elections. That was a moment for him in the Vice Presidency or in the Senate or in his private life to articulate his own clear red lines that then Putin would have known when he came into office.
Can you touch on why the Saudis and the UAE declined to meet with Biden?
Oh, sure. In my view, it’s not surprising. Trump was the most pro-Saudi and pro-Emirati president in American history. He essentially let Jared Kushner subcontract to Mohammed bin Zayed the right to run our entire Middle Eastern policy. So, the Saudis and Emiratis want to do everything to undermine Biden to try to get Trump back. Another Trump presidency would allow for the Emiratis to work with the Saudis and essentially be the top regional superpower. The last thing they want is this new Iran deal because it helps make Iran a counterbalance to the Sunni Gulf states. So yeah, I mean, the Abraham Accords were made to try and get Trump reelected, and the Gulfis will still stop at nothing diplomatically to try and make it happen again.
People forget that in 2016, the Emiratis were involved in hacking our election as well. They were the number two power after Russia in leaking documents and they also paid for those trolling targeted Facebook ads and also did some secret spy work. I wouldn’t put it past them again, they are deeply embedded in our system. Think of the number of think tanks that are funded almost exclusively by Emirati money. They fund left-wing ones, and they fund right-wing ones. You can’t be a serious UAE scholar at any of the major DC think tanks. Think about that for a second. Where are the serious incisive think tank pieces about the Emiratis at MEI or Atlantic Council? There aren’t any. The only things that you can have are Qatari-funded biased pieces against them, which is no better. There is no serious scholarship going on here since the Emiratis and to an extent, the Saudis, have figured out how to master DC in ways that the Israelis never could.
The Emiratis are more central to Trump and Kushner than the Russians. It all goes back to 666 Fifth Avenue and the nexus between various right-wing Zionists and Emiratis, which has been developing for the last 20 years and has actually ceded to the Emiratis a lot of influence in Washington that used to be held by Jewish groups. These are the forces that alighted on Trump and helped push him past Cruz and the other Republican candidates.
I don’t know how 2024 will play out, but if Donald Trump runs and loses, will it have been worth it for the UAE?
It’s not for me to say if it’s worth it or not, but these guys don’t play long-term calculations. The Emiratis screw themselves over all the time by being so short-sighted, just like Putin who is incredibly short-sighted and focused on short-term wins. Look at what the Emiratis did with Haftar. This isn’t in their long-term interests. It was just about some irrational fears about the Muslim Brotherhood. They’ve allowed Sisi to become a complete nutcase, which probably creates more anti-Emirati sentiment. But they do it anyway. They’re just so focused on the short term and terrified of a Morsi-like figure coming into power. What I can say is that the Emiratis have made their bed and the Saudis have made theirs too in Yemen, Egypt, and their attachment to neo-populism in America. They will likely end up reaping what they sow.
To be clear, I’m not an anti-Emirati guy. I’m in Dubai around once a year, sometimes twice. It’s one of my favorite cities globally. I have very close Emirati friends I was just texting with. What’s unfortunate is just that the top people in the regime and their advisors are maximalists. They’ve done a lot of things right with their economy, but why does their diplomacy have to be so maximalist? It’s the maximalism of Netanyahu, who they learned a lot of this stuff from. He’s been coaching them for years. Netanyahu even had the gall to address the U.S. Congress behind Obama’s back to try to undermine him while he was a sitting president. This kind of maximalism is not what traditional allies do. Whatever you think of Boris or of recent German and French leaders, they would never do something like this.
I have written articles pointing to the fact that Dubai is now an international liberal city where, you know, you can kiss a girl on the street. Arabs don’t necessarily have to wear the hijab, there’s drinking in public, and to an extent, gambling is also legalized. I would love to open up a business there. But why did they have to sour all this progress with maximal regional ambition? It’s crazy that they haven’t met with Biden, and I think it’s a big miscalculation, just one of many that players make in our era of Enduring Disorder.
I really appreciate you taking the time to talk, Jason.
I’ve really enjoyed it too. Thank you so much.
John Lyman is the Editor-in-Chief of International Policy Digest. John completed a Master of Arts in European Studies in 2008 from the University of Amsterdam. John also holds Bachelor degrees in Political Science and Homeland Security from Virginia Commonwealth University.