[Prior to tonight's first presidential debate on foreign policy, I am posting this report from my recent mission to the Persian Gulf, the first in a series. You're not apt to hear any questions about these matters in the debate. They're not on the radar of the mainstream media. More's the pity, because what happens in this region is likely to be more important to our future than many "events" parsed tonight with Bob Schieffer. This blog is the first in a series about my late September fact-finding mission to Oman and Kuwait. My trip followed the Arab Spring, the Egyptian revolution, and widespread uprisings across the Arab world over the anti-Muslim film, Innocence of Muslims, each of which have left a restiveness in the Arab street.
"Are democratic reforms desirable if they give the keys of power to people who would destroy it?"
With the question, the young Kuwaiti attorney’s ebony eyes held my gaze intently. He is part of a sophisticated, westernized generation of thirty-somethings in this most democratic state in the Arab world, and profoundly disturbed by Islamists who rode the Arab Spring to a 34-seat parliamentary majority in Kuwait’s elections last February. Fourteen of the seats are held by individuals linked by the Associated Press to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
My young friend is proud of the Kuwait monarchy’s democratic freedoms, with its elected parliament and elected House Speaker. But he believes the Arab Spring has made the country vulnerable to subversive poseurs who are politically manipulating the country’s still-tribal culture to seize power before the country builds the civic capacity to sustain democratic values.
“They’ll happily walk through the door democracy offers, but then lock it shut behind them. First Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Libya. Next Bahrain, Jordan and Kuwait. Their goal is an Islamic caliphate across Northern Africa and the Gulf.”
A caliphate. In Kuwait.
Sharia law across one of the most important geo-political regions of the world.
To my friend’s thinking, George W. Bush’s “Freedom Agenda” for the Middle East was simplistic and catastrophic. I have always thought so too, but nothing brought it home more so than my recent two-week State Department mission to Kuwait and Oman, a trip designed for the travelers to learn from each other and increase mutual understanding.
As I left Kuwait, the country had plunged into a high-stakes game in which the Emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, had dissolved the 2012-elected parliament. The Supreme Court, declaring the royal decree unconstitutional, then reinstated the 2009 parliament, which the Emir subsequently also dissolved, leaving the country in a state of suspicion, consternation, and political upheaval.
Compounding the crisis, just last Friday the Emir decreed a new election law to govern new elections. The parliamentary opposition is enraged, believing the law is contrived to work against them. It has called for street demonstrations, a boycott of the election, and other civil disobedience.
Beneath the surface of the earth lay 10 percent of the world’s known oil reserves. Across the Persian Gulf lay Iran.
[NEXT: How the present election law works, what monarchies like Kuwait need most, and the conundrum for the U.S.]