Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Arab Spring is 1989? Whose 1989?

Barack Obamachev
In the last decade, America has tried applying our individualistic narrative to the Middle East. Now, as the people in multiple countries there struggle to take greater control for themselves, we want to see our story play out in their efforts, and we worry that it won't. Sheena Iyengar - CNN

Recognize that the last few generations of America's bipartisan leadership have ruined the domestic economy and brought us to war at every turn overseas.  Regarding what is to be done about the Muslim world, we should bend every effort to fix our oil problem and then adopt a non-interventionist foreign policy toward the Muslim world. What we want is Muslims killing Muslims, and Muslims killing Israelis. A pox on both their houses.  Michael Scheuer - Washington Post

"The Arab Spring is also a Western Winter." 

"Do we really want to adopt another Muslim country?"
Patrick J. Buchanan

“To be an enemy of America can be dangerous, but to be a friend is fatal”.
Henry Kissinger
David Seaton's News Links
Once, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was told that the execrable dictator of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo, was a S.O.B., he famously replied, "yes, but he is our S.O.B.".

I wonder if anyone but me has noticed that in the Middle East -- so well stocked with S.O.B.s of every type, size and condition -- it seems that only our S.O.B.s are losing their jobs. Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran are quiet and Qaddafi is showing little sign of going gracefully or even of going at all. No, it is the dictators called -- until the day before yesterday -- "moderates" whose thrones or whatever are seen to be shaky or up for grabs.... as Kissinger said, being an enemy of the USA can be dangerous for sure, but serving America's interests is worth bubkes when push comes to shove.

Quite a few commentators are comparing the "Arab Spring" with the collapse of the Soviet empire in eastern Europe in 1989... but they don't seem to realize whose empire is collapsing this time.

Americans live in such a media fog of self-referential "story telling", still envisioning themselves contrafactually as being universal paladins of democracy, that amidst all the gushing, twittering, stories of the "Arab Spring", this one awkward reality is being largely ignored: that those whose prestige consisted in great part of being identified with the USA are the ones going down, in trouble or already out, yet this may be the most significant element that ties all the disparate rebellions together, or at least as far as we are directly concerned. 

There appears a reluctance to see that the blood soaked but ineffectual interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq or America's inability to get even the most minor concessions from tiny Israel could be perceived as signs of weakness, of the loosening bonds of restraint among peoples repressed by dictators seen to be defending US interests in exchange for American protection.

And there also seems to be a reluctance to see that democracy is a path, not a goal, a means to self-realization not the end in itself, that different people will use democracy to express different things because their cultures and histories are different. In this respect I find the following paragraph from an article by former CIA al Qaeda specialist Michael Scheur  packed with common sense. 
Each new regime is likely to host a more open, religion-friendly environment for speech, assembly and press freedoms than did Mubarak and his ilk. So it will be easier for media-savvy Islamist groups - whether peaceful or militant - to proselytize, publish and foment without immediate threat of arrest and incarceration. Indeed, Washington and its Western allies will dogmatically urge the new governments to maintain such freedoms, even as the Islamists capitalize on them. 
Turkey offers a reassuring example here and at the same time a warning. The vast majority of Turkish people have always been pious Muslims and the American backed Turkish army kept the Islamists out of power for many years. However in order to apply for membership in the European Union, the army had to loosen their control and as soon as they were free to do so the Turkish people voted for the Islamists, who soon distanced themselves from American policies. Reassuring, because the Turkish Islamists show no sign of radicalism and at the same time a warning, because few of Turkey's ex-colonies in the Arab world have either the growing economy or the political stability that Turkey enjoys. Certainly it would be silly to think that Facebook and Twitter have had more of an influence on the Arab Spring than the example of Turkey's steady transition to democracy and prosperity and their sturdy refusal to follow US policy in Iraq or Iran or to bend their neck to Israel. Somehow few commentators see fit to pursue this obvious connection very far.

As America, though tirelessly meddlesome, proves increasingly unable to control events in its client states, the heretofore more timorous opposition to America's policies will begin to stick their heads out over the wall in every corner of the world. Soon inconvenient people and groups will be coming out of the woodwork everywhere. Ding, dong the witch is dead.

At the top of this post I have pictured Barack Obama as Mikhail Gorbachev. This is not a criticism of Obama or Gorbachev: president Obama is not responsible for starting the two wars in Muslim lands or for creating America's supine relationship with Israel, just as Gorbachev was not responsible for the condition that USSR was in when he took charge of it. Gorbachev's fatal error was to think that an "evil empire" could ever open its hand and survive and perhaps that is the same error that Barack Obama is making right now. DS


stunted said...

Amen to all that. Unfortunately, Obama isn't half the leader that Gorbatchev was, is far out of his depth and still mistakes America's Israeli handcuffs for bracelets. The rest of the world isn't as myopic.

Anonymous said...

As always, spot on!
The most striking impression of my recent visit to Turkey was that it felt like the future (although I did find your blog was blocked).
America is done --- which is why I left it six years ago once I was certain there was absolutely no way to change its course.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, you misunderstand the dynamics that drive these "revolutions;" they're not 1789 all over again or even 1989, but rather new and huge generations of Arabs who grew up with satellite TV, twitter and more, deciding they want governments better compatible with Baywatch. In otherwords, 1968 à l'Arabe.

Your apparent assertion that the new leaderships are not connected with West via an umbilical cord is an unproven assertion which I don't believe.