Are you awe struck by the nobility of a rising wave of democracy lifting the Islamic world? Or has the Neocon vision which predicted the inevitable democratic change been blinded by wishful thinking? I was amused yesterday for having been reminded that I am more angry than I used to be, as if I did not know that. I am angry. I am very angry at the optimistic stupidity that has commandeered US foreign policy.
Recall the optimism of Johnson and Viet Nam. We were always 50,000 troops closer to a glorious ending. Reagan and Afghanistan and the glorious Mujaheddin, Clinton on Kosovo and the noble Albanian Muslims yearning to be free, All of them about a benign China, that would be lined up to greet American businessmen and buy everything being made in America. Bush in Iraq, Bush in Afghanistan, All of them about Turkey, Obama about Egypt, Libya and now Syria. All of them from Johnson to Obama convinced that the spread of democracy was inevitable and would be an American triumph. All with the solid conviction that they were right, so right, so convicted. Bush looked into Putin's soul and received confirmation of his righteousness.
Have they been right? Do events in Egypt and Turkey reassure you?
We are seeing the creative destruction of a fractured despotic Arab World. We are witnessing an Arab Spring for certain, but we will not be happy with the outcome, no more than we are with all those Chinese buying "Made in USA".
This Guy Says I Have it All Wrong:
Country must get behind Arab Spring
You can't blame the American public for its indifference to the events in the Middle East and North Africa. Although the news from Egypt, Libya and Syria has been awe-inspiring and historic, it's no surprise that the Arab Spring scarcely registers on a typical American's radar. Our economic hangover, a result of our past profligacy and compounded by a venal Congress and an ineffective White House, has focused our attention on the problems in our own backyard. Despite this, however, what is happening in Cairo, Tripoli and Homs offers us a unique teaching moment regarding our relationship with the Arab World. Conflict is about competing narratives, needs and visions.
Since the end of western colonialism, Arab nations have unsuccessfully wrestled with a variety political visions that have included Pan-Arab Nationalism, Soviet-inspired Socialism and Monarchism. The result has been a near universal rise of brutal autocracies often aided and abetted by a myopic U.S. foreign policy. The latest competing vision to arrive on the scene has been Wahhabi-inspired religious fundamentalism, of which al-Qaida is the most malignant example. Since the attacks of 9/11, we have convinced ourselves that the "Arab Street" and religious extremism are one of the same. In our quest for clarity at all costs, we have painted the Arab world with broad brush strokes. In doing so, we have neglected that region's intricate nuances whose rich diversity and history we barely understand. The Arab revolts, largely fought by educated, blue jeans-wearing and iPod-toting young people, debunks the stereotype that characterizes the region as backward, deeply anti-Western and religiously fanatical.
The young protesters in Tahrir Square and the freedom fighters besieging Sirte have been motivated by neither the desire to establish a new Caliphate nor the need to destroy western civilization. The uprisings were motivated by those most human of desires: the right to self-determination, respect for civil rights and greater social and economic mobility. It is all straight out of the same enlightenment playbook that motivated our forefathers to resist British tyranny. Our national leadership's reaction to the revolts has been both dissonant and uninspired. Responses have ranged from Sen. John McCain's call for aggressive intervention (been there, done that in Iraq!) to the naïve isolationism of Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann. Somewhere in the middle was President Obama's often-frustrating policy of selective engagement. In Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, this appears to have succeeded and allowed the Arabs to take full ownership of their own liberation at no cost in U.S. lives.
The administration, on the other hand, chose to ignore the call for freedom in Bahrain and Yemen where oil politics and global strategic concerns precluded any sympathetic intervention. The Arab revolts are still a work in progress. They could very well degenerate into chaos and the inevitable return to totalitarianism. What is encouraging, however, is that this was a grass roots uprising that categorically rejected the medieval insanity of religious extremism. The hope is that the Arab Spring will give way to a stable political culture dedicated to free expression, attentive governance and universal suffrage.
We need to encourage the rise to a new Arab enlightenment. It fosters healthier and mutually beneficial relationships across the globe.
Email local columnist Mike Radoiu at firstname.lastname@example.org.