Before going on the my regular post (which I obviously wrote several days ago just as the trouble in Tunisia was first starting) – I wanted to make a short personal comment about the situation in the Middle East and particularly about Egypt and the situation right now…
What Will Happen in Egypt?
Like most of you I have been glued to the reports coming in from the Middle East and wondering just what will happen in the coming days. Egypt has been getting the lions share of attention (and for good reason) but there are also concerns about several other countries, most notably Jordan and Yemen. I frankly have no idea what will happen. My best guess it that Mubarak will be forced out under the mounting pressure and a “Caretaker” government will step in to ensure a smooth transition.
Whatever happens, the questions that need to be answered are: Will a caretaker government (probably lead by the now Vice President) promise transition and change then make a show of ceding to a few demands and once things quiet down just go back to “business as usual” leaving things without any radical changes for the Egyptian people and international politics? Will the Muslim Brotherhood achieve legitimacy as a political party and move to a more radical and militant agenda (as we know they are capable of doing from past experience)? Will the military involve itself in the political scene, as they have done successfully several times before? How will all of this affect the Camp David Israeli-Egyptian Peace Accords?
To me these are the critical questions to look for as things unfold. One thing I am sure of is that many of the answers are only hours or days away…..
Like many of you I have been following developments in Tunisia with interest. That got me thinking about the fact that the United States seemingly has nothing to do with the apparent uprising in Tunisia that has tossed out the de facto dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.
After considering the issue for a few minutes I came to the conclusion that there was an important and obvious reason: The uprising wasn’t about us and that’s a good thing and an important lesson.
The Tunisians forced out the autocratic government without American help, therefore American support for these oppressed peoples was unnecessary. In fact, if involved, it may actually have been counterproductive. This is an important point and has implications to situations all over the Middle East (but not universally as there are some places where our assistance is, or would be, critical). Some people have taken the position that the Tunisian experience validates the view that freedom/democracy is an irresistible force that will, eventually, prevail. This sounds a lot like the old saying that right always wins which I am sorry to say, simply is not true. The forces that would suppress freedom and democracy are often well organized, well funded and well armed. Winning sometimes requires a lot of blood, sweat and tears combined with superior fire power…
It is a good thing for the United States to want democracy in the Middle East. The problem is, as it has always been, just what to do about it. There are those who believe, based a lot on what as happened so far in Tunisia, that we should do nothing at al, just stay out of it and democracy will eventually win out. My answer to this is “go tell that to the one person being hanged by the neck every eight hours in Theocratic Iran!” Of course that may not be a “good” answer considering how little our government seems to be doing about Iran….
The Tunisians have shown incredible bravery but the prospects for a democratic government taking hold there are slim to none without some type of external assistance. The same holds true for all the “dictatorships” in the Middle East. To think that they will somehow fall to a rising tide of purely indigenous democracy without external aid is just too fanciful to believe.
There is also, of course, a purely moral question. How can good Americans stand by while unarmed, peaceful protesters are clubbed, raped or gunned down by the security forces of these oppressive governments? It goes against our national character to refuse aid to any people that are willing to put their lives on the line to gain their freedom from oppression.
Having said that it is also important to say that it does not require America to send in the tanks every time there is a political protest put down by government violence. Involvement begins slowly, at the least intrusive level possible to effect the required level of assistance. Often persistent and public expressions of condemnation toward the regime is enough and, when necessary, it can be slowly and steadily increased as required by circumstances. The United States has a history of doing this very thing to some extent but my personal complaint is that, once involved, our government has a hard time knowing when to get out. Our history is full of examples when we have either bailed out way too soon (leaving some resistance fighters holding the bag) or did the opposite and stayed way too long (which, especially in the Middle East, can give the impression that we are then the oppressors).
Examples of these mistakes are easy to find. As for getting out too soon, Cuba and the Bay of Pigs jumps quickly into mind. A more resent example is in 1991, when tens of thousands of Iraqi shia in Basra were killed by Saddam Hussein’s thugs when they revolted. Although we initially encouraged them, the U.S. did nothing and paid the price 12 years later when radical Islam had taken root in the region, making pacification infinitely more costly.
The democracy movement in Iran is another example of ordinary citizens giving up their lives for a chance at freedom. We have done virtually nothing and have left them helpless against determined torture and murder by the regime. Sudan and the Congo stand out as well. Oppressed people of the world have often looked to the U.S. and we often do nothing to help. These are blood stains on our national honor.
We are not the policemen of the world, but we are the “big guy” on the block and we are the ones always talking about democracy and how every human has basic inalienable rights. We are the big guy always saying how we want to help –but often when asked for help we become the fair weather friend that won’t return your calls except on your paydays.
In the Middle East, there does not seem to be any good answers –and certainly no magic “fix all” solutions. We need to tailor our activities to each individual situation. In some cases that means as little physical involvement as possible. In others, it means “in your face”, toe to toe confrontation. We should not be afraid to use military force as a tool as long as we remember to use it as a “last option” and to put the tool away as soon as possible.
As for uprisings like the one in Tunisia, well, we should not get involved unless asked (by the people of Tunisia). We should, however, be standing close by, verbally and loudly supporting the forces of democracy and ready to support them if (when) needed.
Speaking of Democracy, here is a You Tube clip - this is how we defined Democracy in 1945, immediately after WWII:
Live Long and Prosper....