January 28, 2011

1989 and now 2011: The Arab world, the fires of revolution, and what it means for America

Greetings everyone: The Wizard returns to blogging.

Much has happened since the Wizard laid down his poison pen keyboard. Just two nights ago, Mr. Obama made his State of the Union address to America, something that Becky reminds us that only our first two Presidents did before Presidents simply started writing reports to Congress. Then came Woodrow Wilson, who started making an annual appearance before Congress, and all Presidents did so. She then links to a book that says that America's Imperial Presidency started with Wilson.

But the Wizard digresses. Actually, Mr. Obama's State of the Union address isn't the most exciting thing going on in the world right now, nor will America's budget problems be the most exciting issue in the year 2011. So what is, pray tell? The answer, gentle readers, is that we are not even finished with the first month of 2011, and already 2011 is shaping up to be the year that people all across the Arab world may finally rise up and overthrow the despots that have kept them in chains. 2011 will be the most exciting year in world affairs since 1989, when the Communist bloc of Eastern European countries finally threw off the yoke of 45 years of rule from the Soviet Union, in addition to revolts that happened in Burma, the Philippines, and in China.

First, less than two weeks ago, citizens in Tunisia rose up and overthrew the government of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, because citizens were demanding jobs and an end to corruption. Mr. Ben Ali, who had won five consecutive terms in office, with between 90 - 99 percent of the vote, then subsequently fled to Saudi Arabia, whose rulers had suggested that he keep his nerves and talk to the rioters.

Word comes from Britain's Daily Telegraph that the rioting started when a young man set himself on fire after having his fruit and vegetable stand - his meager livelihood - taken from him because, you guessed it, he didn't have a license. And you know what that means, don't you? That means that this was done because of that hoary old excuse that all governments use, which was that the government has to protect the public. It goes without saying that the state needed to pinch a few dinars off the poor young man through granting the license, and grant him the privilege to operate his meager fruit stand.

In other words, it is critical that we understand where the spark came from with respect to why this unrest has exploded.

Now, the news has come that this Tunisia effect has spread to Jordan, Yemen, and most notably Egypt, where the long time government of Honsi Mubarak has ruled under emergency rule for 30 years.

The Wizard has been keeping up with the technology side of this, as Slashdot reported that Twitter services, then phone and Internet access have been shut down by Mubarak's government.

Based on early analysis, the causes of all this unrest have different sources, and their outcomes will probably vary as well. In Jordan, citizens are protesting high food prices and corruption, while in Yemen the fight is over "proposed constitutional amendments that would abolish presidential term limits and the timing of the upcoming parliamentary election in April", according to the Christian Science Monitor. The CSM story reports that the opposition will refuse to take part in elections this year if these proposed political changes take place. In Egypt, the issues are poverty and corruption, along with the fact that Mubarak has ruled for 30 years ever since he took control over the country after Sadat was assassinated.

All this unrest puts America into a conundrum. Some of the rationale that American neo-conservatives like William Kristol and Robert Kagan gave for getting America stuck in the swamp morass invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan was that America had to have a muscular foreign policy that included promotion of democracy, free markets, and liberty. The problem with this idea is that the regimes that we were recognizing, like Mubarak's, were and are effectively "soft dictatorships" (for a lack of a better term), which were most likely backed by America for fear that something worse would take their place, at least from the point of view from Washington. Statecraft is an ugly business, but no doubt that Egyptians are wondering whether the posture that America's political leaders would mean that their demands are seen as illegitimate from America's view.

But this still does not explore the entirely of the situation. We do not yet know what the outcomes of these protests and riots will be, nor do we know how far this unrest will spread. Just several days ago, Sheik Al Sabah of Kuwait made a sudden announcement of a 1,000 dinar ($3,559 in U.S. dollar) handout to all Kuwaiti citizens, stating that this was in celebration of several national milestones, including 50 years of independence, and the 20th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion that drove out Iraqi troops out of Kuwait.

Hmmm....

A true libertarian would say, well all this is not America's problem. The problem with that supposition is that we never quite know if the political leaders of other countries might try to make all this unrest America's problem, or whether protesters may see America as part of the problem, such as is suggested in this Wikileaks story in Forbes. Other issues may arise, such as whether the unrest will spread to Saudi Arabia. But, at the same time, this unrest is so widespread that there may well be little that America can do, other than to simply let the chips fall where they may and then deal with matters after the dust settles. It should go without saying that the world is watching what Mr. Obama is going to do, because these events will show what kind of person he really is.

Then there is the very important matter of whether America should do anything about this. That in turn breaks down into whether you look at the rising unrest from the perspective that the people of the Arabian world are rising up to overthrow dictators, or whether you think America must continue to tend to the military and economic interests via Realpolitick.

One thing that all this unrest underscores is that America needs to get its own domestic financial house in order, lest our staggering $1.5 trillion per year federal deficits finally spiral out of control and leave our country vulnerable to the winds of the world. The bills of the welfare and entitlement state that was created in the 20th century, and which today's "Progressives" are still trying to push even further, are now coming due, and that in turn means that America needs - for our children's sake - to have a self examination of what our government is really all about.

Addendum: The Sydney Morning Herald has a very interesting take on the rapidly developing events in Egypt, noting that

[U.S. Secretary of State Hilary]Clinton uttered the ''stability'' line early in the week - before the seriousness of what is unfolding in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria came in to focus. Consider how it might be interpreted by ordinary Egyptians - the human rights of 80 million people have been trampled for 30 years but what the US Secretary of State is most concerned about is the stability of the state.

Posted by The Mighty Wizard at 10:45 AM
This entry was posted in the following categories: America , The World at Large