April 13, 2011
I’m as confused about what is really going in the ‘African or Arab Spring’ as anyone. I understand that there are a lot of popular demonstrations and revolutions against long term, powerful dictators. I accept that it would be wrong to stand by while the crazy Colonel kills his own kith, kin and countrymen. I’m not certain why that compassion did not extend to the Ivory Coast where much the same thing seemed to be happening. I suspect the whole area of international diplomacy is going to be even more covered in contradiction and compromise going forward if the US is going to play any kind of role in the region at all. I support the President’s apparent insistence that action must be multilateral and coordinated. I’d be very much more impressed if some of the airplanes and other munitions that we had sold to , say, Saudi Arabia, were being put to use in support of those being threatened as they demand a measure of something like democratic freedom. Along with everyone else, I am nervous about religious extremists, often functioning as a kind of virulent tribalism, coming into any kind of allegedly democratic power.
David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East. (Holt, 1989) really helps make clear which of the countries that are in increasing turmoil are those with some kind of long tem ‘national identity’ and which are more like coalitions held together with force. Thomas L. Friedman, writing in the New York Times on March 30, 2011 outlined so many of the compromises we have made and will make as we find our way through this time of hope-filled change. We have to help in Libya…while we turn a blind eye to Bahrain among whose rebels are pro Iranian Shiite hardliners. Saudi Arabia criticizes us for supporting the ouster of Mubarak and we don’t want to antagonize the Saudis because “they have oil and money that we like”. We don’t like the leaders of Syria or Lebanon but we are unclear whether we like the opposition to them any better.
I join Friedman in being proud that our President is willing to weigh in, insisting on multi-nationalism in any response, declining to be ‘suaded by the cowboys of left or right demanding military intervention at all costs and declining to be cowed by the housekeepers in DC who want to cut the national debt but in a way that threatens unnecessary recession while there is a perfectly good bi-partisan blueprint on the table that neither part seems to think is politically attractive or viable, (possibly because it is not clear how to wring domestic political advantage out of such a scheme.) Friedman prays that Obama will get lucky in the middle of this mess. He hopes that “Qaddafi’s regime collapses like a sand castle, that the Libyan opposition turns out to be decent and united and that they require just a bare minimum of international help to get on their feet. Then US prestige will be enhanced and this humanitarian mission will have both saved lives and helped to lock another Arab state into the democratic camp. Dear Lord, please make President Obama lucky.”
The President has a style that welcomes conversation on issues of import and is no nearly as anxious as those in and using the media to stir up anxiety about ‘leadership’. He does not need to respond or react to everything in the political wind. Even so, I don’t’ understand why he is not vigorously and vociferously behind the bi Partisan budget proposals that he commissioned. Or proposing something he likes better. Representative Paul Ryan seems to be stepping into a vacuum and making proposals that seem to believe that growth will come if the rich get richer, but otherwise some credible ideas about Medicare. If that is really the best we can do (which it is not without some kind of go at social security and oour percentage of military spending) then let’s get behind him.