Monday, February 21, 2011

People Gotta be Free... Even Free to Fail

“If the mind can conceive it, and the heart believe it, man can achieve it.”*

Jordanian-American Rami Khouri is an astute Middle Eastern observer. He believes the overthrow of Mubarak is just the beginning for that region, that it brings the"promise the birth of a more democratic, humanistic Arab world, assuming the transitions persist, which I believe is certain." (Khouri - Daily Star)

I don’t share his optimism, but he lays out his case quite well. Even if his conclusion is Pollyannaish, his points are still valid. He lives there, as opposed to the cacophonous chorus of commenters here in the US who have no real understanding of the region.
Egypt and Tunisia have sparked new life in a dead region and vigor in moribund states, making vibrant citizens of once-docile subjects. They have spurred marginalized states to reclaim a role in the world of dynamic countries. Widespread collective and individual humiliation is giving way to self-assertion; incompetent security states are giving way to re-legitimized governments and normal societies. (Khouri)
My only quibble is that he lists these events as “firsts” when really they are “seconds” or perhaps even “thirds,” given our efforts at democratizing Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention Kemal Attaturk’s heroic efforts to drag his country into the modern age (OK, they are Turks, not Arabs.)  Nonetheless, these events are not so unprecedented as Khouri would have us believe.

Is it Bush's Fault?

Had we not invaded Iraq and forced a regime change that put politics into the hands of ordinary Iraqis, would Tunisia and Egypt have happened? Was George Bush the imperfect grandfather of this? It’s worth noting that the unrest has not spread to Iraq. The people there have more control over their destiny than any other country in the region besides Israel. Iraqis are in the street protesting, but it is for more electricity and better public services.

The people of the Middle East have been beaten down by their rulers; further humiliations were handed them by foreign intervention. We must understand that although we took out a brutal dictator and freed over 40 million people, this is counted as a humiliation in the Arab mind. Because we did something for them that they could not do it themselves, we laid bare their inadequacies. So in this respect, Tunisia and Egypt are signal events.

Let it Burn?
Regardless of whether nefarious forces are behind street demonstrations, these people must grasp their own destiny, even if they end up crashing. At least it will be their crash, and maybe, just maybe, they can finally own their failures without instinctively grasping for a foreign scapegoat to slaughter.

Smart global strategists point to the dangers of allowing this boiling cauldron to tip over. I think we need to allow events to play out regardless of how chaotic they become. At the end of it, a people must work out their issues to the logical end. We in the west have been screaming at them that they’re doing it all wrong, to no avail. They need to work it out on their own. Will it lead to more enslavement, this time at the hands of humorless Islamists? Who knows. At least that outcome would pit the people against their mullahtocracy, instead of against the west. That is what happened in Iran.

Blood for Oil?

Like it or not, oil powers our economy. Does it logically follow that we have to keep an expensive presence in the Middle East? Jeremy Khan highlights research that says maybe not.
There’s no denying the importance of Middle Eastern oil to the US economy. Although only 15 percent of imported US oil comes directly from the Persian Gulf, the region is responsible for nearly a third of the world’s production and the majority of its known reserves. But the oil market is also elastic: Many key producing countries have spare capacity, so if oil is cut off from one country, others tend to increase their output rapidly to compensate. (Boston Globe)

Whoever controls that oil can’t eat it; they will have to sell it eventually, ending any global “oil shock.” Also, we can start drilling here drilling now to lessen our dependence even more. In the final equation, it comes down to a simple cost-benefit analysis: Which is cheaper? Staying in the region and protecting nasty regimes who hate our guts and fund Wahabbist projects in our lands, or getting out and absorbing whatever economic hits we may take due to the whatever turmoil or disruptions would occur in our absence?

I think we need to take a serious look at choosing the latter.

* - This quote is ascribed to W. Clement Stone and Jesse Jackson, among many others. It is one of Papa Silverfiddle’s favorites, and he taught it to me when I was young.

Further Reading:
http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/67432/james-d-le-sueur/postcolonial-time-disorder

17 comments:

Trestin said...

Agreed, I totally reject the concept outsourcing our nanny state on other cultures.

Jersey McJones said...

I don't see the connection between Iraq and this new Democratic movement. The situations are simply too different. Iraqis have to content themselves with an oddly structured government designed to placate all the various groups. Egypt does not have that kind of serious divisive hetergeneity and demographics. Egypt has not been in a perpetual state of war for thirty years. The Baathists were the result of popular uprisings - back in the sixties. If George Bush and his ilk have anything to do with this it's in their support for these sleazy regimes, not the toppling of one they came to dislike. Remember, we went to war with Iraq for invading yet another sleazy monarchy - Kuwait. Without that initial conflict, the invasion of Iraq would never have happened. And this myth that we "freed" 40 million people is laughably stupid. Most of them are worse off today. We still have no idea how things will pan out in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It's very hard to tell what will come of all this, period, and different knowledgible people have different prognostications, if they have any at all. I say wait and see - and STAY THE HELL OUT OF IT.

JMJ

Jersey McJones said...

Oh, and this naive silliness about "drilling here drilling now" shows a complete ignorance of the economics of oil. Oil is a globally traded, limited commodity. We consume a huge and ever-growing percent of that commodity. We could drill all we like, and it would barely dent prices. Don't be a sucker and a fool for the oil companies, FOX News, and the GOP. It's stupid.

JMJ

Silverfiddle said...

You are naively stupid, Jersey.

I bring up Iran because the people there don't hate America, they hate their own rulers. This is the logical consequence of staying out of it.

I am not defending Bush or the rotten middle east regimes (That Carter and Democrats supported just as much as the GOP, so pull your head out).

It's obvious you come here merely to act stupid and stir controversy. Do you realize how foolish you look?

It's not that you don't agree with me, but it's that you don't even read the piece and discuss it intelligently.

You are a pea-brained pigeon mindlessly crapping all over everything.

Jersey McJones said...

Silver, I simply pointed out that Iraq is and was a very different situation than Egypt and Tunisia, for example. I also simply pointed out that we can drill all we like, we can never really bring down our import dependence or the price of oil.

This is my argument. Can you refute it, or just attempt to insult me?

JMJ

Norwegian Shooter said...

Then I'm naively stupid too, 'fiddle. And all that other stuff. Okay, that's not an argument. How ya doin' buddy!

From your comment, there are plenty of Iranians who do hate America and support the regime. It is not so totalitarian that almost everyone hates it. Many people benefit from it. And are we really staying out of it? Stuxnet, Iranian scientists being blown up in the streets, support for the MEK, etc.

The main post contains a lot of claptrap, too. Invading Afghanistan and Iraq (which you buffoonishly describe as democratizing) - and everything else any US admin has done - had nothing to do with the current Arab protests. In case you forgot, Ben Ali and Mubarak were our assholes.

Killing Sadam and "freeing" over 40 million people has to be balanced with 100,000 dead, 4 million internally and externally displaced, and worse civilian living conditions than under the dictator. I would not criticize anyone for being less than thrilled with the outcome of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Orwell, anyone?

Islamists have two chances at enslaving Egypt and Tunisia - slim and none, respectively. In the case of Tunisia, it is none because the previous regime killed them all.

I'm curious about this: "At least that outcome would pit the people against their mullahtocracy, instead of against the west. That is what happened in Iran." Can you explain?

Finally, the translucent post background is terrible.

Take care!

Silverfiddle said...

People in Iraq are voting for their own leaders. They did not do that under Saddam. Smells like democracy to me (regardless of how imperfect it is).

None of us know for sure, but anecdotal evidence points to many (most?) Iranians viewing the mullahs as a bigger threat than the US.

@Jersey: we can drill all we like, we can never really bring down our import dependence or the price of oil.

That is an absurd statement. For every barrel we pull out of the ground, our dependence on foreign oil is reduced by the same amount.

If we could drill enough to no longer import, that would indeed affect the global price. Fundamental economics.

Good to see you again shooter! Thanks for stopping by.

Silverfiddle said...

Shooter, do you see a stucco looking background and then the post is a lighter translucent shade?

Seems different computers see things differently (kinds like people!).

I may end up going with basic colors...

LSP said...

Interesting post - let's hope the 12th Imam doesn't rear his head in the current turbulence...

Silverfiddle said...

Parson: That's all we need right now!

Jersey McJones said...

"For every barrel we pull out of the ground, our dependence on foreign oil is reduced by the same amount."

Oh my God. You really don't understand the petroleum industry.

Again, please understand, America is not a closed collective. We are an vital cog in the global economy. Oil plays a huge part in that.

Oil is a globally traded commodity. Get that? We consume far more oil than any other nation. You know that, right? We can only produce about 40% of our demand at best, ever. You know that also, right? I mean - THERE'S NO WAY IN HELL WE COULD EVER DRILL ENOUGH TO END OUR UTTER DEPENDENCE ON IMPORTS UNLESS WE CHANGED OUR AUTO FLEET TO SOMETHING ELSE!!!! You get that too, right? Oil is a limited resource that is vital to global industry, it will become rarer with time, and it will become very expensive and lucrative as well. You certainly must get that, right?

So, why would we pull it all up now in a rush to minimally reduce the price and minimally affect global politics, so we can drive a car with a certain kind of engine, like a spoiled moronic child who just has to have that certain bicycle, when we could just sit on our reserves and parlay that into tremendous profits and a better world in the future for we Americans.

"Drill, baby, drill" is so stupid, so short-sighted, so ignorant, and so obnoxiously ignorant at that, it just makes me wonder if ANYONE thinks for themselves anymore.

You seem like a samrt guy. I wish you'd drop that argument.

JMJ

Jersey McJones said...

Oh, and I like the stucco. Gives the site a Western feel.

JMJ

Most Rev. Gregori said...

For more years then I care to remember, the U.S. has had a history of "playing both ends against the middle" in the Middle east, all for cheap oil.

The U.S. sold military jets and war materials to Israel because they are a Democracy and our friend, then we would turn around and sell the same kind of things to Israel's enemies in return for their oil.

For years, our government has allowed college students from all over the middle east to attend our colleges and universities to take courses in technologies and physics, and then they would go back to their homelands and use the knowledge against us and Israel.

So who are the fools and idiots?

Finntann said...

So JMJ, what's your alternative? Buy an electric car and plug it into the grid? 19% of US power comes from Nuclear plants, 8% from hydroelectric, less than 1% comes from solar and less than 2% comes from wind...best case 70% comes from non-renewable resources, petroleum, coal, and natural gas.

Given the brownouts and blackouts everytime we have a heat wave and people turn their a/c up...what do you think is going to happen when 25 or 50% of the cars are electric and get plugged into recharge at 7pm? Instead of drill baby drill, do you prefer nuke baby nuke?

I'm a big fan of hybrids and electrics, but honestly, the technology just isn't there yet.

So, unless you are willing to make major lifestyle changes... what are your alternatives?

Silverfiddle said...

OK professor Mcjones, I know we are not a closed collective. It would be possible for our government to grant contracts for oil companies to provide us first purchase rights to oil extracted here.

I also never claimed we could achieve complete independence. There's your reading comprehension problem again. You missed my theoretical point. An oversupply will bring the price down.

Norwegian Shooter said...

If you just make the post background less translucent (more solid), it would be fine. The texture of the page background interferes with reading the text.

Silverfiddle said...

Thanks Shooter.