Category Archives: Foreign Policy

The Saga Continues in Algeria?

February 13th, 2011

Algeria shuts down internet and Facebook as protest mounts – Article from The Telegraph

Second verse same as the first.

This constant shutting down of the Internet by oppressive regimes makes buying a satellite seem like a good idea.

ahumanright.org plans to buy satellite and provide free Internet access for entire world – gizmag

buythissatellite.org

I guess the excitement has moved to Algeria.

Bending the Arc of History

Obama eloquent, but short on specifics, in praising Egyptians – Article from The Globe and Mail

First off Obama is not “eloquent.” He is not anything like a great orator. Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and Colin Powell are examples of skilled orators. I have heard them deliver speeches or speak extemporaneously (Colin Powell!) with unique power and eloquence. President Obama can competently deliver a speech. That is all.

Enough of that rant and down to the issue I have with what President Obama is quoted as saying.

“In Egypt it was the moral force of non-violence – not terrorism, not mindless killing, but non-violence, moral force – that bent the arc of history”

I could sum that up with any number of words but only need one, “Hooey.” What “bent the arc of history” was a confluence of events. There is no doubt that two of those events were the strikes and relatively non-violent protests. However what changed the situation was the military and while the change was relatively non-violent what kept it that way was the military’s threat of violence. Statements like this one from President Obama are disingenuous. That is not what happened, that is not the way the world works, and President Obama knows that.

Egypt – What’s Happened and What’s Next?

I’ve been following the protests in Egypt. My primary sources have been the BBC and Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera is kind of funny. When I first started listening to them I was prepared for a very strong anti-American bias. Anti-American bias is there but the really significant bias they maintain is that Al Jazeera is an amazing news source and everyone else in the West trying to report is completely incompetent. However I recommend listening to their English language productions. They definitely provide a different perspective. The folks who seemed to have the most current information were the BBC. NPR and everyone else I heard covering Egypt’s protests were 12-24 hours behind the BBC.

Ever since I was a kid and heard about the American Revolution the theme of liberation has resonated strongly with me. So I was not surprised to be drawn into the Egyptian protest drama. I saw a people disgusted with 30 years of a government they didn’t want. American foreign policy aside, I was hoping that the people of Egypt would be successful. On Friday I was listening to the BBC’s Global News podcast: Mubarak steps down, and heard the BBC correspondent in Egypt shouting over the cheers of the people in Tahrir Square. Nothing the people were cheering was inteligible but the joy of the people was obvious. Frankly it brought me to the verge of tears. The people had succeeded in ousting the Mubarak regime, the one thing all the protesters could agree on. This was a massive achievement. Without the endurance and tenacity of the people this would not have been possible. I wish there was a way to prolong this moment of accomplishment. Yet there is no way to prolong it and what we have here is the truly the beginning of a new chapter in Egypt’s history.

What goaded me into writing this article was a brief article by George Hill over at madogre.com. His post is here: Celebrations. George makes some very good points about what is happening in the media here and the coming transition. I’m more optimistic than he is, though I too will be watching what happens next. As I understand it we had three power blocks in Egypt. There was the Mubarak regime, the military, and the people. The Egyptian military is an interesting organization. It is heavily invested in the economy. It owns things like businesses, hotels, and housing subdivisions. The military is also made up of conscripts. I heard several times Egyptians say things like, “The military is us, we are the military.” The people seem to have a great deal of respect for the military. They were relatively independent of the ruling government, unlike the police who were beholden to Mubarak’s regime. What formed was a standoff.

Many people were on strike from important jobs and were protesting. Mubarak’s plan was to try to disorganize the protesters and wear them down. The military was acting as a security force, carefully not moving in any direction. Something had to give. What I think happened was the military saw that they had the power and were pushed into action by two things. The first was the fear that they would accidentally, or coerced by circumstances, get caught up in violence. That could undermine their standing with the public. The second was how the protests were hurting the economy. A flagging economy cuts into their profits. The military probably forced Mubarak’s hand and laid out the announcement that the vice president gave.

The question is what happens next. Of course Egypt’s army vows smooth transition but we’ll see. And even if the military does hand over power in an orderly fashion, what will this change in government mean for the balance of power in the region? Will the government be a real democracy? If so what will the people elect? How does this affect Israel?

The excitement is over. It will be fascinating to see what develops.

Change We Can Believe In

From the guardian.co.uk
Egypt protests: Hosni Mubarak’s power fades as US backs his deputy

The ninth paragraph down gives you a nice sense of the protesters’ sentiments.

Not for one moment do I maintain I am some sort of subject matter expert on Egypt. Presumably we have several subject matter experts on Egypt in the State Department and hopefully they were and are regularly consulted. If they were then this statement from Secretary Clinton may be the best long term strategy for the US, but I doubt it.

The United States is THE big dog. At present there is no one as big. I have absolutely no problem with that. If you do then ask your self this, who would you prefer was the big dog? China? Russia? Not only is it the best thing for me as an American that the US is the dominant power but I believe it is the best thing for the world as well.

The problem with being the dominant power is that people, quite understandably, resent it. If we were to make the absolute best choice in every aspect of our foreign and domestic policy some degree of resentment would be unavoidable. When we factor in our honest mistakes the resentment grows. However, when we make decisions that are blatantly because they are in our own short term best interest even though they run completely counter to our ideology (i.e. the stuff we tell everyone else to do because we do it) we sow the seeds of deep anti-American sentiment.

Check out the Wikipedia page on the 2011 Egyptian Protests for a good overview of what has been happening and why. The protests have been going on for over two weeks. This is not some vocal minority. The protesters would not be able to endure for two weeks without support. Those protesting have not had the same idea of what they want but they are nearly unanimous in what they don’t want. They don’t want any of the Hosni Mubarak regime left in power. In comes the US and what do the Egyptians get from our Hope and Change White House*? The Egyptians can trade Mubarak’s bull-crap for his vice president’s horse-pucky.

*[I'm not saying the Republicans wouldn't do this but that President Obama doesn't actually stand for anything unique. He's just a new version of the same old story.]

This is the sort of decision that will haunt us. We are saying we only support democracy and self determination if it will lead to something we can control or agree with. It fuels extremists and supports the mission of nut-jobs like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It undermines our work in Iraq and Afghanistan. We cannot win hearts and minds if people will not trust us.

I’m not saying leaving the people in a country free to make their own choices can’t make for a difficult situation. Hamas getting elected in the Gaza Strip is a good example. What I would say though is that these difficulties are less likely to happen if we don’t needlessly piss people off in the first place.