Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Middle East

We got the usual back issues of Time and Newsweek from Tracy's dad. I actually glanced at them this time, because I wanted to see what the conventional wisdom of the left is. The idea seemed to be We got rid of corrupt dictators! Yay us! Plus the obligatory intonations that this proves the neocons were wrong, and conservatives had always been too cozy with those dictators - yeah, Bush and Khaddafy were great pals - so this was a great in-your-face moment for American liberals too.

There were some cautionary statements that perhaps some of the people who are most likely to come to power have some non-Western ideas. Non-Western. As if that's the problem. Terrorism and oppression aren't really wrong, you see. We westerners think they are wrong and hope that these other cultures come to see that too, but swe have to see these things in context and not impose our values. And we're getting rid of dictators! Yay us!

This looks nowhere near as encouraging as the fall of the Soviet Union, frankly. In those revolutions, there were great upswells of support for free speech, and elections, and less corruption, free markets, and a positive enthusiasm for coming in contact with the west. And even with that, many of those countries fell back into old habits and only some of them look promising even now, twenty years on.

In contrast, the campaign slogans in the Middle East are going to be Muslim Brotherhood: Many of us are only somewhat insane.

Well, it could hardly be as bad as Yugoslavia, I suppose. Tunisia looks encouraging, some other nations look like they at least have a shot at some partial improvement, some half-way point to sanity. It may play out well in the long run. But I can hardly call it overall encouraging. The supporters and cooperators with the old regimes will lose some power - though they are the people who actually know how to run things and where the account books and suppliers of electrical tape are. If Eastern Europe is any guide, a lot of them will still have jobs ten years from now. Of the available power left hanging, supporters of freedom and Muslim extremists are both going to have more. At least at first. I don't consider that a stable situation. Statistics are sent flying out about how many people in Egypt support free speech. But do they merely mean that they have felt silenced and now get to talk, and it won't apply to Those Others, who are destroying our precious unity and moving forward. They support religious freedom. Meaning what, exactly, as they also think that stoning converts from Islam is okay? And how are they feeling about Jews in that picture? Baby steps look fine from an historical perspective of a century, but for people getting killed right now, not so much.

Throwing out a dictator in Iraq was certainly an encouragement to this. This was always one of the numbers that could come up when we rolled the dice on remaking the Middle East from the inside. We can hope that it's a net positive. Nor do we know what would be transpiring now had we not thrown out a dictator. We might be looking at something worse with Saddam playing around in this mix.

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