Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The neocons were right about democracy

Revolution: neocons were right about democracy as a universal aspiration
How refreshing to hear former George W. Bush official Brad Blakeman give unequivocal support for the Egyptian revolutionaries.

In doing so he is setting himself apart from many of his fellow citizens, including a number of his former colleagues, who prefer to take a more ambiguous approach to what they euphemistically prefer to call a crisis.

There was of course a time when support for a people rising up against their tyrants was part and parcel of American patriotism - it is, after all, in the Constitution - but since at least the Cold War this has given way to a far more cynical and, frankly, imperialist realpolitik.

Bravo, then, to the Bushnik who stood up to the whiny New York Post columnist and espoused principle over expedience. He can't have had much of a hand in the Patriot Act methinks.

But if the American (and, indeed, European) reaction to the revolution has seemed a little hot and cold, the message it sends back to the United States is just as schizophrenic.

What Americans will be pleased about is that such spontaneous uprisings show democracy and the rule of law are not exclusively 'western' values but are aspired to by peoples across the globe and at all stages of development.

This will certainly help them in their bargaining with the Chinese, who often argue 'cultural differences' mean democracy is not for them (despite being very popular indeed in neighbouring Han territories Hong Kong and Taiwan).

But the sheer speed at which revolutionary sentiment has blown like a sandstorm across the Middle East from Tunisia, through Egypt, Yemen and, now, Syria, demonstrates loud and clear to America that Arabs can throw off their tyrants themselves; they do not require the help of what they still regard as an imperialist occupying force.

Alas, this appears to have evaded the Spectator's Coffee House blogger Daniel Korski, who remains woefully ignorant of attitudes towards the United States in the Middle East.

In his article this morning on Al Jazeera, he jumps to the spectacularly ill-considered conclusion that, because the network was hostile to what it unapologetically called an imperialist invasion of Iraq in 2003, it is an implicitly antidemocratic organisation.

What Korski has not even considered is that Arabs are fully capable of being democrats to the hilt while still being thoroughly hostile to the American presence and influence in the region.

In fact, to judge by statements made by ordinary protesters to TV crews in Cairo, the Egyptian people make no distinction between the adoption of democracy and an end to what they see as their nation's subordination to the US and Israel.

As a supporter of Zionism, I cannot support this hostility but, as a democrat, I can no more ignore the fact that is the will of the Egyptian people and ought to be respected as such. And sheepish right-wingers would do well to keep in mind that ignoring the wishes of Arab populations for strategic reasons is no different to Brussels' brazen disregard for inconvenient Irish referendum results.

There will be no justice in the world while the citizens of one nation are forcefully enslaved to satisfy the foreign policy goals of another - the Americans cannot have it both ways. They can either seriously commit themselves to Middle Eastern democracy and prepare for the possibility of less friendly governments, or they can continue with business as usual and bring another great evil into the world, as they did when they conspired with the Shah of Iran to bring down the popular PM Mohammed Mosaddegh; setting in motion a chain of events that would culminate in Ayatollah Khomeini successfully riding the wave of revolution that erupted in 1978.

Ironically, democracy as a universal aspiration is an essentially neoconservative argument and was very much the underlying premise behind Francis Fukuyama's 'End of History' and the Project for a New American Century movement in the 1990s - that, with communism defeated, the way was clear for man's final political evolution and the triumph of liberal democracy.

As the 1990s wore on and the movement culminated in its horrific Iraqi reality, it was widely discredited as a failure. But what the recent Arab revolutions demonstrate is that, far from being wrong, its proponents faltered only in their impatience in expecting subject peoples to spontaneously and immediately shake off their chains (and, indeed, to be grateful to the Americans for doing it for them).

Any student of the subject will tell you that revolutions, when they do occur, only do so under very specific conditions. A sincere and widely-held desire for change is not enough in itself for people to take to the streets - they will tolerate a surprisingly high degree of injustice, deprivation and frustration before reaching the critical exploding point.

If you were a cynical sort of fellow, you might say that this all goes to show the Iraq invasion was an imperialist war for oil and Washington has never been concerned with the liberty of Arab citizens. But whatever your view of the war, as Fukuyama himself put it, in 2006 a change of tack on behalf on Washington is most definitely needed, particularly in regard to its present condition as a world power;

"What is needed now are new ideas, neither neoconservative nor realist, for how America is to relate to the rest of the world - ideas that retain the neoconservative belief in the universality of human rights, but without its illusions about the efficacy of American power and hegemony to bring these ends about."

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