Monday, June 06, 2011

SLEEPING WITH THE DEVIL: The Mideast Democracy Movement


By Jack Random

Since our emergence as a world power we as a nation have all too often been willing to partner with dictators and tyrants to further our financial or strategic interests. We have formed alliances with some of the worst characters in modern history, from Pinochet to the Shah of Iran, from Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden. Sleep with the devil and it’s bound to leave a mark on the progeny.

With the emergence of a youth inspired movement toward democracy in the Middle East, we have an opportunity to right our course and begin to make amends.

There is nothing easy about the way forward for while the urge to help in the cause of democracy is powerful it is often not clear whom we should be supporting. It is the cause that must move us and not the players. We are in a bind not only in the Middle East but throughout the world because we chose expedience over principle. We need not and should not repeat that pattern of shortsighted policy.

It is entirely possible if not probable that some of the freedom fighters in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere are allies of our enemies. That is to a large extent our own legacy and our penance is to support democracy regardless.

The Bush administration infamously failed the test in Palestine when the White House pushed for elections only to disavow them when the results did not meet with our expectations. Like nearly everything the Bush team touched, it was a blunder for which we are still paying.

President Obama, for all the criticism heaped upon him from the left and the right, has attempted to strike a balance. He will not forget the Palestinian people any more than he will neglect the Israelis. His initiative has made abundantly clear what we ought to have already known: There will be no peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as long as Benjamin Netanyahu is Prime Minister of Israel. Netanyahu may gather applause in a Republican congress but the Israeli people must recognize his failure to lead. It falls to the people now to replace him. That is the price of democracy and we must honor it. We can only hope to hold the aggressive elements of both parties in check until a new leader is chosen.

What the events of the Middle East are teaching us is that it is always bad policy to support dictators and oppressors. While such policies may disguise themselves under shrouds of sophistication they are shortsighted and naïve.

The desire of the people for self-determination cannot ultimately be denied. To stand in opposition is to be on the wrong side of history.

Get on board or be left behind.

This is not the time for hand wringing and cautionary tales. If we are to retain any self-respect in this rapidly evolving world, we must lend a hand. If we cannot join the people on the streets of protest, we can at least applaud them from where we sit. We can call out attempts to subvert the cause or disrupt the march to democracy. We can spread the word and keep the story alive. We can push our governments to do the right thing by supporting the people.

If in fact the events in the Middle East can be traced to the words and organization of a handful of activists on the worldwide web, then the dream is alive and all things on heaven and earth are possible. Little wonder the world’s established hierarchy of power is trembling at the prospects. Nothing frightens the elite more than democracy in action, democracy taken literally, democracy spreading like a blazing fire, democracy from the ground up.

This is not what they intended when they summoned the cry of democracy to justify their wars for oil. Democracy was only a word then, just a pleasant thought for the peasants to ponder, just a dream, a passing fancy and nothing at all to worry about.

As the cry now moves from Tunis to Tripoli, from Cairo to Manama, from Sana’a to Amman and from Damascus to Jerusalem, the ruling class has something very tangible to worry about. The gate is open and the march is on.

Write it up as yet another example of the law of unintended consequences. Greed and opportunity led the corporate dynasties to push the economic system beyond its capacity for profit. A global collapse could only be averted with a massive infusion of capital from the pockets of the working people. The resultant depreciation of currency contributed to a worldwide food crisis. When families can no longer afford to put food on the table, people take to the streets and frustration grows into movements and real systemic change is not only possible but mandatory.

Say what you will, doubt them at your own peril, these young dissidents of oppressed nations have already achieved more than the Paris youth rebellion of 1968, the Summer of Love 1969 and the largest antiwar protest in history on the eve of the Iraq War. They have affected real change. They have accomplished what we can only dream.

More than anything else, these events should serve as a reminder of the power and inevitability of democracy. Born of the individual and collective drive to control one’s own destiny, democracy is like the wind: You may find it discomforting, you may find it disturbing but you cannot deny it. You can only seek shelter from the storm.

All these rightwing Neocons who could not resist their knee-jerk support of all wars in the initial stages of this movement have since backtracked for fear that we cannot control the outcomes. Newsflash: If your support of democracy is contingent on outcome (for example, the 2000 election), then you do not support democracy at all.

Anyone who studies history knows that we as a nation have rarely supported democracies in their march to independence. At best we have been indifferent. At worst we have actively supported the despots who stood in the way.

We may never know exactly what was intended in Iraq but what we bought at an extraordinary price was a lasting antagonism, an unpaid debt and a bloody dagger of revenge. What we will leave in Afghanistan, if indeed we are ever able to extract ourselves from that nightmare, is a compounding of that debt.

It will require a great deal of time and effort to pay down that debt but we can begin now by ushering in a new era of unwavering support for freedom, democracy and human rights.



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