Lessons from the Middle East Internet Revolution?

I wrote yesterday about America’s responsibility to support the legitimate democratic aspirations of the people of Egypt and the Middle East

George Bush was right about his instincts about our values and the need to spread democracy and support it wherever the seeds of freedom fall.  The problem was he got distracted by 9/11 and Iraq and—well you know how the rest turned out.

But it’s not too late and President Obama can pick up the democracy banner and wave it, will he?

I think the big lessons from this Middle East uprising are as follows:

1.       The Young Everywhere Yearn to be Free.  This isn’t just the hormonal irrationalism of youth it is the ‘reset’ button for the next world order.  The uprisings in the Middle East tell us that no matter how long the dictator have ruled that they are vulnerable to the twin realities of the natural desire for freedom and the power of communications technology to show us we are not alone in that belief.

2.       The Internet Democratizes the World.  These uprisings were the flash mob gone national.  A tweet here a TXT MSG there multiplied thousands of times filled the street of Cairo and made speed and ubiquity the enemy of batons and tanks.  When the people of Egypt realized that they had the power to change their nation for the good, they were freed from bondage forever.

3.       Every Dictator and Repressive Regime is Living on Borrowed Time.  Imagine the terror in the hearts of the Saudi Princes and the Syrian thugs.  Imagine the sinking feeling of Hezbollah and Hamas.  Imagine a sea of green turning out again in the streets of Tehran.  You see what I mean, don’t you?  Once the people of Egypt and Tunisia and perhaps elsewhere realized that they had the power and hanging together was a sure way to avoid hanging separately the dictator game is over.

So what should America do?

Forget the crazy idea for a kill switch for the internet.  America should stand up and say the following:

1.       The Defense against Cyber Warfare is not the Kill Switch it is Endless Choices.  America should commit itself to the defense of the open, free and unrestricted access to information on the Internet.  If there are a thousand ways to reach Cairo on the Internet the kill switch will not work for repressive regimes.  The US should make a thousand ways of communication available and make insuring the open, free access to communications a national priority.  Think of it as the 21st century version of Radio Free Europe where the US beamed communications past Soviet censors to keep hope alive behind the Iron Curtain.  Make no mistake, cyber warfare is real but our best defense is unleashing the technological genius of America combined with the freedom loving aspirations of the world.

2.       Welcome to America! The other lesson from Egypt is that the young people of world are dying for opportunity, for jobs, for a better life for themselves and their families.  It is the same aspirations of the Pilgrims, the Irish, the Italians and Germans—-and now in our time of the Mexicans, Hondurans, Haitians and others “yearning to breathe free”.  The greatest danger for many economies is demographics.  While America is better off than Japan or Europe or even China we can insure our own future by growing and it starts with an immigration policy that welcomes student studying in our universities and soaking up the American culture.  When they graduate we should offer them green cards as a graduation gift and by working hard assure them a fast track to citizenship.  We want scientists, engineers, mathematicians.  We should be a magnet for the world’s talent and seek to retain it once trained.  The illegal immigration problem could be solved with a realistic guest worker policy renewable annually so long as the worker works hard, pays taxes and commits no crime.  Five years of hard work and clean living as a guest worker and you too can earn a path to citizenship.  Yes, we need to secure our borders, but if legitimate guest workers can come and go freely by following the rules we only have to worry about the bad guys and we’ll have a lot fewer people to chase.

3.       Make Freedom Pay! The genius of America is our ability to adapt and reinvent ourselves.  It is our universal respect for the rule of law and fair play.  It is the meritocracy of our way of life. We’re losing our founding principles in a swamp of political correctness, insane regulatory burdens, and inane tax laws that penalize work and reward co-dependence.  The best way for America to spread democracy in the world is to be our true selves, practice what we preach, and make coming to America so insatiably strong that few nations will be able to out compete us and every nation will want a piece of the American action in access to our markets, technology, talent and inspiration.  So it’s time to cut the crap America and let our people grow.

There is something exciting about a revolution.  But it is also scary because of the uncertainty and chaos. You can imagine how Washington felt wintering in the blizzards of Valley Forge.  America has always been good at big dreams and aspirations.  But we have not always executed well as in Iraq and now Afghanistan.  But that does not mean we should give up it means we need to learn from our mistakes and fix them.  Just do it!

In Egypt and Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East today there is a new opportunity for freedom.  How America stands up for freedom right now, today can change the map of that troubled region for a long time.  Today the Muslims have only one choice to throw off their tyrants and dictators and that has been jihad and radicals.  To maintain their power radicals then revert to repressing their own people and demonizing others.  It does not have to be that way. We must show the Muslims that Allah has other options for them if they will only open their eyes and seize them.  And in so doing we also make clear to the radicals that freedom is their biggest enemy and freedom is everywhere. The power of Tweets and TXT MSG and the world wide web is that it shows the people they have the power over radicals just as they did over dictators.

The whole world is watching and cheering for Egypt today.


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