Despots are falling like dominoes in the Middle East after Tunisia and then Egypt swept long ruling dictators from power and unrest is roiling Bahrain, Jordan, Algeria, Libya and terrifying the rest of the nations in its path.
Why now, after generations of the same despotic rule are these people rising up to say enough?
Press reports and analysis from intelligence officials tell us there are common causes in many of these countries. They include high and rising food prices, high youth unemployment and disillusionment about job prospects even among the relatively well educated. There is a pervasive sense of hopelessness and lack of political representation and a repressive police state picking them off a few at a time. And the most corrosive influence of all is endemic corruption that demoralizes the whole population.
Put those frustrations together in a mix that with a large percentage of the population under 30, idealistic and increasingly tech savvy in the use of social media and the internet discovering they are not alone and that together the crowd has power beyond their wildest dreams for change.
The problem is while the crowd knows what is does NOT want anymore, it often cannot easily achieve what is wants most—freedom of expression, honest leaders, economic opportunity and security from exploitation and repression.
So far the regime changes are profound but cosmetic since in both Tunisia and Egypt the continuing power is with the Army and the Army was the institution that forced out the former rulers in a desperate attempt to save themselves and their economic power and influence by seeking to install a more acceptable new face.
Will things fundamentally change in Tunisia and Egypt? The answer is probably ‘no’ in the near term.
America’s Strategic Choice
We realize that America’s foreign policy since the time of the cold war was to recognize reality and do business with unsavory despots offering stability and support for America’s strategic interests. During the cold war these despots were forced to choose theor the American one. After America had plenty of despots eager to do business and receive payments to contain the ‘bad boys’ in each corner of the world.
But time tarnished America’s image in our new world order by our sticking with despots out of fear instability would lead to Islamic radical domination of the region. Mubarak and his counterparts feared the radicals as much as we do so ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ theory of international relations was the modus operandi
What should America do now?
Part of the answer—a big part—is to just BE America! Celebrating our rule of law, our political discourse, our raucous debates, the land of opportunity, the great melting pot and a place of freedom, security and safety to raise a family, get a job and be “normal.”
Being American also means addressing our own problems head-on by rolling back the intrusive size and cost of our Federal Government and spending to reduce our debt and deficit and unleash a new sense of American growth and prosperity. We all know what needs to be done:
1. Cut spending back to pre-recession levels across the Federal Government.
2. Simplify our tax code to reduce game playing and the cost of compliance. Repatriate off-shore corporate cash for domestic investment. Encourage investment and entrepreneurship and get the government off our backs. We need to remove the uncompetitive penalties in our tax code for investment, manufacturing, job creation and reinvesting earnings in.
3. Domestic Energy Security. It is more than just drill, baby, drill it is the strategic recognition that we must end our dependence of tottering Middle East regimes for oil and energy. We can do it by unleashing our own domestic oil and gas production from unconventional sources, encourage renewable energy, allow nuclear power construction again and encourage clean coal technologies. The demand side companion is to adopt national energy efficiency codes at least as strong as California’s to reduce energy intensity and build-in more efficiency as America’s economy roars back to life.
4. Technology, Innovation, Manufacturing and Immigration. We need a policy that encourages expansive immigration especially of people with technical skills and training in math, science and the technologies and crafts important to our future. It starts with offering green card status to every H1b foreign student who want to stay in America and work, become assimilated and then become a citizen. Instead of making it hard to become a citizen we should make it easy. You come legally, you work, pay taxes, speak English, assimilate and choose. Give H1b’s five years from graduation to complete these steps to citizenship. If they do—they’re in. if not, goodbye and good luck. We need more workers paying into Social Security, Medicare and taxes. Our government’s sloppiness over years has enabled the immigration problem of “illegals” and we must solve it even while we control unfettered access across our borders. If you are here today and are not a convicted felon you can register for a pathway to citizenship. The same rules apply: get a job, pay taxes, learn English, assimilate, obey the law for five years and you are a citizen. Break the law and you must leave and start over after five years.
5. Grow, Baby, Grow! The solution to most of America’s current problems is to scale growth again and use it to revitalize our economy and all who depend upon it. If the government focuses on doing those things that encourage economic growth and STOP DOING those things which impede it—revenue will absolve many, many sins!
America must Lead by Example
Being like America is in many ways what these restless people in the Middle East seek for themselves. But it is the Egyptian version, the Tunisian version, the Bahraini version but it shares the common cause and common threads of our values: freedom from repression, the rule of law, economic growth and opportunity, education, and a family future in peace.
America now has clear choices. We either help the people of the Middle East live into these shared aspirations or we watch them founder and turn to radicals to take revenge for abandoning them in their time of need.
But America must also make some internal changes to shield ourselves from the risk of change and seize our own opportunities to reinvest in our liberty, opportunity and hope for the future. That is, in fact, the debate we are having now as a nation. Too often it is partisan between Democrats and Republicans, but we too are experiencing a great awakening of our own in the realization that our nation is sinking in debt and taking our opportunity and our children’s future with it. We don’t object to being trading partners with China but we have no interest in being a Chinese subsidiary.
It’s time for America to be self confident again—just do it!