The killing of the US Ambassador to Libya and three of his staff, the sacking of the US embassy in Egypt and a copycat attach on our embassy in Yemen is projecting foreign policy into the heart of the 2012 presidential election campaign. In the Middle East, the facts surrounding the attacks are still being clarified but the feigned outrage over the YouTube posted video involving the Prophet Muhammad looks more like a convenient pretext for radicals looking for just such opportunity.
Meanwhile, stuff is happening that in reaction and anticipation of more to come.
What should we make of this?
President Obama must feel blindsided by tragic events not of his making that nonetheless risk spinning out of control when he least needs to give his electoral opponent more ammunition. Just as the President hoped for a bump in the polls after the Democratic Party convention he finds himself stuck in the mud of what some are trying to characterize as Iran 1979 all over again with the embassy attacks taking place on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Governor Romney calls the president’s foreign policy feckless and failed trotting out the ‘apology tour’ videos and telling the likely voters—See!!!! The president’s weak positions of national defense and weak position on projecting American strength internationally are leading to more insecurity. But if he presses too far he risks looking like piling on when America is vulnerable.
The President then steps in it big time by telling the Israeli Prime Minister he is too busy campaigning to meet with Netanyahu over Iran. Israel smacks him upside the head by telling the world just that only souring an already bad relationship.
The President of Egypt takes a LONG TIME to condemn the embassy attack in Cairo. Not a smart move for a government that counts on $1.5 billion of US military aid each year. Republicans call for suspending US aid to Egypt and Pakistan and Afghanistan in retribution for the attacks and the lack of confidence that these places are really friends. Even the president says that Egypt is NOT an ally, but neither is it an enemy. HUH? Are you kidding me? This really is amateur hour at the White House!
Behind the scenes these events in the Middle East, upon reflection, look TOO planned, TOO well timed, TOO orchestrated to be coincidence. Is this Iran’s hand at work through proxies? Are the jihadists really able to orchestrate such large scale multi-faceted events—again?
Part of me just wants to take two Tylenol PM and get a good night’s sleep hoping these crazy events will blow over and things will be better in the morning—-it won’t! The fear is this is just the start of a period of skirmish, displays of plumage and posturing stunts designed to undermine the credibility of the US in the Middle East before Israel bombs the holy crap out of Iran in an effort to degrade the nuclear option, buy time and force the Obama team to come to its rescue BEFORE the election—or else.
That is the President’s real October surprise nightmare scenario. And the jihadists know just as they knew in Iraq when Sunni insurgents attacked Shi’a causing a counter reaction. Or when Iran tells Hezbollah to lob rockets into Israel. Stuff happens! Are the people of Egypt at fault because stuff happens? Of course not. Do they run into the street waving American flags and cursing the jihadists because Americans are their friends, of course not.
We are at the crazy time in our electoral cycle and the international trouble making cycle that symbolic dates like 9/11 or Election Day bring out the troublemakers. We should expect it, but we don’t have to like it or overreact to it.
The Administration is trying to contain the violence by condemning the You Tube video the jihadists claim provoked it. This is worse than dumb. The American Government should be defending the American value of freedom of speech not make apologies for it pandering to terrorists. WEAK! WEAK! WEAK!
But there are also lessons for Muslims. Chill out people! Don’t let a bunch of nutcases hijack your religion. And cut us a little slack will you, we believe in freedom of speech and not everything that comes out of someone’s mouth or shows up on YouTube is justification for stupid behavior on your part. Get over it!
The worry is this is only September and the October surprise is yet to come before election day.
- Protesters Storm U.S. Embassy in Yemen in New Attack (usnews.com)
- Yemen protesters repelled from US Embassy (worldnews.nbcnews.com)
- Middle East a Tinderbox, American Leadership Absent (warsclerotic.wordpress.com)
- Future of U.S.-Egypt Relations Not So Clear (commentarymagazine.com)
- ‘October Surprise’ In September? Romney Attacks Obama On Foreign Policy (addictinginfo.org)
- Yemen protesters repelled after storming US Embassy (worldnews.nbcnews.com)
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!
For three weeks the whole world watched. There was angst but mostly there was excitement. Egyptian youth poured into the streets of Cairo and other major cities by the thousands. We watched them as if they were on spring break. Unafraid, determined, fearless, immortal—all the traits of youth we most admire from our own youthful experiences —and all the traits we most fear in our children in times of such potential danger.
The whole world was watching Tahrir Square—Liberation Square, as it translates turned out o be well named. It became the symbolic home of a free Egypt. A place many Egyptians identified with and it was now occupied by thousands of their children partying like it was spring break. But it was not spring break and they were not being frivolous, their objective was to save their country. And so they did.
TV cameras were everywhere and the Government was powerless to stop it. Tweets and Txts and Facebook flash mob use of social media were used yet again to outpace the establishment.
Fast, efficient, hopeful, relentless and pulsing with life—the whole world was watching.
No, I’m not talking about the Egyptian Army I am talking about the protestors. The Egyptian Army played its hand well. It had choices. It could have followed the usual script of tyrants and turned its guns on the crowd as Tehran had done. But the young people in Tahrir Square also played their hand well. They did not incite violent clashes or destroy property. They shook hands with soldiers and thanked them for standing with the people. And those soldiers in their tanks were also young as the crowds. They were part of the crowd but working for the Army.
When the Defense Minister showed up in the Square to talk to the crowd his presence electrified the audience. Be among us! Feel our Joy! We are Free! Thanks be to God and the Army for standing with us! If the Army had doubts about the choices it faced that visit to the square and the joyous welcome from the crowd was louder than all Pharaoh’s legions.
In the end, the Army saw its choices boiled down to ousting Mubarak and saving themselves or side with him and ruin everything. It was an entirely rational choice for everyone involved except the President.
The whole world is watching
Egypt is the biggest domino in the Arab constellation of regimes that could possibly have fallen. Only Saudi Arabia would be as profound. This tsunami of protest that started in Tunisia and spread like wild fire was unpredicted and seemed unquenchable. Dictators suddenly started calling up their opponents offering to talk. Prime Ministers in several nations were replaced, cabinets sacked, and money transfers out of the country no doubt increased as the protest continued.
In Tehran, always subtle in their respect for opposing views, the mullahs hauled out 73 protesters from their own green protests in 2009 after the corrupt election and hanged them as a reminder that unlike the Egyptian Army the Islamic Republic of Iran would brook no opposition.
The Whole World Is Watching
Reuters carried a story from China Daily newspaper on February 12th calling for stability in Egypt and saying ‘foreigners should keep from intervening.’ China first reaction to Mubarak’s ouster sounded plaintive and fearful. As I read I could feel the terror in the heart of the Chinese who fear instability more than anything.
“Following this extraordinary development, it is hoped that the Egyptian military, government and its people will make every effort to maintain social stability and restore normal order,” the China Daily newspaper said in an editorial.
“Social stability should be of overriding importance. Any political changes will be meaningless if the country falls prey to chaos in the end,” said the paper, China’s official English-language newspaper.
“Given Egypt’s status as a major Arab power of pivotal strategic importance, if the current situation continues to deteriorate, it will not only be nightmarish for the 80 million Egyptians, but also perilous to regional peace and stability.”
One wonders if the Chinese leaders were imagining their own fate. The revolution that is sweeping the Arab world will not stop there because the factors that are driving it are wound up in the aspirations of the people for freedom, respect for individual liberties and human right, a desire for opportunity, for jobs, for a stable life for themselves and their families. These are universal values which found expression in tweets, enthusiastic validation by others of like views, and the idealistic and optimistic faith in the future that could be better that often drives youth. Except these values were shared by their parents, and grandparents too fearful to act now proud of the liberators their children had become.
The lesson from Tahrir Square is that freedom is possible for all by standing up together in liberation square to declare it. This is what terrifies dictators. The willingness of the people to stand together and shout:
We are not afraid.
We are free!
While the whole world is watching.
The people in Tahrir Square in Cairo called it the Lotus Revolution, but the shout of choice for the past three weeks has been “Go Out! Go Out, Mubarak!”
Today that finally happened after a false start—or rather last gasp to cling to power backfired yesterday forcing the hand of the Egyptian military. Hosni Mubarak was removed as president and the power shifted to the military high command to restore order and plan for the next steps in the nation’s transition.
No one knows what that might be, but this stage 2 between the fall the Mubarak Government and what is to eventually replace it will be a time of optimism and danger—high danger. This was the period after the fall of the Shah in Iran where democratic forces were displaced by the clerics and the Islamic Republic of Iran was formed. A similar fate in Egypt would doom the region for all.
When the Egyptians began rallying in their national square the reaction in Tehran was to hang 73 of the demonstration leaders arrested after the election protests a year ago, a gruesome reminder that there is no democracy in that nation.
The recipe for revolution is hardly the stuff of inspiration:
1. The people oppressed and often brutalized by their own government
2. Unemployment high, many desperately poor and hope for jobs and a future have long waned
3. The people are young, idealistic and ready for change
4. Tweet and friend, txt and email are the social cocktail fomenting flash mobs
5. Islam is often their only outlet for protest and radicals dominate it
6. Mix all ingredients with any hint of weakness and a revolution occurs.
The problem now is that Mubarak is gone and little else will change if the Army has its way. But the people’s expectations are raised and the crowds in Tahrir Square shout
“Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!”
- Ahmadinejad: Egyptian protests herald new Mideast (sfgate.com)
- Mubarak finally quits as Egypt protesters celebrate (dailymail.co.uk)
- Mubarak Gone; Egypt VP Announces Change; Live Video From Tahrir Square (alan.com)
- Zizek: Miracle of Tahrir Square — No Room for Compromise, Mubarak Must Go (alternet.org)
- Watch: Obama On Mubarak Exit, ‘Egypt Will Never Be The Same’ (towleroad.com)
- Mubarak Finally Bails (littlegreenfootballs.com)
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.
As the events swirl barely under control in Egypt there is both excitement and danger for all involved. We hope for the best for the Egyptian people but we fear the worst in another out of control Islamic state bent on mischief and mayhem in the name of Allah.
The danger for Egyptians is that there is not much of a foundation for true democratic government after a half century of military rule after Nasser and the Colonels overthrew the monarchy. But what started in Tunisia is spreading to Egypt, Yemen, and Jordan and the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Syria are hiding out and Iran is both thrilled and terrified.
The best outcome is that the demand for freedom, the rule of law and fair, democratic elections will be realized and the people will act responsibly not tolerating a new batch of dictators to replace the ones run out. We recognize it is asking a lot, but we must pray for Egypt and for its best interests.
Change is coming to the Middle East. Why the world’s best intelligence services did not see it coming is a good question President Obama and other leaders should be asking. The president missed his golden opportunity to stand up and support the people of Iran as they demonstrated in the streets and he seems to have learned from that mistake by his steady pressure for change in Egypt. Keep it up. The longer Mubarak hangs on the more trouble it causes without changing the outcome—his time is over.
But it is not Egypt where the battle for the Middle East will be fought—it’s Lebanon. and now is the time to serve notice that Hezbollah will not be permitted to take over Lebanon nor deny the Levant its freedom while the rest of the Middle East celebrates.
And so in this time of danger there is also opportunity. Syrian also has a choice to make Iran and Hezbollah or the rest of the world. And if we are lucky surrounded by democracy unwilling to be returned to bondage.
America has depended upon dictators to keep the lid on Islamic radicals and Palestinian terrorists, but sometimes at the expense of our real strategic values and interest. But if we believe in redemption we will stand up for the legitimate democratic aspirations of the people of the Middle East and offer our help anyway we can. But we must also say this honestly and clearly—and mean it.
America strategic interest is in a secure, free and responsible Middle East that participates fully in the world community of nations. Nations that respect their neighbors, respect their people and act honorably will be embraced and supported. But just as we did not tolerate threats to our strategic interests and our allies in the region from the old dictators we will not tolerate them from new regimes either.
As for Iran the message is clear—your time is running out and the whole world is watching the legitimate democratic aspirations of your neighbors emerging from bondage and fear. Be afraid, be very afraid—everywhere you look the people of Iran are wearing green and they too will not be denied.