Saturday, January 29, 2011

We must learn the lessons of history

Nice comment on Balloon Juice:

There is vastly, vastly more democratic reform and revolution breaking out in the Middle East after two years of No Drama Obama than in eight years of neocon Strategery. So, they’re trying to spin it away, to get ahead of the media cycle.
This is “the best defense is a good offense” version of attack politics.

I'd like to think that there was a causal link, rather than coincidence, but Joe Biden's Mubarak is not a dictator and Hillary Clinton's "I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family. So I hope to see him often here in Egypt and in the United States." and this Al Jazeera interview with US state department spokesman PJ Crowley make me think not.

Naturally, our friends at the Henry Jackson Society were quick to get their version in: Egypt needs reform, not revolution. The entire argument is invalidated, as Michael Ezra could tell you, by the passage which begins "As Edmund Burke cautioned more than three centuries ago". Oh dear, and they lecture us about history.

No seriously, it's not the cringe-making stuff you expect. It's just bland. By the time it was published (6:08PM GMT 28 Jan 2011 - hooray for the mindless accuracy of servers), the curfew the Egyptian government had imposed had been ignored for two hours, and its warnings not to protest had apparently encouraged more people to turn out. In any case, by trying to turn off the internet and SMS messaging, it had clearly lost faith in the people, and one or the other was going to go.

I'm surprised to find myself a revolutionary, but gradualism seems impossible to me. The HJS guys aren't completely wrong. De-Baathification in Iraq was a disaster, and the wholesale revolution in Iran was just about as bad. Both saw professional administrators replaced by ideological headbangers, and that rarely works out. I'm for keeping the professional classes, but I don't think Egypt will go for massive ideological sifting: it seems that the army, the Muslim Brotherhood, Christians, and possibly trade unionists are prepared to work together. I may be over-optimistic, but this may end happily for Egyptians.

Besides, Saudi Arabia has strongly condemned the protests and an anonymous Israeli cabinet minister speaking for that beacon of democracy in the ME has said, "They will have to exercise force, power in the streets, and do it.", so there's a great deal to love about this. This is my favourite video riot police retreating. When the camera shows the whole bridge, the sheer numbers are almost unbelievable. I've never seen anything like it.

I could go on rooting out quotations from pro-democracy folk who aren't very keen on elections since the Hamas won one in Gaza, but I'll leave that to you. I don't think Decency is dead. I expect lots of verbiage from the heirs of Scoop Jackson and their allies. After all, no one knows what the hell is going on, so there can't be any harm in having a punt, can there?


Anonymous bubby said...

History rarely throws up a perfectly controlled experiment but this event is pretty close. There is a choice between supporting those striving for democracy and US/UK/Israeli foreign policy, which means propping up a dictatorship. It looks fairly obvious which side Decent opinion leans towards which says a lot about their attachment to human rights and democracy.

1/30/2011 10:09:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

It demonstrates the unworkable aspects of the idealisic statements about democracy which characterize Decency. The most likely victors of any Egyptian election are the Muslim Brotherhood; Hamas won Palestinian elections; etc etc.

That's not to say that Decency isn't dead but it's certainly to say that this is exposing an awful lot of people who claim to be committed wholesale to democracy as the hypocrites they always were. You can't stand side by side with Mubarak and the Saudis (and use Mubarak's police as your outsourced torturers) and at the same time extol the virtues of free speech and democracy.

That HJS thing is, as you say, so bland. And this is pretty telling, i tihnk:

the policy of Western decision-makers should be to press far harder upon extant regimes across the Arab world to increase political freedoms and allow for peaceful opposition movements, rather than encouraging revolution wholesale.

re: mr Ezra's postings on a previous thread - what this means, uncoded, is that Mubarak should have clamped dowm much harder on the Muslim Brotherhood when he had the chance.

1/30/2011 12:59:00 PM  
Blogger flyingrodent said...

As Michael Ezra showed the other day, if the limit of your ambition is the maintenance of a fuzzy not-communism or not-fascism, coupled with a refusal to critique the world's dominant politial ideology, then what's in the Egyptian uprising for you?

After all, it could go either way - democracy, or an even worse dictatorship. It's an exellent, though risky, opportunity for positive change, but the one thing that's unlikely is a pliant, bad-ass police state that takes its marching orders from washington, and that's not going to go down well with the HJS.

So far, I'd say that the main outlets of decent thought have been notable for their silence, which is a trend that I'd like to see more of. Gene at HP gets brownie points for fighting the pro-democracy corner, although I notice that many, many of his readers seem to believe that Egypt is a catastrophe, because of Israel or something. Funny how the tone changes when the shit hits the fan, isn't it?

Still, so far it's going rather better than the Iraq disaster. The bodycount is yet to hit six figures, for a start, although that's not stopping the usual suspects claiming Egypt as a triumph for donald rumsfeld & co. That too shows a lack of ambition - if rumsfeld, then why not ronald reagan or douglas macarthur, thus vindicating the entire western way of war?

1/30/2011 01:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or Napoleon for that matter.

1/30/2011 03:45:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

I thought these comments from Tony Blair were very telling.

Blair said the west should engage with countries such as Egypt in the process of change "so that you weren't left with what is actually the most dangerous problem in the Middle East, which is that an elite that has an open minded attitude but it's out of touch with popular opinion, and popular opinion that can often – because it has not been given popular expression in its politics – end up frankly with the wrong idea and a closed idea."

Democracy eh? It can be a terrible thing when you give people democracy and they get the 'wrong idea'

1/30/2011 05:59:00 PM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

Of course one elephant in the room is the way that any secular Arab political movement was "neutralised" - leaving opposition to the oligarchs to "the Islamists(TM)".

1/30/2011 07:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Cian said...

an elite that has an open minded attitude but it's out of touch with popular opinion

To be fair he probably means woman's rights, or something.

But still, how out of it is he?

1/31/2011 09:31:00 AM  
Anonymous skidmarx said...

Well the owmer of HP has been supportive so far:

1/31/2011 10:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Alex said...

"But still, how out of it is he?"

I think we can finally remove from the list of "Possible Causes of the Iraq War" the idea of spreading democracy and liberty. Not much left.

Meanwhile, in Israeli news:

"Israeli officials said Monday that they have agreed to let Egypt move several hundred troops into the Sinai peninsula for the first time since the countries reached peace three decades ago."

2/01/2011 04:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Sarah AB said...

I lose track of who counts as Decent but, as Skidmarx says, Gene is keen, as are Norm and Marko as far as I can tell/remember.

2/01/2011 06:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Sarah AB said...

I noticed this after posting my last comment and genuinely thought many people commenting here might appreciate it.

2/01/2011 08:16:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Sarah, yes Gene is keen. I greatly prefer him eg here to Alan A, though I find the way the latter upbraids Daniel Levy and for not having read Harry's Place, and therefore not knowing the TRUE SITUATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST, rather sweet.

Of the people Norman Geras links to and approves of, I'm certainly onside with Kenan Malik and Alex Massie here. There was a bit of back and forth on Twitter between Alex Massie and Ian Leslie this morning on whether Egypt already had "proto-democratic" structures (such as rule of law) in place. I pretty much agree with them, although Egypt is clearly very corrupt. The police are obviously scumbags. I think there are governmental issues that we (the West, the EU) could advise Egypt on, but I also think we've exhausted their trust.

I suspect the MB will be a largish political party in the new Egypt, and I doubt I'll agree with very much they believe in, but there's a lot of "ooh look, a bogeyman" nonsense talked about them over here. That includes some Harry's Place commenters and Tony Blair.

2/01/2011 10:10:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Crikey did you see this?

We all know Britain and the US see Egypt this way but to actually come out and say it so openly is amazing.

Blair lingers like some malignant spectre. Considering the immense damage he has done in the Middle East it's really amazing that anybody thinks he's worth listening to.

2/02/2011 10:55:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

It wouldn't hurt if somebody asked him And not just him) "look, Tony, since everybody knows who was supporting and arming Mubarak, who on the streets of Egypt's major cities do you think values the opinion of those people?"

2/02/2011 11:30:00 AM  

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