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Well framed counter argument

Reader comment on item: Back to the Shores of Tripoli?
in response to reader comment: real change is unlikely

Submitted by Michel C. Zala (Switzerland), Apr 10, 2011 at 15:14

Great piece, GIK, you structured the position for non-intervention by the US very well.

In a nutshell, you have a pessimistic outlook, hoping for some of my arguments to be true, whereas I promoted a more optimistic viewpoint, hoping that some of yours prove to be wrong.

No doubt, past experiences with muslims of the middle east do not support optimism. The religion, as formulated in the Quran, does indeed not support my impression of honest and sincere efforts to embrace western achievements, such as democracy, other than to "use" them for immediate purposes. Again and again have we all seen regime changes in the region, only to be disappointed afterwards, as one form of oppression brought about another. Culture, religion and history all seem to be incompatible with the principles of a modern democracy. They all seem to go hand in hand in breeding autocratic and autoritarian systems. Why should it be different this time around? Even the latest reports from Egypt seem to support your perspective, that nothing ever really changes.

>>>>So why should the US - which has been promoting democracy for years in countries in the region - keep on with its efforts when no real change is evident? Have the lives and rights of Copts in Egypt improved one iota since Mubarek was deposed?>>>

Foreign relations, diplomacy is in general geared to serve first and foremost the own national interests. That applies to Russia, China, as well as to democracies of the likes of the US. Hence, it is intrinsically self-serving and opportunistic. It is not a qualification, it is a description. Thus, the US has, by supporting oppressive middle eastern nations, such as for instance Saudi Arabia, Kuweit, Yemen or Egypt over decades served our direct national interest, as Russia on the other hand has done so with Syria or Iran, Libya and other Maghreb states. Nothing wrong with it, as from any point of view there were ample pragmatic reasons to do so, sometimes chosing fully aware the lesser of two evils, which also is a sad aspect of foreign policy (Shah).

As opposed to you, I did not see much in terms of promoting democracy, other than the usual lipservice, but a ton of Realpolitik or pragmatism. I'll grant you that the US often displayed good intentions, trying to nudge some nations towards democracy (Egypt), albeit real pressure was for obvious reasons never applied. Democracy was definitely low on the priority list for the US, as opposed to ISR, energy and economical and strategic objectives. Case in point ; not even our strongest allies in the Arab world demonstrate a hint of the values and principles of a modern democracy.

What, then, is different this time around?

In my viewpoint it is the magnitude of the " muslim awakening". An popular uprising in one decades- old oppressive nation could already be considered as astounding. An uprising in a tight North Korean type nation, such as Syria, is sensational. An uprising, literally encompassing the entire Arab world, almost at the same time, is to be considered as a truly mindblowing event. Can you imagine that Aljazeera uses expressions, such as Awakening, a notion out of American History, to frame this amazing movement?

Modern multimedia and communication instruments helped shape this wildfire, but they did not create it, but gave deep seated, buried, denied sentiments an outlet. Even tightly sealed regimes are no longer able to stop the blaze. No wonder that Russia and China are scared shitless.

What we see right now are not putches or coups d'etat, but popular uprisings, not driven by military or religious zealots, but by lawyers, doctors, students and workers. Unarmed civilians rise up in many nations at the same time, demonstrating, bleeding and dying en masse for exactly the values and principles so beautifully framed in the US constitution. This pan-arabic spring alone is a manifestation of real change. In its initial stages, fragile and threatened from within as from the outside. If Libya falls to democracy, if it sticks in Tunesia and Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, a severe domino effect may well take place, sweeping oppressive regimes in Yemen, Syria away, then the rest of the sheiks, sultans and despots. A Lot of ifs, I grant you that.

In conclusion I repeat myself here:

If we stand aside and let Gaddafi win (a stalemate or deal would be a win), status quo in our relations with the Arab world is pretty much a given. Same old disgust, hatred, envy, resentment.

If we take a real stand and take care of Gaddafi once and for all, there is a chance for sweeping change throughout the region. Change in perceptions, change in relations and a ton of pragmatic benefits as listed exhaustingly in my posts. We would risk comparably little, as this is a tiny, local conflict zone, but the potential for huge rewards is there. And we find ourselves on the righteous side of the cause, while doing, what Americans do, because we are exceptional.

If we however pursue Obama's third option (exhaustingly laid out in my exchange with Tovey), the whole thing will end up as a catastrophy, and it very much looks that way at present.

If I am right, this pan-arabic awakening is not a fire, which can be extinguished anymore. I believe that we are experencing the initial stages of sweeping change throughout the region, which will at some point engulf even currently quiet countries, especially, if Gaddafi and Saleh fall, let alone, if the at first glance tight regime in Syria ends up crumbling. Islamist Turkey is already on the wrong side of history and accordingly perceived.

If you are right, nothing will really change, and the fire will burn itself out. It will take at least 10 years to ascertain, if the virus of democracy took or not.

I bet my chips on the first. I am an American, which means by definition, that I am an optimist and promote trying to do the right thing, even if at first failing or the chances for success are slim. We may fail, but Americans never stop trying. Our own greatness is based upon courageous individuals standing up against all odds for Freedom and Liberty, which is why we owe it to ourselves to intervene in Libya, where we can do something for similar individuals without sacrificing too much in pragmatic terms.

Submitting....

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