Thursday, February 24, 2005

Is the Arab Street Reaching A Crossroad?......


Today in ReasonOnline, Michael Young-opinion editor at the Daily Star newspaper in Beirut- pens an article commenting on the recent pro-democracy/anti-Syrian occupation demonstrations currently taking place in Lebanon, and the juxtaposition liberals face as the Arab street lurches forth towards democracy-

This magazine alone is proof that there is no consensus among American liberals (in the classical sense of the term) as to whether defense of liberty at home should somehow imply defending it abroad. As Christopher Hitchens bitingly observed in a 2001 Reason interview with Rhys Southan, when asked about why he was growing more sympathetic to the libertarian critique: "It's hard to assign a date. I threw in my lot with the left because on all manner of pressing topics—the Vietnam atrocity, nuclear weapons, racism, oligarchy—there didn't seem to be any distinctive libertarian view. I must say that this still seems to me to be the case, at least where issues of internationalism are concerned. What is the libertarian take, for example, on Bosnia or Palestine?"
Indeed, what is the libertarian take on Iraq or Lebanon? Or, for that matter, that of those leftist internationalists who cannot bring themselves, even temporarily, to walk in step with the Bush administration? Should the priority be freedom? Should it be to deny the president recognition for being true to his democratic word? Is American democracy an island, an isolated city on the hill that can be an inspiration but must not otherwise challenge the status quo buttressed by the prescriptions of national sovereignty?

Who knows, but earlier this week tens of thousands of marching Lebanese, and hundreds of thousands behind them, were hoping the answer is more, not less, American interest in advancing their desired liberty, even as they realize they are the ones who must take the lead.

And so it goes. One might recall back in the lively days of the mighty ship USS Clueless, Stephen Den Beste did in fact predict the inevitable change in the attitude of the Arab Street, provided Bush did follow through with his ambitious proposals. He laid out what needed to be done to finish this war- and so far, most things seem to have followed his predictions. Here are what he considered the main goals of the war in Iraq-
To make a significant long term change in the psychology of the "Arab Street"
-To prove to the "Arab Street" that we were willing to fight, and that our reputation for cowardice was undeserved.
-To prove that we are extraordinarily dangerous when we do fight, and that it is extremely unwise to provoke us.

To defeat the spirit of the "Arab Street". To force them to face their own failure, so that they would become willing to consider the idea that reform could lead them to success. No one can solve a problem until they acknowledge that they have a problem, and until now the "Arab Street" has been hiding from theirs, in part aided by government propaganda eager to blame others elsewhere (especially the Jews).

To "nation build". After making the "Arab Street" truly face its own failure, to show the "Arab Street" a better way by creating a secularized, liberated, cosmopolitan society in a core Arab nation. To create a place where Arabs were free, safe, unafraid, happy and successful. To show that this could be done without dictators or monarchs. (I've been referring to this as being the pilot project for "Arab Civilization 2.0".)
Stephen would probably not come out and be the type of guy to say "SEE!!! I TOLD YOU!!!", but for those critics of the Iraq war, or the war in Afghanistan, it is becoming abundantly clear that the Arab Street wants to get rid of their dictatorships, and anyone with half a clue can realize that Iraq is a big step in reforming the Arab world.

Obviously, no one expects these regimes, both the dictatorships like Syria, or the Theocracies like Iran to go down without a fight, and it will unfortunately take more bloodshed before the corner is turned. But the more I read about Assad, and his fumbling of the Lebanon situation, the more I can see the inherent weakness in these regimes. And the more the people, the masses of the Arab street pull back the curtain in front of their leaders, the more they realize that it isn't "the Jews" or "the Great Satan" that is causing their problems, but their leaders themselves. The further back this curtain is pulled, the less grip these leaders will have over the people.

When people discussed going after the "root causes" of Islamic terrorism, they would usually mention poverty, or American interventionism for oil or somesuch other garbage. Den Beste was someone who could say what Bush and his administration were probably thinking- the root causes were the Arab and Islamic cultures themselves. When your system denies women the right to be a part of society, and imposes ridiculous restraints on productivity through religious fundamentalism, you are breeding contempt. And this frustration is easily manipulated when you control the media operations in your society. All these dictators needed to do was drum up stories about the "evil zionists killing innocent children" or "America is the great Satan" and presto! you've eluded the responsibility for the failures.

With the removal of the Taliban and Saddam, the curtain is slowly being drawn back. And Assad's fumbling of Lebanon is yet another pull or two in the direction of full clarity. Notice that there was speculation throughout the Arab world whether or not it was "the Jews" or "the Mossad" who took out Hariri. Not the case in Lebanon. They knew almost immediately. As a result of the assasination of Hariri, Assad has only managed to shorten his rope.

There is no guarantee that the end result will be successful reform of the Arab world. There is always the chance that (heaven forbid) a nuclear device is detonated either in the US or elsewhere that could completely alter the playing field for democratic reform. As I said before, these regimes will go down swinging. But one thing the Islamic terrorists have found out, which other countries such as Japan already knew- the US doesn't like to start wars, but by god we certainly do know how to finish them.

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