Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bush was right ?!?!

I tend to be a home body when I'm in town but I enjoy traveling and have been fortunate to have done so extensively.

In 2009 I visited Cairo. In an event filled day we hit the pyramids, a mosque and a papryrus factory (which was really more of a shopping opportunity). The cruise ship tour bus navigated the streets of Cairo pushing, honking and going headlong into a maze that is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. (The photo to the left is an actual photo of rush hour.)  When former President Hosni Mubarak warned that the streets would turn to chaos it was clear that he hadn’t been amongst his people in some time as chaos is the order of the day in the streets!

The protests that captured the foreign policy narrative for much of the past month showed tens of thousands demanding democracy and change in this ancient land. There may even have been a few million protesters when considering all of the major cities where demonstrations were held. Even if there were 2 or 3 million protesters – it’s a small percentage of a country with 81.5 million inhabitants which is particularly important in the current situation.

Last Friday Mubarak was plucked out of the palace and unceremoniously escorted from the country he led for nearly 30 years is reportedly a "guest" of the United Emirate. In his place the military has taken over. By any definition this was a military coup – not a democratic revolution – so we’ll have to see whether the Army provides actions to support an emerging democracy or just better PR.

The news narrative does not consider this nuance.  While briefly acknowledging that the army that put Mubarak in power originally is again in charge writing the new constitution, the media has been filled with protesters seeking western style democracy. Good has overcome evil! (Cue music.)

It’s somewhat surprising to me that in this narrative that former President George W Bush (#43 not #41) isn’t receiving more credit. While he campaigned in 2000 on a platform of protectionism – after 9/11 his policies changed and his administration aggressively sought to replace dictators with democracy. I never supported the invasion of Iraq but there is little doubt that the result is a fledgling democracy.  The cost (in lives, dollars and morality) of converting Iraq is something that history will judge.  Leading up to the invassion, in 2003 President Bush described the “freedom deficit” in the Middle East and that with a free Iraq the entire region would turn to democracy.

The Bush Doctrine appears to be working as the region is changing. Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Palestine, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen have all experienced protests. Responses and success has varied – from the Iranians suggesting that protestors be beheaded to leaders fleeing their countries.

My ideals for liberty and freedom tell me that the lure of democracy has people clamoring to the streets and demanding change. My ideals would only be nominally correct. The economic reality of the Middle East provides some additional context. “Unemployment is at its highest and most dangerous levels in the Middle East with some estimates putting it as high as 15 per cent. According to Amat Alsowa, the head of the UN Development Program's regional office, the average unemployment rate is 15 per cent in the Arab world, "but it reaches 40 per cent among people between the ages of 15 and 24, totaling 66 million out of the total Arab population of 317 million.”

The U.S. Revolution in the 1770’s was about many things – but at its core was an economic call for no taxation without representation.

The Civil War in the U.S. similarly had many causes – and the economic disparities between North and South were a huge contributing factor.

Democracy may be the result of revolution but economic self interest often overshadows. In December 1991 the Soviet Union dissolved and in its place came the Russian Federation. Many freedoms were instituted and Western style capitalism was attempted. The country suffered terribly as it tried to change to a market-driven economy. 20 years later Russia has begun to return towards a centrally-planned economy - especially related to its natural resources (oil, timber, gold) while providing security and stability for the population.  Note that nobody is in the streets there.
You can never have a revolution in order to establish a democracy. You must have a democracy in order to have a revolution.  Gilbert K. Chesterton

President Bush (#43) deserves praise for his vision of democracy in the Middle East. It’s more likely, though, that his economic policies that ruined the global economy are a more fundamental cause in the Middle Eastern protests for out of desperation people are drawn into action. The U.S. economy is in its worst condition in its history by nearly any measure. The accumulated deficit now exceeds all economic activity for a year (GDP) and is growing at an alarming rate. Unemployment is high – with millions falling off of the rolls every month making the number even higher than what is reported. There are trillions of dollars in unfunded commitments well into this century. Democrats, Republicans and all Americans share in the blame. President Bush (#43) must bear more of the responsibility for it was his budgets, his calls for invasion and his reallocation of wealth that have had the most impact. In 2008 he said that he was “sacrificing free market principles to save the economy.” 

The dire economic conditions in the U.S. are the very conditions that have led to revolution and demands for freedom elsewhere. Good thing I’m a home body!

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