Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cairo - and US Policy - Burning

Glenn Beck could be the poster child for the anti-serious-history tradition in the United States. His recent pronouncements on the protests in Egypt could be called as evidence. Scott Galupo, a Washington-based freelance writer who was a staff writer for The Washington Times, described Beck's position in yesterday's U.S. News and World Report:
"According to Glenn Beck,  the Egyptian crisis is part of a “coming insurrection” that spans the Mediterranean region of Africa and Southern Europe, and could at some point involve Russia and China. The culprits are an unholy alliance of Weather Underground-type Marxists and radical Islamists (both Shia and Sunni).  Step one is to destroy Western civilization. Step two is to establish a new caliphate—an Islamic theocracy. The ’60s radicals Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dorhn are, in this schema, willing to live with the latter so long as step one is accomplished."
Even Galupo, who formerly worked for House Republican Leader John Boehner, thinks Beck has blown a gasket:

"His pattern-recognition machine is spewing smoke and shards of metal."
How many Americans are watching events in Egypt and resonate with Beck?

Many would not appreciate the perspective of Rami G. Khouri, a journalist and editor with joint Palestinian-Jordanian and US citizenship whose family resides in Beirut, Amman, and Nazareth. I heard him interviewed on OPB's "Here and Now" this morning. I found his paper titled, "The Arab Freedom Epic," in which he argues that what we are witnessing is the unraveling of the post-colonial order that the British and French created in the Arab world:
 "The events unfolding before our eyes are the third most important historical development in the Arab region in the past century, and to miss that point is to perpetuate a tradition of Western Orientalist romanticism and racism that has been a large cause of our pain for all these years. This is the most important of the three major historical markers because it is the first one that marks a process of genuine self-determination by Arab citizens who can speak and act for themselves for the first time in their modern history.

"The two other pivotal historical markers were: first, the creation of the modern Arab state system around 1920 at the hands of retreating European colonial powers. Some of them were intoxicated with both imperial power and, on occasion, with cognac, when they created most of the Arab countries that have limped into the 21st century as wrecks of statehood. Then, second, the period around 1970-80 when the Euro-manufactured modern Arab state system transformed into a collection of security and police states that treated their citizens as serfs without human rights and relied on massive foreign support to maintain the rickety Arab order for decades more. Now, we witness the third and most significant Arab historical development, which is the spontaneous drive by millions of ordinary Arabs to finally assert their humanity, demand their rights, and take command of their own national condition and destiny."
I wonder what Beck would think of Robert Grenier's Monday op-ed in Aljazeera. Grenier is not a left-wing radical. He was the CIA's Iraq Mission Manager between 2002 and 2004;  and then the head of CIA's Counter Terrorism Center between 2004 and 2006. This is what he said:
"Events in the Middle East have slipped away from us. Having long since opted in favor of political stability over the risks and uncertainties of democracy, having told ourselves that the people of the region are not ready to shoulder the burdens of freedom, having stressed that the necessary underpinnings of self-government go well beyond mere elections, suddenly the US has nothing it can credibly say as people take to the streets to try to seize control of their collective destiny."
Grenier acknowledges that a great power has limits:
"...a great power has competing practical interests – be those a desire for counter-terrorism assistance, or for promotion of regional peace – which it must balance, at least in the short term, against a more idealistic commitment to democracy and universal values."
And then a huge caveat:
"But there are two things which must be stressed in this regard. The first is the extent to which successive US administrations have consistently betrayed a lack of faith in the efficacy of America’s democratic creed, the extent to which the US government has denied the essentially moderating influence of democratic accountability to the people, whether in Algeria in 1992 or in Palestine in 2006.

"The failure of the US to uphold its stated commitment to democratic values therefore goes beyond a simple surface hypocrisy, beyond the exigencies of great-power interests, to suggest a fundamental lack of belief in democracy as a means of promoting enlightened, long-term US interests in peace and stability.
"The second is the extent which the US has simply become irrelevant in the Middle East."
Interesting thing about Grenier is that he was fired in early 2006, reportedly reportedly for being soft on torture. It may be that one reason behind his removal from the Counter Terrorism Center was a very American devotion to democracy.

Something to think about while you're watching the CNN coverage of events in Egypt and across the Arab world.
- Milo

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