1989 Never Ended…
I was reading this article about the American funding of pro-democracy groups in Iran, and was struck by a couple of things. The article is about the big increase in such spending and the results it has had. Or hasn’t had to be more precise. If anything the funding has backfired as Iran has cracked down on activists and anyone with a connection to the west, particularly America, is suspect. The most vocal critics of this American spending are the the activists it is supposed to be helping, which pretty much sums the whole mess up.
However, I want to make some more general points. This does illustrate once again how Americans have a hard time understanding that if we wouldn’t want someone doing that to us, other people aren’t going to appreciate having it done to them. I know most Americans would be uncomfortable if Iran was giving money to Americans who were dedicated to overthrowing our government and installing an Islamic theocracy. At least I hope so. Why would the typical Iranian feel any different about our funding their malcontents?
Moving right along, reading the article I had a thought. It seems to me that the people on the right who are gung ho to spread democracy through the Middle east are stuck in 1989. IE they more or less think “Islamofascism” is the same thing as communism in Eastern Europe, that many or most of the people of these countries are just waiting for the chance to throw off the Islamic “yoke” and join the west in a free society and democracy. So all we need to do is set up an Arabic Voice of America, fund some activists, maybe knock off a recalcitrant despot or two…and voilà, just like the Berlin Wall, the Sharia Wall will tumble down.
Granted, that’s a simplification, but I suspect it’s not too far off the mark. Unfortunately there are major problems with this model. The first is that the collapse of the Soviet Empire caught pretty much everyone by surprise, the idea that somehow it was caused by America in general or Bush/Reagan in particular is very debatable. The Soviet Union was riven with internal weaknesses, and was never the monolithic existential threat to the USA that it was portrayed as. In fact a good case can be made that the collapse of Russian communism was more of a strategic retreat than a collapse. If anything, it’s left Russia stronger than before.
Even worse, the despots in the Middle East are nothing like the Soviet quisling governments in Eastern Europe. Even the communist governments of Cuba, China, and North Korea are nothing like eastern Europe. The same people who credited Reagan with the “defeat” of the Soviet Union confidently predicted that the rest of the world’s communist regimes would tumble after the Berlin Wall came down. We’re still waiting, and I don’t recommend holding your breath.
This does go some ways to explaining why the Bush administration did so little planning for the occupation of Iraq (and by extension, Afghanistan.) The Bush Administration really did believe that the masses of people in these countries were under a totalitarian yoke and were yearning to be free. The former may be true to some extent, but it was a yoke of their own devising, they are not colonies of some Empire like the Soviet Union. And yearning to be free and yearning to have someone invade your country and free you is another thing entirely. Which leads to the last way that the comparison to Eastern Europe is flawed. The Eastern Europeans threw off the Russian yoke without being bombed and invaded by NATO armies. I’m not sure what would have happened had NATO decided to liberate Eastern Europe by force, but with the exception of the Balkans, it’s hard to imagine it being as bloodless and painless as it was.
In any event, perhaps like the Russians we will realize some day that our Empire in the long run is unsustainable. The people of the world no more want the wonders of democracy shoved down their throat with a cruise missile that the eastern Europeans wanted to live in a Soviet imposed communist paradise. The world ran itself just fine for seven thousand years without a world wide American Empire, it will muddle through somehow if the troops come home and defend America instead of stirring up hatred abroad merely by being based where we have no business having troops. And as always, someone else said this much better than me.
In local cat news, I have cured my cat of standing on the windowsill by my bed and meowing to be let out at four AM while he claws at the chicken wire. It was driving me nuts, in fact he clawed me in the eye one night as I attempted to dissuade him from his efforts. That was enough, I got some double sided tape and covered every nearby surface including the windowsill. Cats won’t walk on sticky tape, it feels weird to their delicate paws I guess. It did the trick, he no longer stands on the windowsill at four AM meowing to be let out. Now he stands on my face. Stupid cat.
(The above image of the Berlin Wall coming down is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit, it is central to illustrating the post, and it is an historically important image. Credit: AP)