Posts Tagged ‘revolution’
And by the way, we’re all so screwed by what’s going on now. I should be at work but I just need to keep watching the news and following developments in Libya and elsewhere. Well, mostly reading stuff on line, watching the broadcast news is pretty annoying but I do so for the images they broadcast. Otherwise it’s like watching the Olympics on US TV, all they talk about is how this is all going to affect the USA. Yeah, well, putting our (corporate) interests first is a big part of what made this mess in the first place.
Anyhow, back to Gaddafi. If I ever said anything in defence of him, I retract it. Most dictators are content to flee their country with a few suitcases of gold when the people take to the streets, not order troops to attack the protesters. And in this case, possibly hire foreign mercenaries to attack protesters. If there’s any truth to that, it will evaporate what support he has left. I mean think about it, if Obama or Bush refused to leave office and brought in foreign troops to shoot people who protested, how many Americans would still support either of them? Gaddafi’s days are numbered, and I can only hope it’s a very low number.
However, while it’s great that people are taking their lives and futures into their on hands, boy, I think we’re all going to go through some really rough times in the next few years. And that’s even if no does does anything stupid, but back to that in a bit. There’s two pretty much set-in-stone aspects to this that spell economic and social turmoil on a global scale. The first is that on so many levels, there’s no slack to the system so to speak. The second is what I call the “ripple effect” for want of a better name.
So, firstly, there’s no slack to the system. World food supplies are at record lows with record high prices. There are more mouths to feed at any time in history. The world financial system is a mess, with most governments on the planet horribly in debt. Oil is scarcer and more expensive all the time. And a huge amount of money has been wasted on stuff that has no practical use. Like tanks in Bahrain, what the hell does a tiny island nation need for tanks, tanks are for fighting other tanks? One can’t drill for oil with a tank, or grow food, or anything practical at all. Yet all over the third world satrap dictators, like the ones recently overthrown in Tunisia and Egypt, spent what foreign currency they had on crap like weapons and airliners, instead of development and infrastructure in their lands. IE they are not only allowing their nation’s resources to be essentially stolen, they are essentially colluding in transferring much of the wealth they do generate to the west by buying big ticket items from the west that they don’t need. Or putting it all together, the world’s wealth has been transferring upwards for decades, (or centuries?) and there’s only so long that can go on.
Secondly, the ripple effect. It’s not a perfect analogy, there’s no such thing as a perfect analogy, but when one chucks a boulder in a pond, the ripples eventually go everywhere. The most obvious thing here would be the price of oil, as it goes up people everywhere and in practically all industries are affected negatively. There are less measurable, yet nonetheless real ways, that the disruption from these ongoing events spread. Millions of people aren’t going to work for one thing. Foreign businesses that did business in revolutionary countries have to be hurting. Lack of tourism has effects both locally and abroad. Refugees fleeing these countries strain the resources of nearby countries. Unlike Vegas, what happens in Libya doesn’t stay in Libya. And just the fact that millions of people are stressed out of their minds can’t be helping, and of course unrest is spreading to other dictatorships.
Then of course there’s the possibility that people will try to spread the disruption, there are reports that Gaddafi has ordered oil infrastructure to be sabotaged for example. One guess how the world’s stock markets will react to that if it turns out to be true. Have I made the case yet that we should be very concerned about how this all will affect us? And I don’t think there’s a hell of a lot we can do about it except brace ourselves. The USA and the west dug their way into this hole, more digging isn’t going to help.
I also think it’s important to note that people around the world are going to try and figure out if they can get away with shit while the world’s eyes are on Libya. It’s not at all unusual for this to happen, Georgia’s attack on its breakaway provinces during the Olympic opening ceremonies is a great example of same. I don’t even want to venture a guess on the possibilities here, but they are myriad. I even wonder if the attack on the unions now taking place in several US states is an example of this.
So in conclusion, we’re screwed, thank you. I know one of the themes of my blog is “The sky is falling,” it is Doug’s Darkworld for god’s sake. And yeah, sometimes I think I freak out every spring, certainly others have pointed this out. Still, when they are right, extremists are valuable people to have around. And if I’m right about how bad this could get even here in the USA, well, I’m the guy who will be selling canned food for silver to the people who didn’t heed my warning. Buy and store food now, and remember, you’re just stocking up before the hoarders get to the store.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and its use here in no way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image. Credit and copyright: GALLO/GETTY It’s a photograph from Tunisia judging from the flag. I chose it because it’s a striking image and it illustrates what is going on in the Arab world, the Arab people are waking up and defying their oppressors. I got it from this highly recommended analysis of US policy and current events in the Middle East: The project for a new Arab century.)
The revolutionary movements now sweeping a dozen countries may very well herald a new chapter in world history. I mean, we are seeing simultaneously a number of events that even singly would have been one of the biggest stories of the year in the preceding decades. This is pretty incredible when one thinks about it. I think it’s safe to say that before the dust settles, the post World War Two world, the world I grew up in, will be history. I know there’s a ton of commentary going on of course, and likely no matter what I say, someone else has said it better elsewhere. However, even if just to see my own thoughts on the screen and get discussion from my readers, here are some thoughts on these ongoing events.
For one thing, it’s fascinating and somewhat gratifying to me that the “know-it-all” pundits and their ilk are completely baffled by this. Events are unfolding that simply don’t fit into the stupid narratives that have dominated public discourse the past decade. And efforts to warp events into some sort of Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy or claim this is all being orchestrated from Tehran are just silly.
By the same token, anyone remember the US invasion of Iraq? Well, after it was clear to almost everyone that there had been no WMDs, the pro invasion faction went into overdrive justifying the invasion and occupation by claiming we were “spreading democracy.” And now that people all over the world are marching in the streets demanding democracy, how come they aren’t getting a chorus of support from the pundits who touted the benefits of democracy in Iraq? Can anyone say “homicidal hypocrisy?” Snort.
It seems pretty clear that these are all popular revolts. Most westerners, especially Americans, simply don’t understand the crushing poverty and repression many of the world’s people live under. Or worse, they buy into the propaganda that all these despots are “independent” and blame the people for their own situation. Nope, most of the world’s governments are more or less armed gangs financed by the west. Many westerners don’t understand or don’t want to understand that, but the people living in these countries have no doubts. They see their rulers getting fabulously wealthy while depriving them not only of the most basic political rights, they also have virtually no economic opportunities. Think about that, living in a country where you can’t vote or even form political parties, having almost no chance of getting a good job, while your leaders get fabulously wealthy plundering your country’s wealth so that westerners can live lives of ease and comfort.
No wonder they are revolting. One of the big questions is, why now? I suspect it’s a combination of factors, in fact that’s pretty much a certainty. Increasing economic disparity combined with increasing levels of education and modern communications systems is a safe bet. I’m wondering if I might have been on the mark with a meme I’ve been repeating for decades:
“By making it possible for one man to fight ten men, gunpowder ended feudalism as a viable system. By making it possible for one man to fight a hundred men, smokeless gunpowder ended colonialism as a viable system. By making it possible for one man to fight a million men, the computer will end the neocolonial era.”
My prediction may very well be coming true, though of course in only the most general way. Or in a more specific way, repressive governments maintain power mainly through fear, if they just shoot anyone who sticks their head up, everyone stays scared and keeps their head down. With cell phones and such, huge numbers of people can simultaneously stick their heads up so to speak, and the government can’t shoot them all.
Another part of this is I think we’re also seeing a growth in nationalism, especially in the Arab world. What this means is that soldiers who a few decades ago wouldn’t have hesitated to fire on crowds because they knew their clan/family members weren’t in the crowd, now think of themselves as Egyptians or Libyans, etc. And they are far more hesitant to fire on what they now see as their fellow citizens. A huge number of the world’s “countries” were simply lines on the map drawn by colonial powers, but that may be changing. Those who know history know that nationalism is a relatively new idea, and that Europe went through some pretty turbulent times as people started to primarily identify themselves as French, Italian, German, etc instead of by their state or city of origin. It really shouldn’t be a surprise that nationalism is catching on in the rest of the world, it’s certainly been encouraged for decades.
In some ways that’s one of the delicious ironies of this situation. Since World War Two (especially) the USA has touted itself as the bearer of freedom, democracy, and economic advantage in the world, and simultaneously doing exactly the opposite. Turns out people were listening, and taking things into their own hands since it’s clear to just about all of them that the USA talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. Talk about being hoist by our own petard.
Which leads to my final observation, one which I am sure many people have arrived at, though by different routes I am sure. We are exactly one stupid (intended or unintended) incident away from a wave of anti-Americanism in the Middle East like we could never have imagined. Turns people can read, and even if Americans didn’t pay much attention to Wikileaks, other people did and found out that American meddling and support of their “leaders” was well documented. They don’t hate us for their freedom, they hate us cause we’ve been screwing them for decades. I don’t want to see American Embassies burning and Americans being hunted down in the streets. That would be a terrible thing in its own right, and our government’s response would almost certainly be violent in the extreme.
So I hope that no one in Washington or the US military does anything stupid, and I hope that none of our enemies figures out a way to frame us for something stupid, or goad us into doing something stupid. We can’t afford a world war for one thing, and huge numbers of Americans would suffer and die both at home and abroad. Let’s hope cool heads prevail, and let’s hope the revolutionaries prevail and establish freedom and democracy from China to Morocco. I can handle that, so can America. It has to be a good thing if freedom and democracy become a reality for much of the world, instead of a slogan, right?
(The above painting dates from 1848 and is public domain under US copyright law. It’s: Painting of Battle at Soufflot barricades at Rue Soufflot Street on 24 June 1848. The artist was Horace Vernet. Thousands were killed in the fighting in Paris in 1848, among other revolutions in Europe. 1848 was called the Year of Revolution. Coming soon, posts on Libya, Israel, and Wisconsin. Unless something bigger happens first … kinda creepy typing that knowing it’s not a joke.)
I apologize for not being able to blog recently, there’s lots going on in the world, but alas, my Internet service as failed me miserably. We may very well be seeing the beginning of a world revolution on the streets of Cairo, and the only source of “news” I have most days is my television. Kinda like losing your glasses at the start of a sightseeing tour, I can make out dim shapes but that’s about it. On the other hand, hearing all the utter crap being spewed by the various “experts” in the mainstream media is heartening. I can do better than that, and I bet I do judging from the thoughtful educated comments I get.
So, since I don’t have time for in depth posts, here’s some wild speculation about how this is all going to turn out. OK, maybe it’s not that wild, I do actually know something about history and the region, but as I am sure I’ve said before, predicting the future is a fool’s game. If two months ago someone had suggested that millions of Egyptians would be taking to the streets in an attempt to oust Mubarak, I, and virtually every one else on the planet, would have said “not bloody likely.” Speculation about the future is always wild … but it can be lots of fun.
Well, option one is the West gets behind the democracy movement in Egypt and elsewhere, and does everything it can to support the nascent democratic governments that spring up. I mean, without the west’s support, most of the world’ dictators would be toast. Simultaneously the west would also have to launch a massive program to cut their dependence on foreign oil, since the free countries that would emerge in the Middle East would insist that the pofits from oil be re-invested in their countries, not the west. There would be some hardship and disruption at first no doubt, but in the long run it would be a good thing. Terrorism would decline over time as the grievances that have driven so many to terror would be addressed. And as education and wealth increased in former dictatorships, the market for western goods and services would blossom. Prosperity is not a zero sum game, there more prosperity there is in the world, the more prosperity that would create. Yeah, we would have to pay more for gas, but the increased trade and development in the world would only be good for the US and western economy in the long run.
Sadly, the chances of that happening are about zero. The west’s governments are about protecting the wealth of big corporations and the ultra-rich … no matter what the costs to everyone else, including their own populations. So there’s no chance the west will encourage true democracy and self-determination to spread throughout the world. It would really cut into oil and arms industry profits, enough said. It’s possible the west will finesse the establishment of faux democracies in Egypt and elsewhere, that’s certainly what they are going to try and do. A seamless transition into compliant western boot-licking “democracies” would be their wish. I’m pretty sure the cat is way to far out of the bag for that to fly though. The people of the world are more sophisticated, educated, and informed than ever in history, the era when they will be happy with lip service democracy and promises appears to be drawing to a close.
No, I fear something much uglier is in the offing. War. Big war. A big war with multiple purposes. To seize direct control of energy assets that are “threatened” by all this “instability,” including oil fields, pipelines, ports, the Suez canal, etc. And of course to install compliant quisling regimes in said countries. At the same time I fear that this will be used as an excuse to “transfer” millions of people out of Europe, the USA, and Israel’s occupied territories. This of course wold be ethnic cleansing by any other name, since the people so transferred would be Muslim in the case of Europe and Palestine, and Latino in the USA. And when it’s all over, no more “problems” with minorities or unemployment in the west, our oil supplies assured, and the Palestinian issue “solved” once and for all.
That at least would be the plan. The reality, God only knows. Which means, no one knows. The larger a war is, the less predictable its results. That’s never stopped anyone from starting big wars before, especially when they think they have “no choice.” And sadly when it comes to the ultra rich, anything is better than forgoing their power and profits. So in short, I think the west will do everything in it’s power to subvert or end this nascent movement for democracy and freedom in Egypt and elsewhere. And if it gets to the point where countries are truly declaring independence (and seizing assets such as oil fields and the Suez Canal,) we will see outright invasion and intervention along the lines of Iraq and Afghanistan. They’ll do it right this time of course, Afghanistan and Iraq were failures becasue we didn’t try hard enough. Snort.
Hang onto your hats people, this is going to get a lot scarier before it gets any better.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law, and I’m pretty sure it’s public domain to boot. It’s American Stuart tanks operating in North Africa in World War Two. Here’s hoping we don’t see American tanks in North Africa anytime soon.)
Well, the uprising continues in Egypt. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s very possible we are entering a watershed period in world history where all sorts of things are going to unravel in the next few years. There’s so much going on that it’s hard to even focus on what’s important. Still, that’s never stopped me from blogging before. I’m also a little out of sorts because I have some friends in Egypt. One of them is a doctor and if I know him at all, he’s out in the streets at no thought to his own safety providing first aid to the wounded. Historical events unfolding kinda take on another dimension when people one knows are in the thick of them.
So, in no particular order, my thoughts about some aspects of this situation. First, some background. There’s two basic things fuelling the protests across the Middle East. One is wealth distribution; the other is western, primarily American, foreign policy in the region. Wealth is easier to understand. Basically the inequalities in the world have been growing in recent decades, both internationally and internally. The world’s poor nations have been getting poorer, and huge numbers of young people are unemployed with grim prospects n the region. I mean, this unrest was triggered by a fellow in Tunisia with a college degree killing himself because he couldn’t even get a permit to sell fruit in the street! And the people in the street know damn well their corrupt western supported governments, mostly dictatorships of some sort or another, are a huge part of the reason that poverty and unemployment are rampant. A subset of this problem is the populations in these countries have been growing quickly and are very young in general. (Nothing like unemployment and poverty to make birth rates spike, I mean, what else is there to do? This is why refugee camps usually have astronomical birthrates.) And when a huge percentage of a population is young, there’s proportionately fewer older wiser people to try and keep cooler heads prevailing. Ever see a mob of old or even middle aged people?
And then foreign policy. While the west has made noises about democracy and human rights in the region, their actions speak much louder than words. Governments that would be pilloried as torture regimes (because they are torture regimes on par with Saddam’s Iraq) are given a pass and propped up with western arms as long as they maintain “stability.” By which I mean they don’t do anything to hinder the region’s oil wealth being plundered and used to fuel development and progress in the west. “Supertankers are the treasure galleons of our time, freeway interchanges the cathedrals” is a very apt analogy. In the rest of the world the west has encouraged at least some democracy, and there are political parties even though the west manages to keep pro-western parties in power for the most part. In the Middle East, despots rule and the US looks the other way.
Another aspect of this that nicely illustrates the incredibly short sighted foreign policy of the USA is Israel. The USA literally bought Israel 30 years of peace with Egypt. Did Israel use that 30 years to settle the Palestinian issue and make peace with its other neighbours? Nope, they used it as an excuse to be completely intransigent on the peace process and put the Palestinians under ever more pressure. Not to mention invading Lebanon and creating Hezbollah and confiscating ever more Palestinian land. Basically Israel spent the three decades of breathing room that the USA so generously bought them by building walls when they should have been building bridges. It’s a pretty safe bet that whatever new governments emerge in the region, they are going to be more supportive of the Palestinian cause than the west’s bought and paid for dictators have been.
So how should the USA and Israel respond to these developments? Well, if we had any real leadership in Washington, we’d jump on the bandwagon and throw the dictators to the crowds so to speak. The results might be messy, but done right, good will towards the US could increase dramatically in the region. In the long run this would be good for US business interests in the region, and would take the wind out of the sails of Al Qaeda and the like. Hell, done right we could even force a settlement to the Palestinian question, a viable Palestinian State would be the worst thing that ever happened to Muslim extremists. Sadly, Eisenhower is long dead and Obama is a cunning domestic politician with zero aptitude for foreign policy. Biden claiming that Mubarak “isn’t a dictator” pretty much sums up our head-in-the-sand approach to the developing situation. (Head-in-the-sand is the diplomatic phrase, enough said.) The only good thing about the US response is that the right wing extremists running Israel now are probably going to react even worse than Washington.
I’m hoping I’m wrong, but I fear the over-reaction to this is going to sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. The Middle East is too big now to occupy along the lines of Iraq and Afghanistan, but the abject folly of either enterprise didn’t stop the US from trying. NATO troops occupying Egypt? Anything is possible.
(The above image is public domain under US copyright law. Despite the perversions of the concept since, the founding fathers were onto something. We’re all in this together, every human has political and individual rights. And sometimes we have to fight for them. If we stand together, we cannot lose.)