Sunday, May 01, 2011

THE NEW MIDDLE EAST: IS THERE HOPE FOR A BETTER FUTURE?

This is a post I've thought about for a long time, and even more since the Arab Awakening began in Tunisia earlier this year. What will happen in the Arab countries where citizens are demonstrating, and, in some places, dying for freedom and democracy? How will the United States adjust it's foreign policy to meet the challenges of this new geopolitical region? And what will happen to Israel, the beleaguered democracy in the middle of the Arab world? These questions are in my mind daily as I scan the news trying to keep up. 


Every analyst and pundit and armchair commentator (yes, including me) has a point of view, a theory, a list of facts. One can find support in the Blahblahosphere (I just invented that term, and I think I like it) for just about every point of view. And, being no exception, I'll try below to state my point of view.


History is irreversible. There are enmities in the Middle East too numerous to count; clan-based, tribal, religious, political and national. Most of this is based on the historic "wrongs" of one group visited upon another. To this I can only say: forget the past and look to the future. A certain political party killed your relatives and you want revenge? Another religious group insulted yours and you need retribution? Your ancestors lived in a certain area 2,000 years ago and you want it back? Forget about it! There are no do-overs in history. The important thing is what the future will be for your children and their children and all the generations to follow. 


Do people in the Middle East share common dreams for the future? I would hope that the majority of people in the region would say yes, and that these dreams are for a free, tolerant and secure society, education for their children, good jobs and a comfortable standard of living, and peace. Yes, there are those who think differently, but I have to believe that, given the choice between peace and war, wealth and poverty, education and ignorance, the majority would choose the first of each of these. 


Each of the countries presently experiencing public unrest will have it's own path to the future. Egypt and Tunisia, for example, already had in place many of the institutions needed to move towards democracy. (Note: by "democracy" I don't mean United States style democracy; I mean some form of public rule.) Libya, on the other hand, had much less. There are no guarantees that any of the many countries experiencing the "Arab Awakening" will end up better places for their citizens than they were, but the chance is there. 


The role of my country, the United States, has always been one of political expediency. The U.S. has made numerous choices to support dictators for political reasons - national security, fighting terrorism - and economic reasons - keep the oil and gas flowing - while turning a blind eye to human rights abuses by these "allies." While I understand this intellectually, I am ashamed by it morally. In Libya, Qaddafi was our enemy, then Qadaffi was our friend, and now Qaddifi is again our enemy. The political winds blow. Mubarak was our ally and recipient of huge infusions of cash and military tools, in exchange for peace with Israel, open trade, and a semblance of solidity in the face of extremism. But when the Egyptian people stood up and roared, it was more expedient to tell Mubarak his time was up. More changing political winds. 


I hope the Obama administration gets it right. There is a political tightrope to walk, and any slip could be the fatal one - politically speaking. The U. S. needs to support the legitimate right of people to pursue life, liberty and happiness. The U. S. also needs to protect it's national interests. I have to think, however, that protecting the rights of people is the way to protect our national interests. 


I have a number of hopes for the outcomes of this present political upheaval. I hope that the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan, Algeria and Iraq find forms of peace and freedom that improve their lives and their futures. I hope that secular, democratic governments emerge from the chaos of change. I hope that extremists of all kinds find infertile ground wherever they go, and that the fruits of hatred wither on the vines of tolerance and friendship. 


And finally, there is the hope that an independent Israel and an independent Palestine live side-by-side in peace with each other and all their neighbors. The Israel-Palestine conflict has gone on too long, and the world has grown weary of it. The leaders of the Palestinian and Israeli governments need to seize upon the geopolitical upheavals in their part of the world and quickly find a path towards coexistence. Anything short of that will be catastrophic for everyone. Netanyahu and Abbas need to put down all pre-conditions for resumed talks and get to the table, no matter who is at the table for each side.


Part of this final hope of mine is that the people fighting and dying for freedom in the Arab world will recognize that part of their own liberation is a liberation of thought and understanding concerning the world around them. To these good people I say: don't judge my country, the U. S., too harshly for supporting those who oppressed you. The people in my country will do all we can to get our government to hold out hands of help and friendship for a better future. And don't fan flames of hatred for Israel and the Jewish people; instead, use your newly found freedoms to move the world forward, not backward. We can all work together to write a better future history of the world! 

1 comment:

Ron said...

a few weeks (or months) ago, there was a story on NPR which talked about the countries that underwent political change over the past 40 years. I am sure the number are wrong, but it was something like 47 went through some sort of attempted overthrow of the government (think Eastern Europe) and only 17 have governments that are considerably better (think more democratic) then what they had before. It is an uphill battle, one that the USA went through many years ago. Most countries don't succeed. While I too am hopeful and optimistic, and quite honestly never thought that I would see the "Arab Spring" as it is called, it remains to be seen how many of these countries actually get better government. And I believe that ultimately, all the US can realistically do is stand by and watch.

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