Monday, November 26, 2012

The New Taste of Freedom

I don't pretend to know which way the Arab Spring will turn, and neither do the experts (tip to Mad Minerva).

But I do know that if something good is going to happen in the Arab world, the despots had to go.

Yet I was not so naive as to think the crowds of Twittering students in the streets of Cairo meant that the future had to be good. I droned on about needing to support rule of law rather than worrying about exactly who governed. With rule of law, new elections freely held would be an opportunity to assess policies and change course (in theory, of course, as many Republicans will admit this November).

Those on the streets of Arab cities wanted something they called "freedom" and "democracy" to have a better future, but without direct knowledge of what those terms meant in practice, I felt that it was up to us to teach them how to elect good men. We had to show them that the terms weren't just magical words that led to Western prosperity. We had to teach them that it meant rule of law that protects minorities and protects future votes that the majority can lose--and then accept that loss in the confidence that they are protected and can live to figuratively fight another day.

Indeed, I went on about fighting for rule of law in Iraq long before we won that fight on the battlefield. Fighting for rule of law was the main reason I wanted our troops to remain in Iraq after last year rather than to deter an Iranian invasion. Our troops would provide a safety net to assure political groups that another faction would not resort to force to settle who will rule Iraq. And our troops would provide security for our civilian assets who would attempt to entrench rule of law in Iraq.

Without rule of law, an election is just a facade of democracy to decide who the next dictator is. Like in Gaza.

And quite possibly, in Egypt, as President Morsi has attempted to insulate his rule from the annoyance of judicial review.

But there is hope that Egypt is not simply changing the form of the autocratic system that mis-rules them:

Thousands of opponents of Egypt's Islamist president clashed with his supporters in cities across the country Friday, burning several offices of the Muslim Brotherhood, in the most violent and widespread protests since Mohammed Morsi came to power, sparked by his move to grant himself sweeping powers.

The violence, which left 100 people injured, reflected the increasingly dangerous polarization in Egypt over what course it will take nearly two years after the fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Critics of Morsi accused him of seizing dictatorial powers with his decrees a day earlier that make him immune to judicial oversight and give him authority to take any steps against "threats to the revolution".

When a dictatorship falls, there is nothing that says that what follows must be better or worse. We have a role in that choice--a supporting role. The people directly involved have the greatest role, of course.

But the fall of a dictatorship is absolutely necessary if something better is to happen. "Stability" just means a boot stomping on a face forever if that is your priority. Change can be good or change can be bad. We could easily find that we prefer Classic Egypt to New Egypt.

Work the problems. Don't expect problems to work out well on their own.

UPDATE: Let me note that while many conservatives slam President Obama over his response to the Arab Spring, I do not. I may have specific complaints, but the notion that it was an option to simply support despots in violently suppressing dissent is ridiculous. Raise your hand if you think we should be on the side of Assad in Syria?

Or, just raise your hands if you think we should have helped the Mubarak regime suppress dissent that boils over into revolt? Would we really back such a response even by a supposed friend (who stoked tame Islamism and anti-Israeli views to hold power)?

This is tough stuff. I won't condemn the administration for losing battles in this broad struggle for the heart of the Arab world. I will condemn him if I think he isn't trying--like in Iraq, for example--to win.