Musings on wrecking balls and other forces of history.
What to say about the events in Egypt on the twelfth of February of two thousandth and eleventh year of the Common Era? So many trivial events are labeled “historical” these days that when a true historical event occurs we are at a loss for words. Over sixty years of political process and failure created the events we witnessed over two weeks. History went into overdrive and the world has one less corrupt, evil, tin-pot dictator to kick around.
But this process is not over, not by a long-shot. Egypt is not some peripheral Maghreb state. It is not some oddball nation that last graced the notice of the United States in Ottoman times and only then because it harbored pirates. Egypt matters. Not because of the peace treaty with Israel. No, believe it or else, that is a peripheral issue. The peace treaty is obsession of denizens of the Potomac fever swamps. Egypt matters not only because it is the most populous state in all of the Near East but because it is Egypt.
This is the land of great memory and a glorious history. It the land of the Pharaohs. It it is the land of the Ptolemaic dynasty and Cleopatra. It is the land of Fatimids and their dynasty, It is the land of the Ayyubid dynasty, started by near mythic Saladin. It is the land were pride of place and pride of history are palpable. To this day it a center of learning, the arts, culture, philosophy, religion and yes, politics. What Egypt does matters.
The collapse of the Mubarak Kleptocracy and the pivotal role the military played in it are critical to our understanding of what happened and what happens next. Small “d” democratic reforms stand or fall by the grace of the bayonets of the Egyptian Army.
Yet the Army in Egypt is not the end of the discussion. The institution can only hold on to its privileged position by the consent of the Egyptian people. It knew this and acted accordingly when crunch time came. It first acted as a passive buffer between the populace and the regime. Then, when it matter. it acted as an active participant in the revolution.
Of course such events cannot happen without the requisite navel-gazing by the Beltway elites and their sundry mouthpieces in the Moron Media. I have never been so happy not to own a T.V. as I have been for the last two weeks. The oceans of spittle that have wash over most of my fellow citizens has passed me by. I have been blissfully unaware to ravings of Beck, Hannity, Sister Sara Palin, Tweety and the other palavering pundits that have been dumbing down the conversation for fun and profit. One more time gentle reader, what we, the U.S., do or do not do matters very little. Control is an illusion. Our opinion counts for very little when all is said is done. We operate on the margins when we operate at all.
Seriously, we have to get over our selves. The Hegemony of the U.S. over world affairs is way past its sell by date. This has nothing to do with the occupant in the White House. This is huge, impersonal forces of history on the move. No hare-brain conspiracies by dry-drunk Mormon crackpots needed. No need for Manchurian Candidate, Bedwetting, Marxist, Socialist, Fascist, Islamist, Anti-Colonialist, Anti-American, Progressive (did you notice he’s black) bug-a-boos. These forces are already aligning in Yemen, Iran, and Algeria; who knows what tomorrow or the next week may bring.
This is why all the sound and fury about Obama is really beside the point. Yes, the man got blind-sided by the events in Egypt; many did. Yes, the man could have gotten the messaging a little better, a little more coherent. I still find it hard to fault the man too much. He is merely a reflection of the muddle that passes for thinking in the fever swamps of the Potomac. Obama’s failures reflect the failures of the Conventional Wisdom. D.C. still has not gotten the message; the rest of the world dose not give a damn what Washington insiders think is the correct process is. D.C.’s obsessions carry no weight with the developing world. D.C.’s obsessions carry no weight with reality. People are on the move. Cultures are on the move. Politics are on the move. Faiths are on the move. Nations are on the move. They are not going to bother with a mother-may-I; they are not going to ask permission from Washington DC.
One more time with feeling; our options are a lot more circumspect, a lot more limited than we think. The best thing any nation or people can do when the wrecking ball of historical events gathers speed is to get the hell out of the way. Mubarak did not understand this brutal fact of survival and got plastered.
I wish I could tell you, gentle reader, where this is all headed. Wither the Maghreb? Wither the greater Arab Middle East? I don’t have a clue. I will offer one pointer, one datum to look out for: corruption. The door that gets kicked in next will be the one that is the most rotten. While the rage of the populace gets tons of ink, no one bothers much with a much more important factor : entropy. These despotic regimes have a definite shelf life. Even when they have the benefit of an overarching ideology like the USSR, they eventually fall apart from shear exhaustion and corruption. Many regimes are hard up against this limit. The ideology of Arab Nationalism is, as pointed out before, deader than Marly’s ghost. The authoritarian regimes that were founded on this ideology have no legitimacy worth mentioning; they are held together by shear military force. Sooner or later there will be an epic fail. Sooner or later the entropy of corruption will play havoc with these illegitimate governments. A wiser U.S. policy would recognize this and understand that the “stability” it craves in the Arab world ( and in the larger developing world) is a Chimera. These governments are closed systems, and closed systems eventually fail.
Such failure is not necessarily a good thing. It may not lead to any recognizable form of democracy. We could see some states devolve in to anarchy, or in to anachronism ,or in to a combination of both. Still, the best option for the U.S. is to avoid the temptation to impose our will on these nation’s domestic arrangements. We are not nearly as smart as we think we are, and we could make a bad situation infinitely worse with our interventions. In this regard Obama’s natural conservatism has served him well. His no-sudden-moves default prevented him from getting on the wrong side of history with Mubarak. Personally I hope the man sticks to his natural inclination to wait-and-see.
Waiting and seeing is the best option for our interests. Sorry for being redundant but, huge historical forces are at play. The normal rules of regimes, foreign affairs, and politics no longer apply. Many nations in the Maghreb and in the Near East are about to undergo a severe challenge to the status quo. The populous of these nations is about to get very frisky, so much so that the ordinary institutions of repression and control may fail. This has little to do with social networking or Web 2.0. This has much to do with broad social movements that become irresistible forces. Facebook and Twitter are mere tools, they are not the technological end-all and be-all for these movements. Technology is just one more form of kinetic energy that is being added to the wrecking ball that is headed straight at these corrupt and failing regimes. Our best option as the United States is a quiet but firm support for democracy and democratic reform. We need to speak softly and leave our big stick at home.
Such low-key responses don’t sit well with many political observers. It especially does not play well with the professional Obama haters. That usual gang of idiots will use any brickbat handy to knock down the President. It gets tiresome. Obama was neither genius nor horrific with his handling of the Egyptian crisis. He was mediocre. He managed to muddle through. One hopes he ups his game because he will need to be much more coherent when the next flair-up happens. Consistency has to be key, he can not have one response for Iran and a different response to Bahrain. The people in the area will be able to sniff out hypocrisy with great efficiency and with dreadful consequences for U.S. diplomacy. Revolution is in the air; the Revenge of History has just begun.