Sunday, May 15, 2011

Managing the Arab Spring

The New Yorker has a nice article (The Consequentialist: How the Arab Spring remade Obama’s foreign policy.) about Obama's policy towards the developments in the Arab world.

Here are some observations of my own:

- I don't agree with Obama's policy towards Egypt. Obama got seduced by the rhetorics of the protesters that you had to be for or against Mubarak and in the end turned against him. Instead he should have focused on content. He might for example have highlighted that having a "state of emergency" for decades is ridiculous. Now after the departure we see that this focus on people is staying with much of the attention focused on a persecution of Mubarak. Focusing on people is bad for two reasons: it removes the focus from the content - meaning less reforms - and it can easily turn into a witch hunt - meaning less democracy.

- I don't agree with Obama's policy towards Libya either. It was a good idea to avert a complete defeat of the rebels. Such a defeat would probably have meant decades more of dictatorship and Gaddafi might have killed a considerable number of people to deter the population from new protests. But aiming for a rebel victory is in my opinion unwise: It can only be achieved with thousands of deaths; The rebels are very divided and will most probably offer a very incompetent government; And given the ethnic divisions in Libya it may result in the kind of instability we have seen in Iraq.

- in Syria Obama is caught in the same dilemma. Instead of picking up complaints from the protesters he again is focused on whether the regime should stay or not.

- in Bahrain the US has ignored the repression what generally has been interpreted as a silent consent. This had two harmful effects. First of all it even more undermined the protests as it now became to be seen that the US was selective in which uprisings it supported - based on its own interests. Secondly by denying the Shiite majority in Bahrain a saying the US casted the conflict between its ally Saudi Arabia and Iran as a conflict between Shiites and Sunnites instead of as a conflict between Arabs and Persians. By doing that the US and Saudi Arabia made sure that Iraq will be on the side of Iran.

An essential part of democracy is negotiation and compromises. As such revolutions are a bad way towards them as they preach the victory of one side at the cost of the others. It is no coincidence that so many revolutions degenerate in dictatorships even though their initial intention was democracy.

The focus of Obama on regime change has had as a result that the focus has shifted in the Arab world too. What was an "Arab Spring" is now an "Arab Revolution". As we seen in history revolutions seldomly succeed and so the fate of the Arab world will most probably be similar to that of the European revolutions in 1848. In contrast a focus on content might have resulted in reforms everywhere, including countries that didn't see protests.


Anonymous said...

Obama's mistake in Libya is not fighting back forcefully enough to remove the socialist regime there.

Wim Roffel said...

Do you label everything that you don't like as "socialist"? It is a term with so many meanings that it doesn't have a meaning.