mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

In Libya, Obama Did The Right Thing

Over the past few days, President Obama has surprised us. For weeks, he seemed committed to avoiding military action against Libya—even though Libyans were imploring America and the West to come to their aid. But at the very last minute, when Muammar Qaddafi seemed to be only days and perhaps hours away from retaking the remainder of his country by force, Obama decided to act. It was a decision we wish he would have arrived at weeks ago. But it was the right decision. And Obama deserves credit for having made it.

To understand why Obama’s decision was not only correct but really the only decent one that was available to him, it is necessary to contemplate what would be taking place in Libya right now if we had not intervened. Late last week, Qaddafi announced that his forces, having reestablished control over most of the country, were closing in on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, and issued his now infamous warning to those who refused to give up. “We are coming tonight,” he said. “We will find you in your closets. We will have no mercy and no pity.” Had we not intervened to cripple his forces, it seems likely that, by now, Qaddafi would be in Benghazi and, undoubtedly, carrying out bloody reprisals against his opponents. The rebellion, moreover, would effectively be over, and any hopes of freedom that the Libyan people had been entertaining would be dead, at least in the near term.

Skeptics of the intervention (including TNR contributing editor Michael Walzer, whose thoughtful analysis can be found here) have argued that one of the mission’s flaws is that its goals are woefully unclear. Are we trying to topple Qaddafi? Are we merely trying to create a safe-haven for rebels in the east? These are fair questions, but it seems to us that the most immediate goals of the mission were quite clear: first, to prevent a slaughter in Benghazi, a slaughter that Qaddafi himself had promised was only hours away; and second, to tip the balance of power in the rebellion away from Qaddafi, so that his forces were unable to retake any more of the country, thus extinguishing the resistance for good. On these terms, the intervention has already been a success.

As for what comes next: It is difficult to say whether Western airpower can tip the balance of power toward the rebels so dramatically that they will be able to topple Qaddafi. We certainly hope so. But even if it does not, an intervention that at least allows the rebels to maintain a free zone in Libya will certainly be a better outcome than the alternative—a Libya reunited under Qaddafi’s iron control.

In making this argument we are mindful of the lessons of Iraq. We supported that war, which has exacted an enormous human cost on Iraqis and Americans alike, and we long ago came to the conclusion that our support was a grave mistake. But we are also mindful of recent instances where Western power has been necessary to head off mass killing and to help oppressed people achieve their liberation. In some of these instances—Bosnia, Kosovo—we acted, and the outcomes have been generally positive. In other instances—Rwanda, Darfur—we did not act, and the results were hundreds of thousands of dead. The point is that Iraq alone cannot be used as a basis for determining the morality or predicting the efficacy of any given intervention.

Many skeptics have also pointed to the events unfolding in Bahrain, where a Sunni minority government allied with the United States has (with the help of another U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia) violently suppressed an uprising by the Shia majority. Isn’t Obama a hypocrite, many liberals have asked, for intervening to stop an autocrat in Libya but not in Bahrain? It is a legitimate point. Bahrain is said to be a difficult case for American policymakers because a revolution by the Shia majority would be a major victory for Iran. And it is true that anything which advances the interests of a brutal Iranian government in the Middle East must be seen as a setback to the cause of liberal democracy.

At the same time, the events of the last few months show that aligning oneself with autocrats is never a wise course. We spent decades paralyzed with fear about what the fall of Mubarak would mean for our strategic interests. And yet, looking back, would we not have been better off cutting Mubarak loose a generation ago, and siding forthrightly with the Egyptian people? By helping to postpone the arrival of democracy, we did not fortify our long-term strategic position one bit.

We must now think about Bahrain (and Saudi Arabia and our other repressive clients in the region) in the same terms. If our backing allows the Al Khalifa family to remain in power for a few more years, and in the process causes the Bahraini people to conclude that the United States is fundamentally hypocritical, we will in fact be helping Iran. The message of the Obama administration to the Al Khalifas and to Saudi Arabia’s rulers must now be unequivocal: You cannot rule forever, and you must begin the process of opening up your societies and paving the way for liberal democracy.

Should we have intervened diplomatically to stop the repression in Bahrain? Absolutely. But for those offering our failure in Bahrain as a reason not to intervene in Libya, here is a simple question: Would our failure in Bahrain have been in any way ameliorated by allowing Qaddafi to move into Benghazi late last week? We think the answer is a clear no.

Of course, no one knows what will happen from here forward. But this much we do know: Four days ago, a cruel dictator appeared to be on the verge of initiating a bloodbath in one of the last free zones of his country. Today, the free zone he was threatening to attack remains free. And his ability to wage war against a justified rebellion seems to have been at least somewhat compromised. Without Western intervention—that is, without Obama’s decision to finally do the right thing—there is little doubt that the situation would have been worse.

By: The Editors, The New Republic, March 20, 2011.

March 21, 2011 Posted by | Democracy, Dictators, Foreign Policy, Libya, Middle East, Military Intervention, Muslims, No Fly Zones, Politics, President Obama, Qaddafi | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Now That Mubarak Is Out, Who’s Next?

With Hosni Mubarak stepping down in Egypt, tyrants around the world may be anxiously wondering who will be the next to fall. Here are some gentle suggestions:

Kim Jong Il, North Korea

Sometimes called the Hermit Kingdom, North Korea has been ruled since 1994 by the ruthless and retrograde Kim Jong Il, who took over after his father’s 46 years at the helm. Kim Jong Il holds numerous titles, but rules as the chairman of the National Defense Commission, the “highest office of state,” since the presidency itself was permanently dedicated to Kim Il Sung in a 1998 constitutional revision. The Kim family’s combined 63 years of leadership has not been kind to the people of North Korea, creating the world’s most fearsome state, where surveillance and famine are equally prevalent. To prevent its citizens from receiving news from abroad, the North Korean authorities forbid Internet use, jam foreign radio broadcasts, and monitor international calls. Meanwhile, the beleaguered population is deluged with Cold War-like propaganda through the Korean Central News Agency. A grim system of labor camps and detention facilities is used to forcefully control any dissent. Given the closed and secretive nature of the regime and the society it lords over, it is impossible to know precisely how many North Koreans are in the modern-day gulags. Some estimates suggest as many as 150,000 people are currently being held in detention.

Now ailing, Kim Jong Il is reported to have plans to install his son, Kim Jong Un, as the country’s leader, likely prolonging the misery of the long-suffering North Korean people.

Muammar al-Qaddafi, Libya

Forty-one years ago, a young army captain named Muammar al-Qaddafi led a military coup against King Idris of Libya. Now 68 years old, Qaddafi has been in office since the first term of U.S. President Richard Nixon, who called him the “mad dog” of the Middle East. In Libya’s long history of ruthless, ossified dictators, Qaddafi is in a league of his own.

Better known abroad for his long-winded antics than his governing style, at home Qaddafi is less amusing than fearsome. Although power theoretically lies with a system of people’s committees and the indirectly elected General People’s Congress, in practice those structures are manipulated to ensure the continued dominance of Qaddafi, who holds no official title. It is illegal for any political group to oppose the principles of Qaddafi’s 1969 revolution, which are laid out in the Green Book, a multivolume treatise published by Qaddafi in the early years of his rule. (A flip through its pages will yield a bizarre mix of Arab nationalism, socialism, and Islam.) 

After decades of Qaddafi’s bizarre and repressive rule, key institutions — to the extent that they operate at all — are largely incapable of meeting ordinary people’s needs. An estimated 500 people are currently being held for political crimes. Rife with corruption and without even the rudiments of a functioning modern state, Libya today is ill-equipped to succeed in the contemporary world.

Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe

There was once a time when Robert Mugabe was the darling of the West among fellow African leaders. Having defeated the white-majority rule of Rhodesia to create his black-majority state, Mugabe looked at first like another Mandela. But even in those early days, he distinguished himself for his use of violence as a means to govern. His early targets in the 1980s were tribes that had favored other resistance leaders; his forces slaughtered as many as 30,000 members of the Ndebele minority.

In recent years, Mugabe has grown even more ruthless. His target of choice these days is the principal opposition group, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). His thugs have harassed and even attempted to assassinate high-level opposition figures, as well as regular voters (or presumed opposition voters). Others have felt his wrath too; a 2005 campaign labeled “Operation Drive Out the Trash” bulldozed the homes of 700,000 slum-dwellers. Equally devastating, Mugabe has overseen the complete destruction and impoverishment of what had been one of Africa’s economic success stories. GDP growth was negative off and on between 2001 and 2008, and by the end of that period, inflation had hit a rate of tens of thousands of percent.

The past several months have brought another uptick in political killings — perhaps because Mugabe has much to worry over: The MDC was the leading party in the most recent elections, and public discontent is growing toward Mugabe’s murderous rule. If Zimbabweans take a hint from Egypt, the Mugabe dictatorship’s days may be numbered.

The Castros, Cuba

In 1959, the revolutionary Fidel Castro overthrew Cuba’s former strongman, Fulgencio Batista, beginning a 50-year transformation of Cuba into a dismal communist state. Although medical issues prompted Fidel to formally hand over the presidency to his brother, Raúl, in 2008, Cuba remains a one-party state in which nearly all political rights and civil liberties are severely curtailed.

Start with political organizing, which is strictly banned outside the auspices of the state’s Communist Party. Dissent can result in harassment and long prison terms. Freedom of movement, including the right to leave the island and the right to choose one’s residence, are severely restricted. The government maintains strict control over all media outlets, these days also tightly controlling Internet access and content. Academic freedom is nonexistent, and any unauthorized gathering of more than three people may result in fines or imprisonment.

Today, years of economic stagnation have weakened the state services that once provided the regime its sole legitimacy. Under Raúl Castro, very limited reforms have taken place, including modest economic openings and the release of several dozen political prisoners in 2010. Nonetheless, the future of Cuba remains in the hands of an aging set of leaders for whom a true political opening remains anathema.

By: Freedom House, Original Post: February 11, 2011

February 13, 2011 Posted by | Dictators | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Next Step for Egypt’s Opposition

When I was a young man in Cairo, we voiced our political views in whispers, if at all, and only to friends we could trust. We lived in an atmosphere of fear and repression. As far back as I can remember, I felt outrage as I witnessed the misery of Egyptians struggling to put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads and get medical care. I saw firsthand how poverty and repression can destroy values and crush dignity, self-worth and hope.

Half a century later, the freedoms of the Egyptian people remain largely denied. Egypt, the land of the Library of Alexandria, of a culture that contributed groundbreaking advances in mathematics, medicine and science, has fallen far behind. More than 40 percent of our people live on less than $2 per day. Nearly 30 percent are illiterate, and Egypt is on the list of failed states.

Under the three decades of Hosni Mubarak’s rule, Egyptian society has lived under a draconian “emergency law” that strips people of their most basic rights, including freedom of association and of assembly, and has imprisoned tens of thousands of political dissidents. While this Orwellian regime has been valued by some of Egypt’s Western allies as “stable,” providing, among other assets, a convenient location for rendition, it has been in reality a ticking bomb and a vehicle for radicalism.

But one aspect of Egyptian society has changed in recent years. Young Egyptians, gazing through the windows of the Internet, have gained a keener sense than many of their elders of the freedoms and opportunities they lack. They have found in social media a way to interact and share ideas, bypassing, in virtual space, the restrictions placed on physical freedom of assembly.

The world has witnessed their courage and determination in recent weeks, but democracy is not a cause that first occurred to them on Jan. 25. Propelled by a passionate belief in democratic ideals and the yearning for a better future, they have long been mobilizing and laying the groundwork for change that they view as inevitable.

The tipping point came with the Tunisian revolution, which sent a powerful psychological message: “Yes, we can.” These young leaders are the future of Egypt. They are too intelligent, too aware of what is at stake, too weary of promises long unfulfilled, to settle for anything less than the departure of the old regime. I am humbled by their bravery and resolve.

Many, particularly in the West, have bought the Mubarak regime’s fiction that a democratic Egypt will turn into chaos or a religious state, abrogate the fragile peace with Israel and become hostile to the West. But the people of Egypt — the grandmothers in veils who have dared to share Tahrir Square with army tanks, the jubilant young people who have risked their lives for their first taste of these new freedoms — are not so easily fooled.

The United States and its allies have spent the better part of the last decade, at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars and countless lives, fighting wars to establish democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now that the youth of Cairo, armed with nothing but Facebook and the power of their convictions, have drawn millions into the street to demand a true Egyptian democracy, it would be absurd to continue to tacitly endorse the rule of a regime that has lost its own people’s trust.

Egypt will not wait forever on this caricature of a leader we witnessed on television yesterday evening, deaf to the voice of the people, hanging on obsessively to power that is no longer his to keep.

What needs to happen instead is a peaceful and orderly transition of power, to channel the revolutionary fervor into concrete steps for a new Egypt based on freedom and social justice. The new leaders will have to guarantee the rights of all Egyptians. They will need to dissolve the current Parliament, no longer remotely representative of the people. They will also need to abolish the Constitution, which has become an instrument of repression, and replace it with a provisional Constitution, a three-person presidential council and a transitional government of national unity.

The presidential council should include a representative of the military, embodying the sharing of power needed to ensure continuity and stability during this critical transition. The job of the presidential council and the interim government during this period should be to set in motion the process that will turn Egypt into a free and democratic society. This includes drafting a democratic Constitution to be put to a referendum, and preparing for free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections within one year.

We are at the dawn of a new Egypt. A free and democratic society, at peace with itself and with its neighbors, will be a bulwark of stability in the Middle East and a worthy partner in the international community. The rebirth of Egypt represents the hope of a new era in which Arab society, Muslim culture and the Middle East are no longer viewed through the lens of war and radicalism, but as contributors to the forward march of humanity, modernized by advanced science and technology, enriched by our diversity of art and culture and united by shared universal values.

We have nothing to fear but the shadow of a repressive past.

By: Mohamed ElBaradei, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times-February 11, 2011

February 11, 2011 Posted by | Egypt, Liberty, Revolution | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Postcard From A Free Egypt

Circulating through the streets of Cairo tonight, with families packed into cars honking their horns in celebration and everyone strolling to Tahrir Square, I heard so many celebratory chants, but none more accurate and powerful in its simplicity than this one: “The people of Egypt made the regime step down.’’

The overwhelming sense of personal empowerment here, by a people so long kept down and underestimated by their own government was a sight to behold.

Tomorrow we can all talk about how hard this transition will be, how many pitfalls and uncertainties lie ahead for Egypt, but to be in Tahrir Square tonight, to feel the energy and pride of a people taking back the keys to their country and their future from a tired old dictator, was a privilege. As a group of men who had commandeered a horse and buggy bellowed as they crossed the Nile Bridge: “Hold your head up high. You are Egyptians.’’

My guess right now is that there are a lot of worried kings and autocrats tonight – from North Africa to Burma to Beijing. And it is not simply because a dictator has been brought down by his people. That has happened before. It is because the way it was done is so easy to emulate. What made this Egyptian democracy movement so powerful is its legitimacy.

It was started by youth and enabled by Facebook and Twitter. It was completely non-violent and only resorted to stone-throwing when faced with attacks by regime thugs. It drew on every segment of the Egyptian population. There was a huge flag in Tahrir Square today with a Muslim crescent moon and a Christian cross inside it. And most of all, it had no outside help.

In some ways, President Barack Obama did the Egyptian revolution a great favor by never fully endorsing it and never even getting his act together for how to deal with it. This meant in the end that Egyptians know they did this for themselves by themselves – with nothing but their own willpower, unity and creativity.

This was a total do-it-yourself revolution. This means that  anyone in the neighborhood can copy it by dialing 1-800-Tahrir Square. And that is why my favorite chant of all that I heard coming back from Tahrir tonight was directed at the leader next door, Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya. It said, “We don’t leave Tahrir until Qadaffi leaves office.’’ Hello Tripoli, Cairo calling.

In many ways, what we have witnessed in Egypt today is the real decolonization of this country. That is, after the British left Egypt, the country was ruled by an incompetent king and then, since 1952, by a stifling, top-down military dictatorship. For the first time in modern history, “Egypt is truly in the hands of its own people,’’ remarked Egyptian political scientist Maamoun Fandy.

And the sense of liberation is profound, or as another sign in Tahrir said: “Mubarak, if you are Pharaoh, we are all Moses.’’

Egypt has always been the center of gravity of the Arab world and because it drifted these past 30 years, so too did the whole Arab world. One can only hope with this liberation that Egypt can now start to catch up with history and become a leading model for Arab development. If it does, others will follow. If it does, the Arab world will have two emotional hearts, not just one.

There will always be Mecca in Saudi Arabia, where Muslims will make the pilgrimage to be closer to God. And there will be Tahrir Square, where people will come to touch freedom. For that to happen, though, Egypt will have to take this freedom it just earned and run with it – to show that it really can improve the lives of an entire nation. That will not be easy, and it will not happen overnight.

This country has a lot of catching up to do. But if Egyptians show just half the creativity, solidarity and determination in the next year of nation-building that they showed in Tahrir Square these last 18 days, they just might pull this off.

By: Thomas L. Friedman, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, February 11, 2011

February 11, 2011 Posted by | Egypt, Revolution | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

%d bloggers like this: