Saturday, February 12, 2011

No way I'm missing the next revolution.

Congratulations, Egypt! You've done something amazing and wonderful and we all look forward to your future as a vibrant democracy. (Not so sure about the vibrant part. Per capita GDP is ~ $2,700, and the government employs 39% of the workforce. Can a young democracy make the hard changes in spending required to grow?)

Egypt has also served to reinvigorate our appreciation of liberty.

Liberty lacks in appreciation for many reasons, but happily the overall international trend is very positive. We can add Egypt to the list of "color" revolutions just in this last decade, joining the Ukraine, Yugoslavia (Serbia), Georgia, Lebanon, and Tunisia in regime change. Iraq (purple) and Iran (green) are also cited as color revolutions. I don't think this long term trend has been considered much in the US.

What these countries also have in common - along with the former Eastern Bloc in the late '80's/early '90s - is that they are revolutions that I only saw on TV.

I was in college when the Berlin Wall fell (Oct 1989?). I remember a fellow student @ W&L who, realizing the monumental importance of the event (and the fun of partying with reuniting Germans), quickly booked a plane ticket to Germany, and witnessed history for a few days before returning back to campus.

I didn't have then the means, the appreciation or even the passport to do something similar, but the idea of doing so has stuck with me through all of the revolutions since. When the protests started in Egypt, I realized that I had the resources to just hop on a plane to go experience history, but made too many excuses not to go. ("What, take a week off? I can't.....)

How cool would it be to be in Cairo right now? After seeing the events unfold in Egypt, I'm more motivated than ever to witness the next revolution in person. When the next one breaks, I'm going!*

(If you're a friend who might be interested in joining me when the time comes, let's talk. I also want to hear from any friends who might have already witnessed history in this way. (Tom D?))

Only an expensive plane ticket and skipping out on some ongoing US obligations (like a job or family) are remotely good excuses not to go.

As for the plane ticket, I've got >200,000 frequent flyer miles, and even if I have to spend some cash, what good is it for if not to partake in events like a revolution?

As for obligations, I think we all overstate the importance of our day-to-day obligations. There aren't too many jobs that can't do without you for a week, and we all have too many events or connections that we overvalue. (I think I could safely skip a UVa football or basketball home game.)

So, I'm going to the next one. Hold me to it.

Here's my short list of exciting possibilities for the location of the next 'color revolution':

and a couple of piddly African (Zimbabwe?) and Middle Eastern countries.

My guess is that I'll be traveling to Minsk, Belarus next. (Which is exciting because it is already on my "wanna go there list.") Unfortunately, I don't see the big ones (China, Russia, or Cuba) revolting soon. But we can hope.

* I reserve the right to skip piddly revolutions (Yemen?) and revolutions in sparsely populated, uninteresting countries (Algeria?)

Just to stir the pot a bit: besides the Egyptians themselves (winners) and other Middle East regimes (losers), who are the other winners and losers:


George W. Bush - I'm still not a fan, but maybe he was on to something in the Middle East.

Israel - they are rightfully nervous with the change as Mubarak - in spite of his other faults - represented stability in a region short on it. I still think that over the long term, Israel will be safer with a democracy as a neighbor that a dictator.

The west's security/war on Jihad - what if - sensing domestic opportunity - the jihadists shift their attention from the Great Satan (us) to their local monarchs, dictators, and oppressors? Could (for example) al qaieda shift effort from trying to strike at the west (London bombings, etc.) to trying to dethrone the House of Saud?


Obama foreign policy - I thought the Obama administration struck the right tone during the 18 days of protests in Egypt, but Egypt still represents a faulty policy, and underscores the failure of supporting the Iranians in revolt in 2009.

Remember, Obama chose Egypt as the place to deliver his initial entreaties to Islam just after taking office in 2009. His message - as I recall - was basically "We're not as bad as the last 8 years have made you think, and I want to work with you." Noble thoughts, but they can't begin to compare with more directed foreign policies by prior American leaders. (Think Reagan's "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.") (Sure, Obama's Cairo speech wasn't the setting to crank up the rhetoric, but Obama's accomodative speech and his policy in the Middle East over the last 2 years are similar.)

Obama missed a chance when the Iranian people protested in 2009. The administration took a position of non-interference in order to establish a new relationship with the crazy people running Iran. I definitely believe that a full-blown revolution in Iran faltered in 2009 because of a lack of public support by the USA due to intentional diplomatic insouciance. (Not the first time that this has happened - GW Bush left the Iraqi Kurds hanging when they tried to revolt against Saddam Hussein following the first Gulf War.)

The lesson here is that when we identify 100% bad regimes (such as Iran, or the Soviet Union), public accommodation in any form is to dilute our foreign policy goals and diminish US values. (In essence, we tacitly support and play down to the level of the regime.)

Along those lines: The US' ability to learn lessons and adapt foreign policies. We have a really bad habit of tolerating anti-democratic allies. While the outcome in Egypt in 2011 is far more positive than Iran in 1979 (much more like Ferdinand Marcos & the Philippines in the late '80's), we still made the same mistake: holding our nose and backing a bad guy because of short-term geopolitical considerations.

Sometimes this makes sense when small progress can be seen over time, as in South Korea, where the US backed a military-led government, as the country "matured" into the vibrant democracy it is today. However, Mubarak never liberalized at all over 30 years. (He kept emergency laws in place all 30 years.)

The good news is that there aren't too many other current examples of the US tolerating local dictators in order to support US geopolitical interests. All I can think of are the countries neighboring Afghanistan - the former Soviet "-stans," and Pakistan. (Where the government is less dictatorial than dysfunctional.)

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With my new friends on the Great Wall of China

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China
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Uncommon Man's Creed

"I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon -- if I can. I seek opportunity -- not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I wish to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole, I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence, nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any master, nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud, and unafraid, to think and act for myself, to enjoy the benefit of my creations, and to face the world boldly and say, "this I have done." All this is what it means to be an American." -- Anonymous