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Posted at 10:29 AM ET, 02/ 7/2011

Friday question answered

By Jennifer Rubin

In response to my query asking how President Obama has performed during the Egyptian revolution K2K2 had this cogent reply:

Obama gets a C. His necessary caution got trumped by a shift to thinking a nation with 5,000 years of autocracy can magically become a democracy if Mubarak resigns. The peaceful transfer of power is a hallmark of a real democracy, which Sec Clinton seemed to articulate without those words today in Germany.

One would think having Hezbollah dissolve Lebanon's governing coalition while PM Hariri was IN the White House would be a cautionary tale.

Obama should have used his bully pulpit to explain the building blocks of a real democracy, adding something eloquent on the tyranny of the minority being over-amplified by media (oh, yeah - that is how he got Obama got elected) while voicing general support for what all people want: freedom of thought and expression with dignity and safety.

It is very telling that Obama has no clue about either the American economy OR the Egyptian economy.

The reader is right to focus on more than whether Hosni Mubarak comes or goes. Obama from the get-go has shown little interest in, indeed often hostility to, democracy promotion. So in that regard it is not surprising that he would be slow to recognize the seismic shift. Moreover, in the two year preceding the dramatic events Obama has done little to articulate and press for the necessary reforms that are essential to a functioning democracy.

The Bush administration was rightly criticized for embracing Palestinian elections in 2006 that put Hamas in power. (The full story of the internal arguments concerning this decision has yet to be told.) The lesson there is that democracy is more than elections and more than deposing a corrupt regime. Obama could have, but plainly did not, push for the political liberalization in the Middle East and elsewhere that would, if implemented, have begun to assemble the building blocks of a secularized democracy.

The reader is generous in his grading. The administration has lagged behind events, been rhetorically incoherent, and employed defective messengers. But aside from execution Obama and his team, as K2K2 pointed out, are out of their depth when it comes to fostering reforms that are essential to a truly stable and peaceful Middle East.

By Jennifer Rubin  | February 7, 2011; 10:29 AM ET
Categories:  Friday question  
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Comments

His own rise in a corrupt one-party hereditary political system might make it kind of hard for Obama to see anything wrong with Mubarak's Egypt.

Posted by: mgmax | February 7, 2011 11:12 AM | Report abuse

"The Bush administration was rightly criticized for embracing Palestinian elections in 2006 that put Hamas in power. (The full story of the internal arguments concerning this decision has yet to be told.) The lesson there is that democracy is more than elections and more than deposing a corrupt regime."

No the lesson is that you only are interested in a "democracy" that produces a pro-Western government that is at least Israeli-neutral. Any other kind of election is illegitimate in your eyes, no matter how fairly it may be run.

K2 (whose work I enjoy by the way) makes the same mistake when he writes:

"One would think having Hezbollah dissolve Lebanon's governing coalition while PM Hariri was IN the White House would be a cautionary tale."

Again, you can only "disolve a governing coalition" when you are part of an elected representative government.

My feelings on the incompatibility of Islam and democracy are well known (as are all my other feelings LOL).

Why pretend to espouse a form of government whose natural outcomes you will then immediately have to disavow, as was the case in Gaza?

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | February 7, 2011 11:22 AM | Report abuse

But aside from execution Obama and his team, as K2K2 pointed out, are out of their depth when it comes to fostering reforms that are essential to a truly stable and peaceful Middle East.

I would enjoy hearing JRUB/and her disciples' very specific suggestions of exactly what Obama should be doing to build secular democracies in the NE. LOL
Of Course,The Iraq/Afghan War is the model for nation building. Can we accomplish as much in Iran/Egypt? 2XLOL

Posted by: rcaruth | February 7, 2011 11:23 AM | Report abuse

It is very telling that Obama has no clue about either the American economy OR the Egyptian economy

This is a link to 185 comments to Rand
Paul's plan(WSJ ONLINE) to cut $500 Billion,I predict that JR and her disciples have no interest in an actual plan to shrink the size of our government.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703956604576110431794539522.html?mod=WSJ_hps_sections_opinion#articleTabs%3Dcomments

Posted by: rcaruth | February 7, 2011 11:46 AM | Report abuse

rcaruth: assume you mean ME as in Middle East, not NE, as in New England, which seems to still be committed to secular democracies despite infiltration by the socialists (I am writing from a rural village of 1400 people in western Massachusetts where the factionalism is so complex that the civil war in heated words over cell phone availability continues) :)

Anyway, I am sorry I did not better explain what was an impressionistic comment meant mostly to emphasize "...the peaceful transfer of power is a hallmark of a real democracy ..." Ivory Coast example.

In 1968, I was the sole Anglo in my HS government class. Everyone else was a Cuban refugee, mostly from the 1967-8 Freedom flights. I was the only student passing because 1) the teacher was very biassed towards so many Cubans, 2) most of them did not understand English, and 3) they found it difficult to comprehend the concept of American democracy and our structure of divided government with an independent judiciary. The latter was alien to their experience in a Cuba that went from US economic colony to brutal dictator Battista (preserving those colonial economic interests) to the revolutionary yet no less brutal Fidel Castro.

The more I learn about Muslim-majority countries, I increasingly see Egypt as teetering between the Pakistan and Turkey models, because Egypt's military IS the government. But neither are Arab countries, nor is Indonesia, where Islam spread through trade, over-layering a synthesis of animism, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

America focuses on military aid when the real need is for widespread literacy (preferably using textbooks that try to NOT demonize the "other"), local and national police forces who aspire to the standards of New York City or Helsinki, an independent judiciary with fair laws to adjudicate, and a government bureaucracy that is responsive to the people (Indiana model), and a free press.

johnmarshall: yes, Hezbollah is part of the elected government, but they maintain an armed militia that threatens the state of Lebanon's monopoly on deadly force, which is how they brought down Hariri's governing coalition. Egypt's MB has no such armed militia, though some think Hamas could get that up to speed very quickly. My understanding is that Gaza is where Nasser and Sadat exiled their more radical MB during Egypt's occupation of Gaza until 1967.

I am actually a big fan of constitutional monarchy for countries with long histories of central autocracies. I thought Karzai should have been made king - as a Popalzai Durrani, he IS a direct descendant of the first king of Afghanistan.

But a devotion to widespread literacy is the basic building block that makes a free press effective, leading to formal political parties. A professional police force that does not terrorize the people. Then you can have "elections".

The peaceful transfer of power seems to be the hard part. Iraq at least learned that lesson.

Posted by: K2K2 | February 7, 2011 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Rubin: I actually avoid listening to Obama most days, and was not keeping close track of the government response to events in Egypt. I was tempted to give a lower grade, but did give him extra credit for caution. He truly missed the moment for explaining the building blocks to democracy, the general instead of the specific.

It also now seems that no one on his staff READ Egypt's Constitution until late last week! The part where, if Mubarak resigns, new elections must be held in sixty days.

Posted by: K2K2 | February 7, 2011 12:22 PM | Report abuse

K2:

But suppose that free elections elect Islamic fundamentalists that are hostile to Israel? Why is reaction to Israel the test for the success or failure or a domestic democracy?

In Jennifer's eyes, no country has a right to a democratically elected government that is hostile to Israel.

The idea that a freely elected democratic government is legitimate solely when pro-Western and illegitimate if anti-Western is incompatible with a rational thought process on the matter.

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | February 7, 2011 12:30 PM | Report abuse

To JR's Disciples:
I find much greater insight into contemporary foreign affairs complexity and conflict in the Books of Isiah,Jeremiah,and Ezekiel,and the other prophetic books that lead to the end of the OT. Compared to the works of Rubin,Podhoretz,Bolton,Kristol,and Wehner(for example),the ancient analysts have a preternatural understanding of the conflict between the Jews/Israel and the rest of the Universe.
If Rubin,and her minions were to read these ancients in light of their NeoCon theology,it should literally scare the holy crap out of them. And I think it would be unseemly for the NeoCons to refer to the ancient Hebrew prophets as self hating Jews and Jewish anti-semites.
I do want to thank Rubin for inspiring me to pick up the OT to gain some understanding of NeoCon idolatry.

Posted by: rcaruth | February 7, 2011 1:06 PM | Report abuse

But, as Ezra tells me, the OT was written more than 100 yrs ago and is sooo confusing, esp. that St. James version.

Posted by: aardunza | February 7, 2011 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Plus the OT clock is most confusing, always stopping and starting all the time...

Posted by: aardunza | February 7, 2011 1:23 PM | Report abuse

But, as Ezra tells me, the OT was written more than 100 yrs ago and is sooo confusing, esp. that St. James version.
Posted by: aardunza | February 7, 2011 1:20 PM | Report abuse
Plus the OT clock is most confusing, always stopping and starting all the time...
Posted by: aardunza

I take it that it is somewhat embarrassing to mention the OT Hebrew Prophets as relevant to a debate about NeoConism,particularly from the vantage of an amateur atheist like myself.
I am comparing&contrasing the ancients to the moderns from a secular viewpoint in terms of quality of their thought. Were Jeremiah to debate Rubin on the relationship of the US to Israel,J would deem JR's positions idolatrous(mistaken)in most respects. In particular,J would feel that JR's concept of American Exceptionalism,and the idea that a non-Jewish country should be primarily responsible for the survival of Israel(as opposed to God)would be particularly repellent. What would Ezekiel say about the policy of ambivilance? The thoughts of those ancient prophets as well as the opinions of much of Israel's young people/students,are hated and feared by the elders who are governing Israel to certain tragedy in the near future.

Posted by: rcaruth | February 7, 2011 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Obama could have, but plainly did not, push for the political liberalization in the Middle East and elsewhere that would, if implemented, have begun to assemble the building blocks of a secularized democracy.

___________________________________________

That's one gigantic fantasy you have there. That somehow we have the power to assemble the buidling blocks of a secular democracy in the Middle East. And if Elliot Abrams is right all it will take are a few speaches. Don't we have enough problems here at home. Why should we go elsewhere and seek dragons to slay? We have enough here to deal with.

BTW: What exactly are those steps? No one ever answers that question. All I ever get is words. As if we need only utter the right words and democracy will spring forth from the ground. Bet money this is part and parcel of the "conservative" fantasy that Ronald Reagan brought down the Soviet Union and point to his handfull of speaches. Anyone?

Posted by: kchses1 | February 7, 2011 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Anyone? Posted by: kchses1
The USSR fell because it was bankrupt,and it refused to convert to asset backed Rubles to save the empire. This is a fact not an opinion. The leaders of the USSR judged that it was better to say goodby the the Union,rather than say goodby to its Gold,Platinum,and oil,all of which would fled the USSR in trade for a new currency to keep the Empire alive.
The US is in exactly the same spot today as the USSR was in 1979. We have about ten years to harden up our currency or risk saying goodbye to the great experiment of 1776.

Posted by: rcaruth | February 7, 2011 3:06 PM | Report abuse

rc:

I'm in commodities, so I have little longer. LOL Good to see you back posting regularly again. I thought we'd lost you for a bit.

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | February 7, 2011 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Anyone? Posted by: kchses1
The USSR fell because it was bankrupt,and it refused to convert to asset backed Rubles to save the empire. This is a fact not an opinion. The leaders of the USSR judged that it was better to say goodby the the Union,rather than say goodby to its Gold,Platinum,and oil,all of which would fled the USSR in trade for a new currency to keep the Empire alive.
The US is in exactly the same spot today as the USSR was in 1979. We have about ten years to harden up our currency or risk saying goodbye to the great experiment of 1776.

Posted by: rcaruth | February 7, 2011 3:06 PM | Report abuse

__________________________________________

LMAO....what history book did you pull that out of?

Posted by: kchses1 | February 7, 2011 5:22 PM | Report abuse

repeated for kchses1 [guess I should have titled this BUILDING BLOCKS for democracy:]

"...America focuses on military aid when the real need is for widespread literacy (preferably using textbooks that try to NOT demonize the "other"), local and national police forces who aspire to the standards of New York City or Helsinki, an independent judiciary with fair laws to adjudicate, and a government bureaucracy that is responsive to the people (Indiana model), and a free press.
...
a devotion to widespread literacy is the basic building block that makes a free press effective, leading to formal political parties. A professional police force that does not terrorize the people. Then you can have "elections". "

I wonder if the widespread report that corrupt police in countries like Egypt is a legacy of the tax harvesting structure from the Ottoman Empire?

johnmarshallasked me, but the question is really for JR: "But suppose that free elections elect Islamic fundamentalists that are hostile to Israel? Why is reaction to Israel the test for the success or failure or a domestic democracy?"

I do not agree with JR's cheerleading for democracy, but, in the specific case of Egypt, there IS a peace treaty with Israel and a common border along the largely ungovernable (those tribal Bedouin) Sinai.

Even beyond the specific of Egypt-Israel, it is a very bad precedent for the entire world if longstanding peace treaties are subject to the whim of whoever happens to President or King on any given day. I thought that was the lesson from the Treaty of Versailles and Hitler. The reason for the United Nations.

If I stop and really think about an Egypt that renounced their peace treaty with Israel, I think the IDF could re-take the Sinai rather quickly, possibly in tandem with the Egyptian military that is so heavily invested in tourism along the Sinai coast :)

Seriously, Israel would be once again surrounded by countries at war (if Jordan followed suit), which would be very bad for the entire world except oil speculators. Or maybe the world would breathe a sigh of relief if another six million Jews were annihilated even if tens of millions of Arabs were collateral damage.

I am having a major depression day that has nothing to do with the Muslim Brotherhood or Egypt.

Posted by: K2K2 | February 7, 2011 5:32 PM | Report abuse

LMAO....what history book did you pull that out of?
Posted by: kchses1

Keep LYAO,in the early 1980s,the swiss put together a consortium of Investors who offered huge loans to the USSR,if USSR agreed to put hard assets behind their currency. The swiss,and their pragmatic partners,didn't choose to put billions in the USSR,to be converted into paper Rubles. The Soviets refused the deal,because they had no faith in their fiat crap money. If you don't know anything about this,stay ignorant,or look up info on Judy Shelton,she's the world's topexpert on the Economic endgame of the USSR.
http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&biw=1004&bih=534&q=Judy+Shelton+fall+of+the+USSR&btnG=Search&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=

Posted by: rcaruth | February 7, 2011 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: rcaruth | February 7, 2011 11:23 AM

"I would enjoy hearing JRUB/and her disciples' very specific suggestions of exactly what Obama should be doing to build secular democracies in the ME"

So would I. While I am not impressed with Obama's performance on this issue, I appreciate that the US government has to tread carefully.

If Obama completely disparages Mubarak, it might open the way for Islamic radicals. If he stands by Mubarak, he alienates the entire Arab world.

So let's her it Jennifer. Rather than vague platitudes about spreading democracy, what would you specifically have had Obama do?

Posted by: Shingo1 | February 7, 2011 6:53 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: K2K2 | February 7, 2011 12:12 PM
“America focuses on military aid when the real need is for widespread literacy...”

It depends on who's need you are talking about. From the POV of American Empire, the military aid is pragmatic. It was never interned that Egypt attack another state or defend itself. The military apparatus is entirely intended to keep the 80 million population of Egypt in check.

“yes, Hezbollah is part of the elected government, but they maintain an armed militia that threatens the state of Lebanon's monopoly on deadly force, which is how they brought down Hariri's governing coalition.”

Sorrybyut that's absurd. Hezbollah did no use any threat of force to dissolve the Hariri government. The measures they took were entirely legal.

“My understanding is that Gaza is where Nasser and Sadat exiled their more radical MB during Egypt's occupation of Gaza until 1967.”

Your understanding is false. The MB were invited into Palestine by Israel to acts as a cat's paw against the influence of the PLO.

Posted by: Shingo1 | February 7, 2011 6:57 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: K2K2 | February 7, 2011 12:12 PM
“America focuses on military aid when the real need is for widespread literacy...”

It depends on who's need you are talking about. From the POV of American Empire, the military aid is pragmatic. It was never interned that Egypt attack another state or defend itself. The military apparatus is entirely intended to keep the 80 million population of Egypt in check.

“yes, Hezbollah is part of the elected government, but they maintain an armed militia that threatens the state of Lebanon's monopoly on deadly force, which is how they brought down Hariri's governing coalition.”

Sorrybyut that's absurd. Hezbollah did no use any threat of force to dissolve the Hariri government. The measures they took were entirely legal.

“My understanding is that Gaza is where Nasser and Sadat exiled their more radical MB during Egypt's occupation of Gaza until 1967.”

Your understanding is false. The MB were invited into Palestine by Israel to acts as a cat's paw against the influence of the PLO.

Posted by: Shingo1 | February 7, 2011 6:59 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: K2K2 | February 7, 2011 12:12 PM
“America focuses on military aid when the real need is for widespread literacy...”

It depends on who's need you are talking about. From the POV of American Empire, the military aid is pragmatic. It was never interned that Egypt attack another state or defend itself. The military apparatus is entirely intended to keep the 80 million population of Egypt in check.

“yes, Hezbollah is part of the elected government, but they maintain an armed militia that threatens the state of Lebanon's monopoly on deadly force, which is how they brought down Hariri's governing coalition.”

Sorrybyut that's absurd. Hezbollah did no use any threat of force to dissolve the Hariri government. The measures they took were entirely legal.

“My understanding is that Gaza is where Nasser and Sadat exiled their more radical MB during Egypt's occupation of Gaza until 1967.”

Your understanding is false. The MB were invited into Palestine by Israel to acts as a cat's paw against the influence of the PLO.

Posted by: Shingo1 | February 7, 2011 7:01 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: K2K2 | February 7, 2011 12:12 PM
“America focuses on military aid when the real need is for widespread literacy...”

It depends on who's need you are talking about. From the POV of American Empire, the military aid is pragmatic. It was never interned that Egypt attack another state or defend itself. The military apparatus is entirely intended to keep the 80 million population of Egypt in check.

“yes, Hezbollah is part of the elected government, but they maintain an armed militia that threatens the state of Lebanon's monopoly on deadly force, which is how they brought down Hariri's governing coalition.”

Sorrybyut that's absurd. Hezbollah did no use any threat of force to dissolve the Hariri government. The measures they took were entirely legal.

“My understanding is that Gaza is where Nasser and Sadat exiled their more radical MB during Egypt's occupation of Gaza until 1967.”

Your understanding is false. The MB were invited into Palestine by Israel to acts as a cat's paw against the influence of the PLO.

Posted by: Shingo1 | February 7, 2011 7:04 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: K2K2 | February 7, 2011 12:12 PM
“America focuses on military aid when the real need is for widespread literacy...”

It depends on who's need you are talking about. From the POV of American Empire, the military aid is pragmatic. It was never interned that Egypt attack another state or defend itself. The military apparatus is entirely intended to keep the 80 million population of Egypt in check.

“yes, Hezbollah is part of the elected government, but they maintain an armed militia that threatens the state of Lebanon's monopoly on deadly force, which is how they brought down Hariri's governing coalition.”

Sorrybyut that's absurd. Hezbollah did no use any threat of force to dissolve the Hariri government. The measures they took were entirely legal.

“My understanding is that Gaza is where Nasser and Sadat exiled their more radical MB during Egypt's occupation of Gaza until 1967.”

Your understanding is false. The MB were invited into Palestine by Israel to acts as a cat's paw against the influence of the PLO.

Posted by: Shingo1 | February 7, 2011 7:15 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: K2K2 | February 7, 2011 12:12 PM
“America focuses on military aid when the real need is for widespread literacy...”

It depends on who's need you are talking about. From the POV of American Empire, the military aid is pragmatic. It was never interned that Egypt attack another state or defend itself. The military apparatus is entirely intended to keep the 80 million population of Egypt in check.

“yes, Hezbollah is part of the elected government, but they maintain an armed militia that threatens the state of Lebanon's monopoly on deadly force, which is how they brought down Hariri's governing coalition.”

Sorrybyut that's absurd. Hezbollah did no use any threat of force to dissolve the Hariri government. The measures they took were entirely legal.

“My understanding is that Gaza is where Nasser and Sadat exiled their more radical MB during Egypt's occupation of Gaza until 1967.”

Your understanding is false. The MB were invited into Palestine by Israel to acts as a cat's paw against the influence of the PLO.

Posted by: Shingo1 | February 7, 2011 8:03 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: K2K2 | February 7, 2011 12:12 PM
“America focuses on military aid when the real need is for widespread literacy...”

It depends on who's need you are talking about. From the POV of American Empire, the military aid is pragmatic. It was never interned that Egypt attack another state or defend itself. The military apparatus is entirely intended to keep the 80 million population of Egypt in check.

“yes, Hezbollah is part of the elected government, but they maintain an armed militia that threatens the state of Lebanon's monopoly on deadly force, which is how they brought down Hariri's governing coalition.”

Sorrybyut that's absurd. Hezbollah did no use any threat of force to dissolve the Hariri government. The measures they took were entirely legal.

“My understanding is that Gaza is where Nasser and Sadat exiled their more radical MB during Egypt's occupation of Gaza until 1967.”

Your understanding is false. The MB were invited into Palestine by Israel to acts as a cat's paw against the influence of the PLO.

Posted by: Shingo1 | February 7, 2011 8:19 PM | Report abuse

thanks shingo. your OCD just lifted my major depression :)

Posted by: K2K2 | February 7, 2011 9:41 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: K2K2 | February 7, 2011 12:12 PM
“America focuses on military aid when the real need is for widespread literacy...”

It depends on who's need you are talking about. From the POV of American Empire, the military aid is pragmatic. It was never interned that Egypt attack another state or defend itself. The military apparatus is entirely intended to keep the 80 million population of Egypt in check.

“yes, Hezbollah is part of the elected government, but they maintain an armed militia that threatens the state of Lebanon's monopoly on deadly force, which is how they brought down Hariri's governing coalition.”

Sorrybyut that's absurd. Hezbollah did no use any threat of force to dissolve the Hariri government. The measures they took were entirely legal.

“My understanding is that Gaza is where Nasser and Sadat exiled their more radical MB during Egypt's occupation of Gaza until 1967.”

Your understanding is false. The MB were invited into Palestine by Israel to acts as a cat's paw against the influence of the PLO.

Posted by: Shingo1 | February 7, 2011 10:14 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: K2K2 | February 7, 2011 12:12 PM
“America focuses on military aid when the real need is for widespread literacy...”

It depends on who's need you are talking about. From the POV of American Empire, the military aid is pragmatic. It was never interned that Egypt attack another state or defend itself. The military apparatus is entirely intended to keep the 80 million population of Egypt in check.

“yes, Hezbollah is part of the elected government, but they maintain an armed militia that threatens the state of Lebanon's monopoly on deadly force, which is how they brought down Hariri's governing coalition.”

Sorrybyut that's absurd. Hezbollah did no use any threat of force to dissolve the Hariri government. The measures they took were entirely legal.

“My understanding is that Gaza is where Nasser and Sadat exiled their more radical MB during Egypt's occupation of Gaza until 1967.”

Your understanding is false. The MB were invited into Palestine by Israel to acts as a cat's paw against the influence of the PLO.

Posted by: Shingo1 | February 7, 2011 10:40 PM | Report abuse

No problem K2K2,

I'm happy to oblige. It probably never occurred to you that there are some facts you might not find in a Ton Clancy novel. ;-)

Posted by: Shingo1 | February 7, 2011 10:50 PM | Report abuse

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