Evil flourishes when good men do nothing

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The Road to Serfdom and the Arab Revolt
The dictators who came to power in the 1950s and '60s were economic levelers who impoverished their countries. Today's unrest is the result.

By FOUAD AJAMI, The Wall Streeet Journal

The late great Austrian economist F.A. Hayek would have seen the Arab Spring for the economic revolt it was right from the start. For generations the Arab populations had bartered away their political freedom for economic protection. They rose in rebellion when it dawned on them that the bargain had not worked, that the system of subsidies, and the promise of equality held out by the autocrats, had proven a colossal failure.

What Hayek would call the Arab world's "road to serfdom" began when the old order of merchants and landholders was upended in the 1950s and '60s by a political and military class that assumed supreme power. The officers and ideologues who came to rule Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Algeria and Yemen were men contemptuous of the marketplace and of economic freedom. As a rule, they hailed from the underclass and had no regard for the sanctity of wealth and property. They had come to level the economic order, and they put the merchant classes, and those who were the mainstay of the free market, to flight.

It was in the 1950s that the foreign minorities who had figured prominently in the economic life of Egypt after the cotton boom of the 1860s, and who had drawn that country into the web of the world economy, would be sent packing. The Jews and the Greeks and the Italians would take with them their skills and habits. The military class, and the Fabian socialists around them, distrusted free trade and the marketplace and were determined to rule over them or without them.

The Egyptian way would help tilt the balance against the private sector in other Arab lands as well. In Iraq, the Jews of the country, on its soil for well over two millennia, were dispossessed and banished in 1950-51. They had mastered the retail trade and were the most active community in the commerce of Baghdad. Some Shiite merchants stepped into their role, but this was short-lived. Military officers and ideologues of the Baath Party from the "Sunni triangle"—men with little going for them save their lust for wealth and power—came into possession of the country and its oil wealth. They, like their counterparts in Egypt, were believers in central planning and "social equality." By the 1980s, Saddam Hussein, a Sunni thug born from crushing poverty, would come to think of the wealth of the country as his own.

In Libya, a deranged Moammar Gadhafi did Saddam one better. After his 1969 military coup, he demolished the private sector in 1973 and established what he called "Islamic Socialism." Gadhafi's so-called popular democracy basically nationalized the entire economy, rendering the Libyan people superfluous by denying them the skills and the social capital necessary for a viable life.

In his 1944 masterpiece, "The Road to Serfdom," Hayek wrote that in freedom-crushing totalitarian societies "the worst get on top." In words that described the Europe of his time but also capture the contemporary Arab condition, he wrote: "To be a useful assistant in the running of a totalitarian state, it is not enough that a man should be prepared to accept specious justification of vile deeds; he must himself be prepared actively to break every moral rule he has ever known if this seems necessary to achieve the end set for him. Since it is the supreme leader who alone determines the ends, his instruments must have no moral convictions of their own."

This well describes the decades-long brutal dictatorship of Syria's Hafez al-Assad, and now his son Bashar's rule. It is said that Hafez began his dynasty with little more than a modest officer's salary. His dominion would beget a family of enormous wealth: The Makhloufs, the in-laws of the House of Assad, came to control crucial sectors of the Syrian economy.

The Alawites, the religious sect to which the Assad clan belongs, had been poor peasants and sharecroppers, but political and military power raised them to new heights. The merchants of Damascus and Aleppo, and the landholders in Homs and Hama, were forced to submit to the new order. They could make their peace with the economy of extortion, cut Alawite officers into long-established businesses, or be swept aside.

But a decade or so ago this ruling bargain—subsidies and economic redistribution in return for popular quiescence—began to unravel. The populations in Arab lands had swelled and it had become virtually impossible to guarantee jobs for the young and poorly educated. Economic nationalism, and the war on the marketplace, had betrayed the Arabs. They had the highest unemployment levels among developing nations, the highest jobless rate among the young, and the lowest rates of economic participation among women. The Arab political order was living on borrowed time, and on fear of official terror.

Attempts at "reform" were made. But in the arc of the Arab economies, the public sector of one regime became the private sector of the next. Sons, sons-in-law and nephews of the rulers made a seamless transition into the rigged marketplace when "privatization" was forced onto stagnant enterprises. Of course, this bore no resemblance to market-driven economics in a transparent system. This was crony capitalism of the worst kind, and it was recognized as such by Arab populations. Indeed, this economic plunder was what finally severed the bond between Hosni Mubarak and an Egyptian population known for its timeless patience and stoicism.

The sad truth of Arab social and economic development is that the free-market reforms and economic liberalization that remade East Asia and Latin America bypassed the Arab world. This is the great challenge of the Arab Spring and of the forces that brought it about. The marketplace has had few, if any, Arab defenders. If the tremendous upheaval at play in Arab lands is driven by a desire to capture state power—and the economic prerogatives that come with political power—the revolution will reproduce the failures of the past.

In Yemen, a schoolteacher named Amani Ali, worn out by the poverty and anarchy of that poorest of Arab states, recently gave voice to a sentiment that has been the autocrats' prop: "We don't want change," he said. "We don't want freedom. We want food and safety." True wisdom, and an end to their road to serfdom, will only come when the Arab people make the connection between economic and political liberty.

Mr. Ajami, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, is co-chairman of Hoover's Working Group on Islamism and the International Order.

End of the Dream: Obama and the Middle East

By John Hannah

Inside the whirlwind of the Middle East's current turmoil, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that the Obama administration's original strategy for the region has crashed and burned. Recall its key elements. Extending a hand to Iran's mullahs so as to demonstrate America's benign intentions and charm Khomeini's heirs into abandoning their nuclear ambitions. "Engaging" Syria's tyranny in hopes of luring it away from a decades-long embrace of Iran, terrorism, and anti-Americanism. Indulging the canard that the Palestinian conflict lies at the root of all that ails the Middle East; that Israeli settlements pose the most pressing obstacle to peace; and that demonstrating American even-handedness by muscling our Israeli ally would win us goodwill across the Arab/Muslim world. Refuting the "freedom agenda" by slashing democratization programs and letting it be known that a hard-nosed realism had returned to U.S. foreign policy that would concern itself little with the way Middle Eastern regimes treat, or mistreat, their own peoples. And, of course, putting in America's rearview mirror as quickly as possible an Iraq project that had been midwifed by an allegedly illegal and immoral war.

All of it now lies largely in tatters. Obama's outreach to Iran and Syria was greeted with predictable contempt. His quixotic fixation on the holy grail of a settlements freeze left peace talks dead in the water. The explosion of popular unrest that first shook Iran in 2009, and which is now sweeping Arab lands, exposed the intellectual vacuity of Obama's studied disregard of the region's freedom deficit. Similarly, the president's seeming inability to grasp America's vital interest in Iraq's success, and his headlong rush for the exits by the end of 2011, has rendered that country's democratic experiment increasingly untethered and at the mercy of Iran's Islamic Republic.

An instinct for reassuring hardened enemies, disregarding longtime friends, and distrusting the exercise of American power. These were, unfortunately, the dominant notes that a troubled region heard emanating from Obama's uncertain trumpet for much of the last two years. "Where is U.S. leadership?" What is U.S. policy?" Who's in charge?" The most fundamental questions about American purpose, which anxious Middle Eastern leaders struggled in vain to divine answers to from visiting U.S. friends. The unhappy results? A pervasive — and corrosive — sense of waning American power. Adversaries emboldened to continue pressing every challenge. Disheartened friends resorting both at home and abroad to short-sighted measures of self-help and self-preservation. And a vital region of the world increasingly brought near the boiling point, poised between revolution, chaos, and civil war; teetering between the malignant ambitions of an aspiring Persian hegemon and the withering resolve of a traditional patron grown uncertain in the rightness of its cause and weary of shouldering the burdens of leadership.

Multiple muses seemed responsible for the badly misguided framework that the president brought to office. A worldview heavily shaped by the leftist, anti-Western claptrap that pervades much of what passes for Middle East studies in the American academy. An obsession with distinguishing himself from everything Bush. And a remarkably naive conviction that simply by showing up on the world stage, Obama — by virtue of biography, personality, and charisma — could somehow transcend the immutable laws of an international system dominated by self-interested nation states, several of which happen to be ruled by tyrannical regimes that perceive their very survival as inextricably linked to the humbling of American power, influence, and prestige. The "Obama Factor," like so much else in the president's Middle East policy, did not survive first contact with the enemy.

So what next? Will there be an Obama Middle East policy 2.0? To some extent, the administration has no option. It's been mugged by reality. Iran's unyielding hostility in the face of Obama's repeated entreaties for dialogue laid waste the president's engagement strategy, leaving him little choice but to resort, albeit belatedly, to the stick of sanctions. Likewise, the eruption of mass protests across the Middle East, threatening both pro- and anti-U.S. regimes, has forced issues of democratization and reform to the very top of the administration's agenda, whether it wished them there or not.

But much, much more needs to be done to advance American interests. Having committed U.S. forces to battle, the war in Libya must be hastened to a rapid conclusion that sees Qaddafi ousted and replaced by a more decent, non-terrorist regime. Egypt's revolution needs help achieving a soft landing that contains the Muslim Brothers, bolsters liberal democratic forces, and preserves the country's role as a bulwark of regional moderation. Iraq policy must be taken off auto-pilot, and the president must at long last engage himself personally in the urgent task of defining a post-2011 U.S.-Iraqi security relationship that maximizes the chances of safeguarding the significant gains won by American blood and treasure.

Perhaps most importantly, everything possible must be done to bring home to Iran and Syria the full force of the revolt of 2011. Syria — Iran's land bridge to Hezbollah; tormenter of Lebanese independence; safe haven for Palestinian terror groups; and facilitator of jihadists who killed American soldiers in Iraq — has been badly shaken already by several weeks of protests. At a minimum, the Obama administration must now avoid doing anything that throws the Assad regime a political lifeline. In Iran, a systematic strategy must be quickly developed aimed at strengthening the Green Movement which, while badly battered, is alive and well, looking for the right opportunity to again challenge the very foundations of the Islamic Republic.

It was, of course, in Iran in 2009 that the true folly of Obama's Middle East policy reached its most tragic denouement. At the Green Movement's height, with the Islamic Republic at real risk of fracture and collapse — when protesters cried out "Obama, are you with us or are you with the regime?" — the president was largely paralyzed, mute and detached, worried that an embrace of Iranian freedom might put at risk his delusion of brokering a meaningful diplomatic breakthrough with the murderers of Neda Soltan. An historic opportunity to end the mullahs' 30-year war on America, erase the darkening shadow of a nuclear Iran, and drive a stake through the heart of radical Islamic extremism was lost. Figuring out how to help resurrect it, and atone for that monumental strategic error, would be a fitting place for the president to start the process of rebuilding a viable Middle East strategy for the final two years of his term.

John Hannah is a former national-security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Obama and Libya: The professor's war

By Charles Krauthammer

President Obama is proud of how he put together the Libyan operation. A model of international cooperation. All the necessary paperwork. Arab League backing. A Security Council resolution. (Everything but a resolution from the Congress of the United States, a minor inconvenience for a citizen of the world.) It's war as designed by an Ivy League professor.

True, it took three weeks to put this together, during which time Moammar Gaddafi went from besieged, delusional (remember those youthful protesters on "hallucinogenic pills") thug losing support by the hour — to resurgent tyrant who marshaled his forces, marched them to the gates of Benghazi and had the U.S. director of national intelligence predicting that "the regime will prevail."

But what is military initiative and opportunity compared with paper?

Well, let's see how that paper multilateralism is doing. The Arab League is already reversing itself, criticizing the use of force it had just authorized. Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, is shocked — shocked! — to find that people are being killed by allied airstrikes. This reaction was dubbed mystifying by one commentator, apparently born yesterday and thus unaware that the Arab League has forever been a collection of cynical, warring, unreliable dictatorships of ever-shifting loyalties. A British soccer mob has more unity and moral purpose. Yet Obama deemed it a great diplomatic success that the league deigned to permit others to fight and die to save fellow Arabs for whom 19 of 21 Arab states have yet to lift a finger.

And what about that brilliant U.N. resolution?

- Russia's Vladimir Putin is already calling the Libya operation a medieval crusade.

- China is calling for a cease-fire in place — which would completely undermine the allied effort by leaving Gaddafi in power, his people at his mercy and the country partitioned and condemned to ongoing civil war.

- Brazil joined China in that call for a cease-fire. This just hours after Obama ended his fawning two-day Brazil visit. Another triumph of presidential personal diplomacy.

And how about NATO? Let's see. As of this writing, Britain wanted the operation to be led by NATO. France adamantly disagreed, citing Arab sensibilities. Germany wanted no part of anything, going so far as to pull four of its ships from NATO command in the Mediterranean. Italy hinted it might deny the allies the use of its air bases if NATO can't get its act together. France and Germany walked out of a NATO meeting on Monday, while Norway had planes in Crete ready to go but refused to let them fly until it had some idea who the hell is running the operation. And Turkey, whose prime minister four months ago proudly accepted the Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights, has been particularly resistant to the Libya operation from the beginning.

And as for the United States, who knows what American policy is. Administration officials insist we are not trying to bring down Gaddafi, even as the president insists that he must go. Although on Tuesday Obama did add "unless he changes his approach." Approach, mind you.

In any case, for Obama, military objectives take a back seat to diplomatic appearances. The president is obsessed with pretending that we are not running the operation — a dismaying expression of Obama's view that his country is so tainted by its various sins that it lacks the moral legitimacy to . . . what? Save Third World people from massacre?

Obama seems equally obsessed with handing off the lead role. Hand off to whom? NATO? Quarreling amid Turkish resistance (see above), NATO still can't agree on taking over command of the airstrike campaign, which is what has kept the Libyan rebels alive.

This confusion is purely the result of Obama's decision to get America into the war and then immediately relinquish American command. Never modest about himself, Obama is supremely modest about his country. America should be merely "one of the partners among many," he said Monday. No primus inter pares for him. Even the Clinton administration spoke of America as the indispensable nation. And it remains so. Yet at a time when the world is hungry for America to lead — no one has anything near our capabilities, experience and resources — America is led by a man determined that it should not.

A man who dithers over parchment. Who starts a war from which he wants out right away. Good God. If you go to take Vienna, take Vienna. If you're not prepared to do so, better then to stay home and do nothing.

Obama's Holbrooke Moment

Benghazi would have been the president's Srebrenica. He had little choice but to act.

By FOUAD AJAMI

The right thing, at last. The cavalry arrived in the nick of time. Help came as Moammar Gadhafi's loyalists were at the gates of the free city of Benghazi. There was no mystery in the fate that awaited them. The despot had pretty much said what he intended. He would hunt down those who had found the courage to stand up to him, show them no mercy and no pity.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had seemed particularly obtuse. A decent opposition had coalesced in Benghazi—judges and teachers, businessmen and former members of the Ghadafi regime who wanted to cleanse the shame of their association with the tyranny. Rather than embrace them, rather than give them the diplomatic recognition that France would come to grant them, the secretary of state of the pre- eminent liberal power worried aloud that we didn't know this opposition, that there were "opportunists" within their ranks. And to cap it all, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper took away from the uprising the slender hope that it could still hold back the tide. The despot, he said, out in the open for one and all to hear, was destined to prevail.

We don't yet have the details of what can be called the Holbrooke moment—after the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke who all but dragged a reluctant Bill Clinton into Bosnia in 1995.

In Bosnia, as in Libya a generation later, the standard-bearer of American power had a stark choice: It was either rescue or calamity. Benghazi would have been Barack Obama's Srebrenica, the town that the powers had left to the mercy of Ratko Mladic and his killers. No less than 8,000 Bosnian men and boys had paid with their lives for that abdication.

When American power was finally deployed, after 30 months of Clintonian doublespeak and evasion, the bluff was laid bare. The Serbian challengers were put to flight with embarrassing ease. It is of course too early to know the likely course of this intervention, but the ease and the speed with which the no-fly zone over northern Libya was put into effect has echoes of that Balkan episode.

This would be an American rescue mission, with a difference: We would not take the lead, we would defer to France and Britain, and we would let it be known ahead of time that we are not eager to assume a bigger burden in that North African country. This was a break with the record of American rescue missions in other Islamic settings—Kuwait in 1991, Bosnia in 1995, Kosovo in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003. In all of these previous endeavors, it was America that supplied the will and the sense of moral and strategic urgency.

But President Obama came to this Libyan engagement imbued by a curious doctrine of American guilt. By his light, we are an imperialistic power, and our embrace would sully those we would seek to help.

Middle Eastern rulers and oppositionists alike had come to an unsentimental reading of Mr. Obama: He was no friend of liberty, he had made peace with the order of power in Arab-Islamic lands. Nothing had remained of that false moment of intimacy, in June 2009, when he had traveled to Cairo, the self-styled herald of a new American message to the Arab world. No, what mattered to Mr. Obama, above all, was his differentness, his break with the legacy of George W. Bush. The irony was lost on the liberal devotees of Mr. Obama: a conservative American president who had taken up the cause of liberty in Arab-Islamic lands, and his New Age successor who was nothing but a retread of Brent Scowcroft.

Everywhere Mr. Obama looked, he saw Iraq. We couldn't rescue Tripoli and Benghazi because of what we had witnessed in Fallujah and Sadr City. Iraq was Mr. Obama's entry into the foreign world, it was his opposition to that war that gave him a sense of worldliness and gravitas. He had made much of being "a student of history." But history didn't stretch far for him, and in a man who claimed affinity with distant peoples and places, there was a heavy dosage of parochialism. It was history's odd timing: A great historical rupture in the Arab world, bearing within it the promise of remaking a flawed political tradition that knew no middle ground between despotism and nihilistic violence, happened on the watch of an American president proud of his deliberateness and his detachment from history's passions.

The Obama administration was doubtless surprised by the unexpected decision of the Arab League to grant the green light to the imposition of the no-fly zone. Moral and political clarity had never been an attribute of the Arab League. That organization had never given sustenance to any dissident, never drew a line for the Arab despots. The head of the Arab League for a good number of years now, the Egyptian Amr Moussa, was a creature of the Arab order of power with all its pathologies. His stock-in-trade was that debilitating mix of anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism. He was beloved by that fabled Arab street because he indulged its ruinous passions and alibis. This was never a good jury to appeal to.

But we needed no warrant from the league of dictators. The warrant came from the Libyan people who pleaded for help and made a case for that help by their own bravery. These were not people sitting on the sidelines, or idling their time away in exile. They were men and women in a long captivity anxious to reclaim their tormented country.

In what seems like a whole age ago, a fortnight back, when the Libyan people fleetingly felt the end of their captivity, an unnamed Libyan blogger gave voice to that promise:

The silence has broken, we will be victorious.

The gentle waves break into the golden shore,

The breezes of freedom reach our souls.

The hearts bleed, our destiny is nearly there.

There was truth in that hopeful and simple verse. For the Libyans, there is a thin line between catastrophe and deliverance. They have given it all, and now their liberty depends on whether the democracies believe that it is worth their while to give the cause of freedom a boost—to provide evidence that justice in the affairs of nations, though it has tarried, is not yet dead.

Mr. Ajami is a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

From Baghdad to Benghazi

By Charles Krauthammer

Voices around the world, from Europe to America to Libya, are calling for U.S. intervention to help bring down Moammar Gaddafi. Yet for bringing down Saddam Hussein, the United States has been denounced variously for aggression, deception, arrogance and imperialism.

A strange moral inversion, considering that Hussein's evil was an order of magnitude beyond Gaddafi's. Gaddafi is a capricious killer; Hussein was systematic. Gaddafi was too unstable and crazy to begin to match the Baathist apparatus: a comprehensive national system of terror, torture and mass murder, gassing entire villages to create what author Kanan Makiya called a "Republic of Fear."

Moreover, that systemized brutality made Hussein immovable in a way that Gaddafi is not. Barely armed Libyans have already seized half the country on their own. Yet in Iraq, there was no chance of putting an end to the regime without the terrible swift sword (it took all of three weeks) of the United States.

No matter the hypocritical double standard. Now that revolutions are sweeping the Middle East and everyone is a convert to George W. Bush's freedom agenda, it's not just Iraq that has slid into the memory hole. Also forgotten is the once proudly proclaimed "realism" of Years One and Two of President Obama's foreign policy - the "smart power" antidote to Bush's alleged misty-eyed idealism.

It began on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's first Asia trip, when she publicly played down human rights concerns in China. The administration also cut aid for democracy promotion in Egypt by 50 percent. And cut civil society funds - money for precisely the organizations we now need to help Egyptian democracy - by 70 percent.

This new realism reached its apogee with Obama's reticence and tardiness in saying anything in support of the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran. On the contrary, Obama made clear that nuclear negotiations with the discredited and murderous regime (talks that a child could see would go nowhere) took precedence over the democratic revolutionaries in the street - to the point where demonstrators in Tehran chanted, "Obama, Obama, you are either with us or with them."

Now that revolution has spread from Tunisia to Oman, however, the administration is rushing to keep up with the new dispensation, repeating the fundamental tenet of the Bush Doctrine that Arabs are no exception to the universal thirst for dignity and freedom.

Iraq, of course, required a sustained U.S. military engagement to push back totalitarian forces trying to extinguish the new Iraq. But is this not what we are being asked to do with a no-fly zone over Libya? In conditions of active civil war, taking command of Libyan airspace requires a sustained military engagement.

Now, it can be argued that the price in blood and treasure that America paid to establish Iraq's democracy was too high. But whatever side you take on that question, what's unmistakable is that to the Middle Easterner, Iraq today is the only functioning Arab democracy, with multiparty elections and the freest press. Its democracy is fragile and imperfect - last week, security forces cracked down on demonstrators demanding better services - but were Egypt to be as politically developed in, say, a year as is Iraq today, we would think it a great success.

For Libyans, the effect of the Iraq war is even more concrete. However much bloodshed they face, they have been spared the threat of genocide. Gaddafi was so terrified by what we did to Saddam & Sons that he plea-bargained away his weapons of mass destruction. For a rebel in Benghazi, that is no small matter.

Yet we have been told incessantly how Iraq poisoned the Arab mind against America. Really? Where is the rampant anti-Americanism in any of these revolutions? In fact, notes Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes, the United States has been "conspicuously absent from the sloganeering."

It's Yemen's president and the delusional Gaddafi who are railing against American conspiracies to rule and enslave. The demonstrators in the streets of Egypt, Iran and Libya have been straining their eyes for America to help. They are not chanting the antiwar slogans - remember "No blood for oil"? - of the American left. Why would they? America is leaving Iraq having taken no oil, having established no permanent bases, having left behind not a puppet regime but a functioning democracy. This, after Iraq's purple-fingered exercises in free elections seen on television everywhere set an example for the entire region.

Facebook and Twitter have surely mediated this pan-Arab (and Iranian) reach for dignity and freedom. But the Bush Doctrine set the premise.

'Change we can believe in'? Not for the Middle East

By Sultan Al Qassemi, The National UAE

The Arabs are a patient lot. Twenty years after a wave of democracy swept through Eastern Europe, Arabs are still waiting for their own. In the past few weeks a series of setbacks have pushed their dreams even further away. They haven't lost hope though, as the latest protests in Tunisia have demonstrated.

Flash back two years to the days after the US president Barack Obama took office. Then, there was a distinct air of optimism that things were going to change. Mr Obama appointed George Mitchell, the veteran US diplomat credited with negotiating Northern Ireland's peace settlement, to bring peace to the bleak Middle East. Things look even bleaker today. Illegal Israeli settlements are not only booming but are growing at a rate much faster than ever before. Mr Mitchell has logged many hours flying in between capitals but has had few successes.

The march towards greater popular representation in the Arab world has not just stagnated since Mr Obama took office, it has regressed. Last year the Obama administration cut aid for democracy promotion in Egypt by as much as 50 per cent. A few months later, Egypt, the most populous Arab country, held what were considered to be the most widely rigged parliamentary elections in recent memory. The US government said it was "disappointed" with the results.

Disappointed is a small word to use for a country that funds the Egyptian government with as much as $1.55 billion a year. Contrast what has happened in the last two years in Egypt with what occurred under the former US president George W Bush's watch, where Egypt held its freest elections yet. The Muslim Brotherhood movement won as much as 20 per cent of the parliamentary seats. They won none in the latest poll.

The reactions of the Obama administration to the indefinite postponement of elections in some Arab countries, outright vote rigging and brutal crushing of demonstrations, in others is telling. America's rebuke of the Yemeni leader's grandiose plans for a presidency for life last week were to urge him to "delay parliamentary action and to return to the negotiating table". On the other hand the Obama administration awarded the Yemeni government with an economic aid package of roughly $150 million in 2010 in addition to a military package this year in excess of $200 million. It's ironic that this very equipment could be used against demonstrators who may take to the streets to oppose a lifetime presidency in Yemen.

But it is unfair to lay the blame for the lack of democracy in the Arab world completely on the shoulders of the United States. Arabs themselves play a major role in what becomes of their societies. Still, it is not easy to stand up to a dictator whose cutting-edge military equipment is a gift from the good offices of the president of the United States.

A favourite pastime of Arabs during the Bush era was to count his ills. There were plenty of them to mention without referring to the human catastrophe that was Iraq. However, Mr Bush exerted considerable pressure on Arab states, which allowed for elections in many places. So free was the vote in the Palestinian territories, for instance, that Hamas won more votes than Fatah, with voters taking the party to task for its corruption.

When Mr Bush was in office, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the only Arab countries never to have held elections, allowed for some of their citizens to participate in municipal and parliamentary polls respectively. The terms of the elected individuals have expired but there has been no announcement yet about when elections will be held again.

What US policy makers must realise is that the formula of "aid for stability" has only been working on the surface. Turning a blind eye to certain practices by Arab governments has a far more pervasive impact of stifling genuine reform and freedom for the people of the Arab world. Sentiments towards allies of Arab dictators, including the US, are festering.

The US administration's silence around the Sidi Bouzid protests in Tunisia was only broken this week, several weeks after protests erupted. These are secular, non-religious protests that aren't backed by any foreign entity. They are merely an expression of a people's desire to unshackle themselves from a regime in power since the 1980s.

The visit of the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton to the region that begins today, her second in six weeks, includes meetings with civil society leaders who were overlooked in the past. Perhaps this step heralds a new and much needed change in policy by the Obama administration that would put the interests of citizens on a par with the region's governments.

But taken as a whole, Mr Obama's policies have allowed for an overall regression in democracy in the Arab world. The US government's complacency was read as a green light for Arab governments to suppress free speech, while denying their citizens basic rights such as voting and protesting.

It's high time for fresh faces and fresh ideas from the White House to deal with outdated policies that have clearly failed in effecting a genuine change in the Middle East. The setbacks to greater popular representation in the Arab world seen in the first two years of the Obama administration need not be repeated in the second two years.

Mr Obama, it's time for a rethink.

Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi is a non-resident fellow at the Dubai School of Government

The Obsolescence of Barack Obama

By FOUAD AJAMI

Not long ago Barack Obama, for those who were spellbound by him, had the stylishness of JFK and the historic mission of FDR riding to the nation's rescue. Now it is to Lyndon B. Johnson's unhappy presidency that Democratic strategist Robert Shrum compares the stewardship of Mr. Obama. Johnson, wrote Mr. Shrum in the Week magazine last month, never "sustained an emotional link with the American people" and chose to escalate a war that "forced his abdication as president."

A broken link with the public, and a war in Afghanistan he neither embraces and sells to his party nor abandons—this is a time of puzzlement for President Obama. His fall from political grace has been as swift as his rise a handful of years ago. He had been hot political property in 2006 and, of course, in 2008. But now he will campaign for his party's 2010 candidates from afar, holding fund raisers but not hitting the campaign trail in most of the contested races. Those mass rallies of Obama frenzy are surely of the past.

The vaunted Obama economic stimulus, at $862 billion, has failed. The "progressives" want to double down, and were they to have their way, would have pushed for a bigger stimulus still. But the American people are in open rebellion against an economic strategy of public debt, higher taxes and unending deficits. We're not all Keynesians, it turns out. The panic that propelled Mr. Obama to the presidency has waned. There is deep concern, to be sure. But the Obama strategy has lost the consent of the governed.

Mr. Obama could protest that his swift and sudden fall from grace is no fault of his. He had been a blank slate, and the devotees had projected onto him their hopes and dreams. His victory had not been the triumph of policies he had enunciated in great detail. He had never run anything in his entire life. He had a scant public record, but oddly this worked to his advantage. If he was going to begin the world anew, it was better that he knew little about the machinery of government.

He pronounced on the American condition with stark, unalloyed confidence. He had little if any regard for precedents. He could be forgiven the thought that America's faith in economic freedom had given way and that he had the popular writ to move the nation toward a super-regulated command economy. An "economic emergency" was upon us, and this would be the New New Deal.

There was no hesitation in the monumental changes Mr. Obama had in mind. The logic was Jacobin, the authority deriving from a perceived mandate to recast time-honored practices. It was veritably rule by emergency decrees. If public opinion displayed no enthusiasm for the overhaul of the nation's health-care system, the administration would push on. The public would adjust in due time.

The nation may be ill at ease with an immigration reform bill that would provide some 12 million illegal immigrants a path toward citizenship, but the administration would still insist on the primacy of its own judgment. It would take Arizona to court, even though the public let it be known that it understood Arizona's immigration law as an expression of that state's frustration with the federal government's abdication of its responsibility over border security.

It was clear as daylight that there was a built-in contradiction between opening the citizenship rolls to a vast flood of new petitioners and a political economy of redistribution favored by the Obama administration. The choice was stark: You could either "spread the wealth around" or open the gates for legalizing millions of immigrants of lower skills. You could not do both.

It was canonical to this administration and its functionaries that they were handed a broken nation, that it was theirs to repair, that it was theirs to tax and reshape to their preferences. Yet there was, in 1980, after another landmark election, a leader who had stepped forth in a time of "malaise" at home and weakness abroad: Ronald Reagan. His program was different from Mr. Obama's. His faith in the country was boundless. What he sought was to restore the nation's faith in itself, in its political and economic vitality.

Big as Reagan's mandate was, in two elections, the man was never bigger than his county. There was never narcissism or a bloated sense of personal destiny in him. He gloried in the country, and drew sustenance from its heroic deeds and its capacity for recovery. No political class rode with him to power anxious to lay its hands on the nation's treasure, eager to supplant the forces of the market with its own economic preferences.

To be sure, Reagan faltered midway through his second term—the arms-for-hostages trade, the Iran-Contra affair, nearly wrecked his presidency. But he recovered, the nation rallied around him and carried him across the finish line, his bond with the electorate deep and true. He had two years left of his stewardship, and his political recovery was so miraculous that he, and his first mate, Secretary of State George P. Shultz, would seal the nation's victory in the Cold War.

There is little evidence that the Obama presidency could yet find new vindication, another lease on life. Mr. Obama will mark time, but henceforth he will not define the national agenda. He will not be the repository of its hopes and sentiments. The ambition that his would be a "transformational" presidency—he rightly described Reagan's stewardship in these terms—is for naught.

There remains the fact of his biography, a man's journey. Personality is doubtless an obstacle to his recovery. The detachment of Mr. Obama need not be dwelled upon at great length, so obvious it is now even to the pundits who had a "tingling sensation" when they beheld him during his astonishing run for office. Nor does Mr. Obama have the suppleness of Bill Clinton, who rose out of the debris of his first two years in the presidency, dusted himself off, walked away from his spouse's radical attempt to remake the country's health-delivery system, and moved to the political center.

It is in the nature of charisma that it rises out of thin air, out of need and distress, and then dissipates when the magic fails. The country has had its fill with a scapegoating that knows no end from a president who had vowed to break with recriminations and partisanship. The magic of 2008 can't be recreated, and good riddance to it. Slowly, the nation has recovered its poise. There is a widespread sense of unstated embarrassment that a political majority, if only for a moment, fell for the promise of an untested redeemer—a belief alien to the temperament of this so practical and sober a nation.

Mr. Ajami is a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Reality and the American Left

By Steve McCann, The American Thinker

Europe, the birthplace of socialist/Marxist theory, is rapidly retreating from this failed ideology -- and has been for some time. There is now an open discussion among the most die-hard of Leftist ideologues conceding the fact that a political or economic system which guarantees prosperity to that country's citizens, and operates a massive central government model, cannot work in the modern age of global economy and communication.

In the United States, however, the Left, including those in the White House, are determined to go where others have failed.

The 20% of the population who consider themselves Liberal or Progressive have succeeded in dominating not only government, but most of our institutions. It is this domination that has led the United States to the brink of bankruptcy and societal upheaval. Yet as a group, they are oblivious to the damage they are causing to a country which has given them so much and asked for so little in return.

The current manifestation of the American Left was incubated in a petri dish of overwhelming prosperity and freedom from any significant national hardship. They were free to sit about coffee houses and faculty lounges engaging in games of one-upmanship, trying to impress each other with their mental acumen and unquestioned intellect.

That environment inevitably fostered a sense of superiority for the self-anointed and disdain for those masses who did not possess, in the ruling class's opinion, such a high degree of intelligence and education and were stuck in the mundane and archaic belief in the God-given rights of man. 

It thus became a natural progression to turn to those social and economic philosophies that emphasize the power of the state over the individual, as only those doctrines empower a ruling class with the ability to permanently dominate a society. There was no doubt in the minds of the true believers of the Left that they were preordained to rule.

Whether they are called Socialism, Marxism, Communism, or Fascism, all totalitarian philosophies have in common the guise of wealth redistribution -- theoretically resulting in a classless society wherein all are treated fairly. Yet all require a permanent class of those who are more equal and must enforce equality on the rest of society.

However, for any of these philosophies to succeed, it must have an economic underpinning that can provide the foundation for massive social spending. The Soviet Union, as early as the 1920s and '30s, proved that complete state control of the means of production iss a colossal failure, as it could not produce sufficient wealth to support the population.

Therefore, only the capitalist economic system, which is anathema to a powerful central government and its attendant oligarchy, can produce sufficient wealth to underwrite a social safety net for the general public and continue to expand the standard of living for all. Capitalism (which reinforces the superiority of the individual) and authoritarianism, of which the American Left is so enamored, cannot coexist.

The most dominant characteristic of the human race is to survive and prosper. Thus, the liberty so necessary for prosperity is ingrained in our souls. In the modern era, the tension between those who wish to dominate and those who desire freedom has resulted in unfathomable death and destruction.

The 20th century was the bloodiest in the history of mankind. It was so because totalitarian philosophies were imposed by or sustained with the barrel of a rifle. Beginning in 1917 with the Russian Revolution through the civil war in the Congo in 2000, over 179,000,000 people were killed, and another perhaps 200,000,000 wounded and displaced. This figure of 379,000,000 exceeds the total population of the earth as late as the year 1400 AD and is greater than the current combined populations of the United States and Canada.

The American Left appears to believe that they, due to their intellectual superiority, can succeed where others have failed on such a devastating basis. Only they can turn human nature on its head and force the most advanced society on earth to buckle under to egalitarian doctrine as administered by them.

The Left in the United States are fools. They know nothing of living in a society that is the product of what they espouse. They cannot fathom the prospect of not having a tomorrow to look forward to while others strive to live through another day. They dismiss the untold millions who suffered under various collective dogmas as nameless and cold statistics. These people, too, had hopes and dreams -- however, theirs were brutally dashed on the rocks by ego-driven rulers and oligarchies justified by the pursuit of a classless and just society.

Those on the Left are not intellectually superior to the vast majority of the citizens of this country; rather, they are nothing but unthinking followers looking to be a part of the current ruling class -- thus susceptible to flattery and a sense of their own importance.

Despite their best efforts to transform the United States, they will not succeed. Over the past fifty years, while the Left was busy infiltrating the education and media establishments, as well as government bureaucracies, the people, thanks to unparalleled prosperity, slept. Yet deep within the unique American character beats the heart of a proud and independent people who will never accede to a so-called Progressive ruling class wreaking havoc upon so blessed a nation.

The Left fail to understand that the foundation of liberty and freedom will not be eroded by their self-aggrandizing actions. The damage the American Left have caused to the future prospects of this country is overwhelming, but thanks to their ascendancy to power, the people have awakened, and revolution, albeit peaceful, is in the air.

It is time that that those who call themselves Liberal or Progressive also awaken and thank the God they so adamantly are trying to eliminate from the public square for allowing each of them to be born in a country that has enabled them to prosper and espouse such devastating political and economic views. Perhaps time and reason will cause many to reconsider the folly of blindly following those who will not learn from the past and present.

Learning the Rules of an Unengaged President

By Mark Steyn

What do Gen. McChrystal and British Petroleum have in common? Aside from the fact that they're both Democratic Party supporters.

Or they were. Stanley McChrystal is a liberal who voted for Obama and banned Fox News from his HQ TV. Which may at least partly explain how he became the first U.S. general to be lost in combat while giving an interview to Rolling Stone: They'll be studying that one in war colleges around the world for decades. The management of BP were unable to vote for Obama, being, as we now know, the most sinister duplicitous bunch of shifty Brits to pitch up offshore since the War of 1812. But, in their "Beyond Petroleum" marketing and beyond, they signed on to every modish nostrum of the eco-Left. Their recently retired chairman, Lord Browne, was one of the most prominent promoters of cap-and-trade. BP was the Democrats' favorite oil company. They were to Obama what Total Fina Elf was to Saddam.

But what do McChrystal's and BP's defenestration tell us about the president of the United States? Barack Obama is a thin-skinned man and, according to Britain's Daily Telegraph, White House aides indicated that what angered the president most about the Rolling Stone piece was "a McChrystal aide saying that McChrystal had thought that Obama was not engaged when they first met last year." If finding Obama "not engaged" is now a firing offense, who among us is safe?

Only the other day, Florida Sen. George Lemieux attempted to rouse the president to jump-start America's overpaid, overmanned and oversleeping federal bureaucracy and get it to do something on the oil debacle. There are 2,000 oil skimmers in the United States: Weeks after the spill, only 20 of them are off the coast of Florida. Seventeen friendly nations with great expertise in the field have offered their own skimmers; the Dutch volunteered their "super-skimmers": Obama turned them all down. Raising the problem, Sen. Lemieux found the president unengaged, and uninformed. "He doesn't seem to know the situation about foreign skimmers and domestic skimmers," reported the senator.

He doesn't seem to know, and he doesn't seem to care that he doesn't know, and he doesn't seem to care that he doesn't care. "It can seem that at the heart of Barack Obama's foreign policy is no heart at all," wrote Richard Cohen in The Washington Post last week. "For instance, it's not clear that Obama is appalled by China's appalling human-rights record. He seems hardly stirred about continued repression in Russia.

The president seems to stand foursquare for nothing much.

"This, of course, is the Obama enigma: Who is this guy? What are his core beliefs?"

Gee, if only your newspaper had thought to ask those fascinating questions oh, say, a month before the Iowa caucuses.

And even today Cohen is still giving President Whoisthisguy a pass.

After all, whatever he feels about "China's appalling human-rights record" or "continued repression in Russia," Obama is not directly responsible for it. Whereas the U.S. and allied deaths in Afghanistan are happening on his watch – and the border villagers killed by unmanned drones are being killed at his behest. Cohen calls the president "above all, a pragmatist," but with the best will in the world you can't stretch the definition of "pragmatism" to mean "lack of interest."

"The ugly truth," wrote Thomas Friedman in The New York Times, "is that no one in the Obama White House wanted this Afghan surge. The only reason they proceeded was because no one knew how to get out of it."

Well, that's certainly ugly, but is it the truth? Afghanistan, you'll recall, was supposed to be the Democrats' war, the one they allegedly supported, the one the neocons' Iraq adventure was an unnecessary distraction from. Granted the Dems' usual shell game – to avoid looking soft on national security, it helps to be in favor of some war other than the one you're opposing – Candidate Obama was an especially ripe promoter. In one of the livelier moments of his campaign, he chugged down half a bottle of Geopolitical Viagra and claimed he was hot for invading Pakistan.

Then he found himself in the Oval Office, and the dime-store opportunism was no longer helpful. But, as Friedman puts it, "no one knew how to get out of it." The "pragmatist" settled for "nuance": He announced a semisurge plus a date for withdrawal of troops to begin. It's not "victory," it's not "defeat," but rather a more sophisticated mélange of these two outmoded absolutes: If you need a word, "quagmire" would seem to cover it.

Hamid Karzai, the Taliban and the Pakistanis, on the one hand, and Britain and the other American allies heading for the check-out, on the other, all seem to have grasped the essentials of the message, even if Friedman and the other media Obammyboppers never quite did. Karzai is now talking to Islamabad about an accommodation that would see the most viscerally anti-American elements of the Taliban back in Kabul as part of a power-sharing regime. At the height of the shrillest shrieking about the Iraqi "quagmire," was there ever any talk of hard-core Saddamite Baathists returning to government in Baghdad?

To return to Cohen's question: "Who is this guy? What are his core beliefs?" Well, he's a guy who was wafted ever upward – from the Harvard Law Review to state legislator to United States senator – without ever lingering long enough to accomplish anything. "Who is this guy?" Well, when a guy becomes a credible presidential candidate by his mid-40s with no accomplishments other than a couple of memoirs, he evidently has an extraordinary talent for self-promotion, if nothing else. "What are his core beliefs?" It would seem likely that his core belief is in himself. It's the "nothing else" that the likes of Cohen are belatedly noticing.

Wasn't he kind of unengaged by the health care debate? That's why, for all his speeches, he could never quite articulate a rationale for it. In the end, he was happy to leave it to the Democratic Congress and, when his powers of persuasion failed, let them ram it down the throats of the American people through sheer parliamentary muscle.

Likewise, on Afghanistan, his attitude seems to be "I don't want to hear about it." Unmanned drones take care of a lot of that, for a while. So do his courtiers in the media: Did all those hopeychangers realize that Obama's war would be run by Bush's defense secretary and Bush's general?

Hey, never mind: the Moveon.org folks have quietly removed their celebrated "General Betray-us" ad from their website. Cindy Sheehan, the supposed conscience of the nation when she was railing against Bush from the front pages, is an irrelevant kook unworthy of coverage when she protests Obama. Why, a cynic might almost think the "anti-war" movement was really an anti-Bush movement, and that they really don't care about dead foreigners after all. Plus ça change you can believe in, plus c'est la même chose.

Except in one respect. There is a big hole where our strategy should be.

It's hard to fight a war without war aims, and, in the end, they can only come from the top. It took the oil spill to alert Americans to the unengaged president. From Moscow to Tehran to the caves of Waziristan, our enemies got the message a lot earlier – and long ago figured out the rules of unengagement.

Obama is Too Friendly with Tyrants

By Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Washington Post

When a billboard appeared outside a small Minnesota town early this year showing a picture of George W. Bush and the words "Miss me yet?" the irony was not lost on many in the Arab world. Most Americans may not miss Bush, but a growing number of people in the Middle East do. Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan remain unpopular in the region, but his ardent support for democracy was heartening to Arabs living under stalled autocracies. Reform activists in Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait and elsewhere felt empowered to press for greater freedoms during the Bush years. Unfortunately, Bush's strong support for democracy contrasts sharply with President Obama's retreat on this critical issue.

To be sure, the methods through which Bush pursued his policies left much to be desired, but his persistent rhetoric and efforts produced results. From 2005 to 2006, 11 contested elections took place in the Middle East: in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon, Kuwait, Jordan, Yemen, Egypt and Mauritania. These elections were not perfect, but the advances sparked unprecedented sociopolitical dynamism and unleashed tremendous pent-up desire for democratic choice. Photos of jubilant Iraqi women proudly displaying the indelible ink on their fingers after voting were followed by images of Egyptian opposition voters using ladders to enter polling stations when regime officials tried to block the doorways.

Peaceful opposition groups proliferated in Egypt during the Bush years: Youth for Change, Artists for Change, Egypt's Independent Judges and, perhaps the most well-known, Kefaya. That Iraq has held two genuinely contested and fair multiparty elections, on schedule, indicates that democracy is indeed taking root again there after 60 years of the most oppressive dictatorial rule.

To be fair, Bush did back away from his support for Arab reform in his second term. But the image of his support stuck. Why has Obama distanced himself from his predecessor's support for democracy promotion? One unsurprising outcome is that the regime in Egypt has reverted to wholesale imprisonment and harassment of political dissidents.

Despite his promises of change when speaking in Cairo last June, Obama has retreated to Cold War policies of favoring stability and even support for "friendly tyrants." Far from establishing an imaginative policy of tying the substantial U.S. foreign aid to the region to political reform, the Obama administration has given a free pass to Egypt's ailing 82-year-old autocrat, Hosni Mubarak. Last month when Mubarak's regime extended the "emergency law" under which it has ruled for 29 years, prohibiting even small political rallies and sending civilians to military courts, Washington barely responded.

Apparently the Obama administration thinks that strengthening ties with Mubarak will encourage Egypt to become more proactive in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But Mubarak has not advanced Israeli-Palestinian peace beyond what his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, accomplished in the 1970s, and the Egyptian leader has tightened his crackdown on Egypt's brave young pro-democracy bloggers. Egypt is scheduled to hold two important elections over the next 18 months, votes that could well shape the future of democracy in the Middle East's largest country and the region itself. What tone does President Obama want to see established in this volatile neighborhood?

Democracy and human rights advocates in the Middle East listened with great anticipation to Obama's speech in Cairo. Today, Egyptians are not just disappointed but stunned by what appears to be outright promotion of autocracy in their country. What is needed now is a loud and clear message from the United States and the global community of democracies that the Egyptian people deserve free, fair and transparent elections. Congress is considering a resolution to that effect for Uganda. Such a resolution for Egypt is critical given the immense U.S. support for Egypt. Just as we hope for a clear U.S. signal on democracy promotion, we must hope that the Obama administration will cease its coddling of dictators.

The writer, an Egyptian sociologist and democracy activist living in exile, is a distinguished visiting professor at Drew University in Madison, N.J.

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