Saturday, May 28, 2011

The US:Arab Spring as Britain:The US Civil War

The analogy for American and British actions 150 years apart is that in both cases, the great power refrained from doing evil actions that would significantly harm the good side in each cause, and that in both cases the great power got little credit for its restraint.

While Republican leaders are now claiming to support the Arab Spring, it wasn't so clear a few months back, and Obama had other pressures to back Mubarak that he ignored. The tepid level of approval or even interest in the Arab world to the US response suggests the Arab people are unimpressed, however.

Wiki has a good article on Britain and the US Civil War - Obama actually comes off a little better than my analogy suggests, because Britain did do some negative things (but could've done much worse), while the US has done some positive things in Egypt and Libya while doing darn little in Bahrain.

I'm guessing the lack of credit in both cases is because "do no evil" is assumed in most people's moral analysis. Given how international relations are traditionally conducted, it may deserve more applause than it gets.

The other obvious problem for the US in the Arab world is our support for Israel, especially in relation to the West Bank/Gaza/Jerusalem issue. I think foreigners fail to understand how little room for maneuver exists in US national politics on this issue. Obama is getting blowback in Democratic circles for being slightly more explicit on 1967 borders as an initial basis for negotiations. Netanyahu is playing a double game of indefinite postponement/opposition to a Palestinian state, or using Israeli occupation as the intial basis and make the Palestinians trade away West Bank land and East Jerusalem in return for getting back some of their land. In American politics from the far right Republicans to many Democrats, that's just fine. Unfortunately, Obama is pushing about as hard as he can.

UPDATE: forgot to add it's a lucky thing we don't have the Commies with us anymore, or the US reaction to Arab Spring could've been a lot worse.


William M. Connolley said...

The US civil war was our big mistake. We should have done what the US has done elsewhere: supported the weaker side, and played it into a stalemate. You'd still be two armed camps and we'd still be the world superpower :-)

Brian said...

You blew it, William! Of course, WW 1 and 2 may not have come off so fetchingly in that case.

William M. Connolley said...

They would never have happened, cos we would have been too dominant. Having now rad the wiki article you cite, I can see why we didn't do it: that damn short-termism again.

John said...

Columbia Univ. Prof. Rashid Khalidi writes that "Obama enables Israel's worst instincts," reinforcing every obstacle to peace that Israel has created. Khalidi is very knowledgeable. Naturally, his opinion is rarely sought by the mainstream media. On the other hand, NYTimes pundit Thomas Friedman, who was wrong from the beginning about the Iraq war and everything else, is widely cited in the print and electronic media. Friedman cannot understand Arabic, so his authoritative pronouncements are typically inside-the-beltway nonsense.

John said...

I'll focus on this sentence: "The tepid level of approval or even interest in the Arab world to the US response suggests the Arab people are unimpressed, however."

To expect that the "Arab world" needs and, therefore, awaits our aid to achieve freedom is the general problem Americans apparently are neither able to recognize and nor, therefore, resolve.

The "Arab world" does not hate us for our freedoms as Mr Bush so purposefully misinformed us. The "Arab world" hates the actions we have taken, surely in the NAME of freedom, but, in reality, bringing the exact opposite result.

The "Arab world" is interested in our REMOVING OUR LITERAL AND FIGURATIVE JACKBOOTS (eg Mubarak) FROM THEIR NECKS. When that ever happens, they can handle their own freedom, all by themselves, thank you very much.

John Puma

Brian said...

First John: I agree that Friedman's work on Middle East hasn't been helpful. But I also think this issue corresponds somewhat to the controversy over messy cap-and-trade legislation versus people's idealized version of a carbon tax. What realistically was Obama supposed to do? The only additional thing he could've done is been slightly less opposed to Palestinian recognition in the UN. Even without that though we've seen the crudstorm from the slight advances Obama did make (that Khalidi ignores).

John P - granted the US did a lot to keep Mubarak in power over the years, but wikileaks showed the US was trying somewhat to get him to transition to democracy. More to the point, when the time came, Obama leaned hard on the Egyptian military to support the people.

And in Libya, the outside intervention seems to be crucial assistance for the revolution.

Fancy Rat said...

Interesting referenced article on Obama and Israel.

"1967 borders as an initial basis for negotiations" is a bit of fetish phrase. They mean pre-1967 borders (pre the June 1967 six day war that was triggered by Arab states sending the peace monitors away so they could try another round of attacks on Israel). That means 1948 ceasefire lines - which left seriously vulnerable enclaves.

What's so marvellous about the 1948 ceasefire ? How about someone suggesting negotiating from the basis of the Nov 1973 ceasefire - with large areas of Egypt west of the Suez occupied, and Israeli troops on the outskirts of Damascus? Israel has already traded land for peace in the Golan Heights, as well as returning the Sinai to Egypt.

Yes there needs to be more land for peace, but the 1948 ceasefire line is not a panacea - it's not much more than the high water mark of the three Arab attempts to conquer Israel. Why is the land conquered by each side during 1948 sacrosanct while land conquered in 1967 or 1973 is considered unreasonable conquest? Pre-1967 borders aren't much more reasonable than demanding the negotiations be on the basis of the original 1948 partition plan.

On the other hand, effectively giving Netanyahu unconditional support seems pretty unwise, unless it's intended to block some of the Palestinian options.