Times they’re a changin’

Say what you will about the 43rd President of the United States, but when he says he means action, he means action. He meant to forge “a new Middle East”, and by God, changes are in the offing.
We have more or less free and fair Palestinian elections (albeit because of the death of Arafat, but surprisingly orderly nonetheless). We have an assassination in Lebanon where the suspect list seems to be coming down to one particular government based in Damascus, which in turn resulted in the fall of the Syrian backed government and massive street protests whichjust may lead to Syrian withdrawal from its neighbor (and, naturally, you know its ok to bash Beshir [Assad, Syria’s leader] when both Condi Rice and Hillary Clinton do it the same day… we proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with France…)
Say what you will about the Iraqi elections (and I will!), but they were certainly wildly new to a sovereign Arab country (albeit an occupied one): more or less “open”, secret ballot elections, albeit for secret lists of candidates with a crucial 20% of the country ineligible to vote because of our inability to secure them. But it was an election nonetheless, and those regions that were secure enough to vote had a very high turnout, and this will make it damned hard for us to argue with the incoming Iraqi government if it elects to do things we ultimately don’t like.
And now… “the prize”, at least in terms of number of Arabs, by far the largest country in the Arab world people-wise, Egypt, seems to be undergoing some kind of transformations. President Mubarak stunned the world by suggesting he would implement democratic reforms such as allowing competition for his own job, apparently partially the result of American pressure, though as this LaLaTimes piece notes, Egyptians were watching television coverage of Iraqi elections, Palestinian elections, Lebanese street protests, illegitimate elections being overturned in Georgia and Ukraine (though not in Florida or Ohio… just had to throw that in!), and Mubarak is starting to see the handwriting on the wall…
One thing not widely reported here is that anti-Mubarak protests have been growing of late; this piece in Cairo’s Al-Ahram notes that an anti-Mubarak protest by the group “Enough” had over 500 protestors on hand– huge by the standards of authoritarian Egypt, where demonstrations are usually stage managed by the sitting government, rather than expressions of outrage against it. Net result of all this: Egypt may finally start paying dividends on those billions of dollars we pump into it each year, with democratic reforms.
Well, it would be a mistake not to give George W. Bush some credit for this. He took a huge chance (albeit, not playing with his own money… like he ever has in his whole life… he counts Daddy’s friends’ money as his own,, of course). Bush jumped into the hornet’s nest of the Middle East. And the jury is still out. Most of the action influencing Mubarak may involve affairs of which U.S.A. responsibility is between tangential or non-existent (pretty much everywhere save Iraq). But… we have opened up the can of whoop-ass in a region that needs to embrace the 20th century… let alone the 21st…
Here’s the thing: as John Emerson a/k/a Zizka observes in what might or might not be his blogging swan-song, the Republicans govern like thugs, but thugs with vision. The Democrats, by contrast, are boring academic pragmatists. Well, the Middle East is certainly the pinnacle of thuggish governance… with vision…
Maybe this will all work out. We have always been a lucky country… so Bush’s view is “press, press, press” (see above re: not playing with his own money). Unlike St. Ronny, who contrary to legend, did not singlehandedly bring down the Soviet Union (think of the Cold War as a striking a boulder with a sledge hammer for 35 years; when it breaks apart on the 1,432nd hammer blow, is it really fair to give all credit to the guy holding the hammer on 1,432, and ignore steadfast efforts of Ike, JFK, LBJ, Tricky Dick, Ford and Carter?), this Middle East thing really is Bush’s baby.
Do I want it to blow up in his face? I have to be honest here: I don’t like George W. Bush– I think he takes too many chances with other people’s lives and money for his own benefit. I think he’s an awful President. I don’t think he deserves the office. In fact, I don’t think he deserves much of anything except a war crimes trial. On the other hand, I live in the City that was attacked on 9-11, and I remember 9-11 vividly from having worked a block from Ground Zero (as I do currently). Business as usual in the Middle East probably means that regions internecine problems caused by its endless arrays of brutal dictatorships would likely spill over to violence here again… and maybe, as insane (or misguided, or whatever) as I may think Bush’s Middle East policies are, they may just work out. Somehow. And I admit, btw, that I don’t see many scenarios where they will work out well… but they might… (BTW, I’m far more certain that Bush’s handling of the economy will lead to disaster, than I am about his handling of the Middle East… I suspect that most Americans had exactly the same feeling, albeit drawing the baselines in different places, when voting last November.)
It’s one of those things. Think about this in terms of… the drunk driver (I think a perfectly apt analogy to our President– a man of convictions… for drunk driving, that is)… it’ll be a wild ride, and you may well (somehow) get home safely. But… is that really how you want to bet your life? And is that reallywho you want driving your children?