Aug 17

Excerpts from a realistic piece at STRATFOR:

Re-Examining the Arab Spring

…Among Europeans and within the U.S. State Department and the Obama administration is an ideology of human rights — the idea that one of the major commitments of Western countries should be supporting the creation of regimes resembling their own. This assumes all the things that we have discussed: that there is powerful discontent in oppressive states, that the discontent is powerful enough to overthrow regimes, and that what follows would be the sort of regime that the West would be able to work with.

The issue isn’t whether human rights are important but whether supporting unrest in repressive states automatically strengthens human rights. An important example was Iran in 1979, when opposition to the oppression of the shah’s government was perceived as a movement toward liberal democracy. What followed might have been democratic but it was hardly liberal. Indeed, many of the myths of the Arab Spring had their roots both in the 1979 Iranian Revolution and later in Iran’s 2009 Green Movement, when a narrow uprising readily crushed by the regime was widely viewed as massive opposition and widespread support for liberalization.

The world is more complicated and more varied than that. As we saw in the Arab Spring, oppressive regimes are not always faced with massed risings, and unrest does not necessarily mean mass support. Nor are the alternatives necessarily more palatable than what went before or the displeasure of the West nearly as fearsome as Westerners like to think. Libya is a case study on the consequences of starting a war with insufficient force. Syria makes a strong case on the limits of soft power. Egypt and Tunisia represent a textbook lesson on the importance of not deluding yourself.

The pursuit of human rights requires ruthless clarity as to whom you are supporting and what their chances are. It is important to remember that it is not Western supporters of human rights who suffer the consequences of failed risings, civil wars or revolutionary regimes that are committed to causes other than liberal democracy…

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t people in the Arab world who want liberal democracy. It simply means that they are not powerful enough to topple regimes or maintain control of new regimes even if they did succeed. The Arab Spring is, above all, a primer on wishful thinking in the face of the real world.

Via Eric Morse. Try to find some “ruthless clarity” in Canada. Earlier:

Libyan Mirage, Syrian Reality

Mark Collins is a prolific Ottawa blogger

Jun 30

The estimable Anne Applebaum brings us up to rather depressing date:

In Tunisia and Egypt, still waiting on real change

…Both Tunisia and Egypt now boast several dozen political parties. They hold meetings, form coalitions and break up on an almost daily basis.

This is a profound change. It is also the only change. Here is the strange thing about post-revolutionary Tunisia: Almost everything is still the same. The caretaker government, charged with running the country until elections can be held, contains elder statesmen who have been around for decades. The police are less omnipresent, but they are still there…

Egypt is no different. In Cairo, for the first time in decades, people can talk, argue and disagree vehemently. But the military government still runs the country. Many of the same people still run the same ministries as they did under the old regime. One of the top researchers at the think tank Freedom House told me that by their reckoning, most Egyptian institutions were no more democratic or open now than they were six months ago…

…the longer it takes for real change — new leaders, a new economic order — to occur, the greater the chance of disappointment, discontent and even counterrevolution: Nobody ever joins a street uprising to resume business as usual. On Tuesday night, some 2,000 people were already back in Tahrir Square in Cairo, battling with the police, calling for more radical change…

…Talk, debate, argument, conversation: Now that they have those things, Egyptians and Tunisians won’t easily give them away. But they must lead somewhere, soon, or many will begin to question where they are leading.

Mark Collins is a prolific Ottawa blogger

May 20

It really is terribly difficult to make principle and raison d’état move smoothly hand in hand.  Why do Western leaders almost always try to square an unsquareable dance?  President Obama, with video:

Remarks by the President on the Middle East and North Africa

…the events of the past six months show us that strategies of repression and strategies of diversion will not work anymore.  Satellite television and the Internet provide a window into the wider world -– a world of astonishing progress in places like India and Indonesia and Brazil.  Cell phones and social networks allow young people to connect and organize like never before.  And so a new generation has emerged.  And their voices tell us that change cannot be denied…

…we must acknowledge that a strategy based solely upon the narrow pursuit of these interests will not fill an empty stomach or allow someone to speak their mind.  Moreover, failure to speak to the broader aspirations of ordinary people will only feed the suspicion that has festered for years that the United States pursues our interests at their expense…

… I believe now -– that we have a stake not just in the stability of nations, but in the self-determination of individuals.  The status quo is not sustainable.  Societies held together by fear and repression may offer the illusion of stability for a time, but they are built upon fault lines that will eventually tear asunder…

The United States supports a set of universal rights.  And these rights include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders  -– whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran [Riyadh? Beijing?]…

…it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy…

…we have insisted both publicly and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens, and we will — and such steps will not make legitimate calls for reform go away.  The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail…

…Even as we acknowledge that each country is different, we need to speak honestly about the principles that we believe in, with friend and foe alike.  Our message is simple:  If you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States.  We must also build on our efforts to broaden our engagement beyond elites, so that we reach the people who will shape the future -– particularly young people…

…Through our efforts we must support those basic rights to speak your mind and access information.  We will support open access to the Internet, and the right of journalists to be heard -– whether it’s a big news organization or a lone blogger.  In the 21st century, information is power, the truth cannot be hidden, and the legitimacy of governments will ultimately depend on active and informed citizens…

…What we will oppose is an attempt by any group to restrict the rights of others, and to hold power through coercion and not consent…

But not in the whole region, much less the whole world?  Fine words…And unlike Gadhafi it appears there is a lifeline for Assad:

…President Assad now has a choice:  He can lead that transition, or get out of the way…


Tunisia, Egypt, Libya - Syria?

Idealism and Realpolitik

As for China (and India):

Obama’s Priorities: Afghanistan, Asia, or Human Rights? Or, “Events, dear boy, events”

Mark Collins is a prolific Ottawa blogger

Jan 27

Say it ain’t so, Norman:

We’re okay with dictators – until they’re toppled


I see that Prime Minister Stephen Harper says that the deposed president of Tunisia and his regime are not welcome in Canada. A statement he made in that bastion of democracy, Morocco. Where earlier today he announced that Ottawa and Rabat would negotiate a free trade agreement.

Mr. Harper’s statement echoes the tough line taken yesterday by Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff, according to which Ben Ali’s relatives are “not welcome in Canada.” Which itself mimicked the tough talk the previous day by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. And is repeated today in editorials across the land.

I’ll tell you how.

Some members of the Ben-Ali family got here through the immigrant investment program. Which is a cheap price to pay for a family that reportedly had tonnes of gold to take with them as they fled Tunisia. Others got permanent resident status – nay Canadian citizenship – as a result of being born in Canada during a lightning visit to our country.

In light of these circumstances, perhaps it would be more honest for everyone to say that the Ben-Ali family is not wanted in Canada “any longer.” At a minimum, this might avoid having to answer embarrassing questions about why our leaders are comfortable about courting other dictators around the world at the same time as they’re in a froth about the Ben-Ali family.

More Canadian hypocrisy here, not related to dictators:

Corruption? What stinking corruption? And what stinking torture?

Then there is of course China, which almost everyone in Canada now maintains we must court with ardent effort.

Mark Collins is a prolific Ottawa Blogger