The Talking Dog

March 2, 2005, 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?


When Libya claimed it was going to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, I knew Bush was going to get credit for that too. The fact of the matter is that Libya began its policy of joining the global community (again) before Bush's tenure (where credit is due to Gadhafi's son). The same holds true for the rest of the region in that history already is taking its course. Maybe the Bush foreign policy is trying to change this course or take advantage of it.

Posted by union at March 3, 2005 3:20 AM

Hitler built the autobahns and Mussolini got the trains to run on time. Did that make them good guys? "W" will take credit for anything good that happens and pass the blame off on others for all the bad. Typical Corp. manager in this era.

Posted by glennk at March 3, 2005 8:46 AM

Taking credit for good stuff (and blaming others for bad stuff) is, after all, what politicans do. (Churchmen do it too: God only does the good stuff; despite His purported omnipotence, Satan or man's free will or whatever gets blamed for the bad stuff.)

Hey, Bill Clinton, for example, took an awful lot of credit for an awful lot of good stuff that more or less just devolved upon him by sheer luck. I look at Bill Clinton and note that the minimum wage was $4.75 when he took office in 1993, and its $5.15 now, in 2005... despite alleged "8 years of peace and prosperity", massive productivity gains and 12 years worth of rising living expenses in our economy.

My point is that the percentages are that if these Arab countries start implementing anything resembling "democracy", like here, the hardest line religious extremists are likely to start taking power, because they have the base that will hold together.

Maybe the Bushmen like the idea of "God-fearing" governments replacing corrupt secular dictators. That's pretty much what we've set in motion in Iraq, and what may well happen in Lebanon and Egypt.

Again-- just stepping back and thinking about 9-11, however, one wonders whether installing hardline Islamist theocracies in the Middle East is really advancing American interests.

Posted by the talking dog at March 3, 2005 9:45 AM

What I see is a Bush admin that was less involved in Israel/Palestine or in Lebanon or in North Africa than any in recent history, except to jump in and claim credit when local events (death of Arafat; murder of Lebanese ex-Pres.; Libya's voluntary disarmament) gave opportunity. Of course Bush said the right things when those events occurred (as I believe any President of whatever political philosophy would have done), but he didn't have much to do with creating the opportunity. I think it is precisely like Saint Ronald claiming credit for the breakup of the Soviet Union--these changes are the culmination of decades of effort. Was invading Iraq the precipitating factor?--I doubt it. Is there likely to be some very big unpleasantness to come? Yes, and not just in Iraq.

What I find interesting is Bush's eagerness to claim credit--will he also claim credit for the creation of severely repressive theocracies in Iraq, Egypt and Saudi Arabia (which also will not be immune from the "democratization" efforts of its own people); for their likely foreign policy objectives toward Israel; and their future use of oil policy against the U.S.? There are replacement customers for the oil now--our owners in China and our chief competitors in India--so there is no real need for a democratically elected theocracy in Saudi Arabia to trade at all with the demon U.S.

Posted by mamayo at March 3, 2005 5:19 PM

Glad to have stumbled upon your site... very thought-provoking. And it helps that I agree with you.

Posted by Isaac B2 at March 4, 2005 1:00 AM

[[anything except a war crimes trial]]

What the f--k is wrong with you. He leads us against Bin Laden, and then invades a dictator who commits genocide against the Kurds and he should be on trial!!!. You go so extreme, that you lose credibility. You can be against W, but these extreme comments make you look like an crazy person.

Posted by sean archer at March 4, 2005 9:11 PM

Thank you President Bush for your strong response to terror.
Vengeance is Mine sayeth the Lord.

Posted by Victims of 9-11 at March 4, 2005 9:14 PM

"I feel good" sayeth President Bush, slayer of tens of thousands of innocents.

Posted by Social Scientist at March 5, 2005 12:12 AM