Egypt: How much has really changed?

GlobalPost has an eye-opening article regarding the state of post-revolution Egypt:

Has Egypt’s Revolution Become a Military Coup?

Military trials of Egyptian civilians persist and the military leadership has expanded and extended the 30-year-old, widely criticized Emergency Law once used by Mubarak to justify his authoritarian tactics.

Was it not one of the revolution’s central demands (as with the other Arab revolutions) that the Emergency Law be brought to an end? Perhaps the Obama Administration should attempt to salvage the remaining bits of its reputation in the Mideast (post-U.N. speech) by putting pressure on the Egyptian military to bring an end to this law.

The military said the sweeping powers granted in the law were necessary to prevent the type of chaos that erupted on Sept. 9, when a mob of hundreds of Egyptians stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo.

Ah, but of course. The usual suspects.

Future prospects look dim:

No one knows exactly how much of Egypt’s economy is controlled by the army, but most estimates place it in the “billions” of dollars range. The problem, said some analysts, is that the military likely wants to prevent the complete transition to civilian leadership to ensure its hold on these assets.

“The military will never allow a civilian president to have oversight of their budget,” Stacher said. “And the Mubarak-style tactics to control dissent on the streets is one way for the military to consolidate its rule.”

I recall hearing the chant, “The Army and the People are one”, during the Revolution. Yeah…

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Greatest Threat to America

What would you think if someone suggested normalizing relations with Cuba would be unwise because of an Iran-Cuba-Hezbollah Axis, where by the Cuban Missile Crisis would be repeated, only this time with Iranian arms placed there by a Lebanese “terrorist” organization? Well, you’d probably think they were more than a little off their rocker.

I give you… Michelle Bachmann:

I have to say, if her allegations were true, such a situation would definitely add an interesting twist to world diplomacy.

From the Middle East

I decided to separate out my coverage of events in the Middle East from the usual stuff I find on the internet and repost here in Amateur Diplomat. After all, the primary focus of this blog is supposed to be on America’s foreign affairs, and not random items of amusement, however interesting they may be. I actually haven’t been doing my job very well (ironically, I’m actually writing this at my professional job) but, what I mean, is that analysis of foreign affairs is not just the reposting of articles others have written, however brilliant or insightful they may be. I should really be providing some sort of coherent critique here.

First off, there’s been a lot of discussion in the national media regarding the Obama Administration’s response to the situations in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and now Libya. President Obama didn’t even mention Egypt in his State of the Union and three days after Mubarak was taken out of power. Obviously, the issue inside of the administration right now is attempting to reconcile the interests of the United States, especially when it comes to maintaining regional relationships regarding resources and defense, with our principles, which dictate that we support human rights, democracy, liberty, and the rule of law. Regardless of how this balancing act has played out recently, it occurred to me recently, that I honestly don’t think the Obama Administration, nor perhaps any institution that has a hand in U.S. foreign policy making, had contingency plans in place to answer the fundamental questions of “what do we do if…. regimes are toppled by popular unrest – and the Middle East is swept by a wave of democratic uprisings”. I think our foreign policy establishment was entirely unprepared to answer that question. It’s pretty clear that was the case given the sporadic and inconsistent response by the American government to each of the revolutions in the Middle East. It’s somewhat startling as well. Think about how much time and effort the Bush Administration devoted to its “Freedom Agenda” – two wars and billions of dollars later and where did we stand? Worse off than where we began. The Obama Administration began its tenure in office by initiating a 6-month review of the Afghan War. I mean, was there really no preparation done to answer the question of what the U.S. should do if revolution started of its own accord in the Middle East? It’s slightly mind-boggling, and makes me wonder if there was some sort of mis-guided perception that’s dominated the American perspective of world affairs that essentially causes us to view outside events through the prism of American/Western action – basically – that major events such as these don’t take place without some sort of catalyst on our part.

I don’t know.

Anyway, here is some of the latest and most interest coverage of events in the Middle East…
In Cradle of Libya’s Uprising, the Rebels Learn to Govern Themselves

On Thursday, the fruits of that effort were beginning to take a rough shape. A judge, still wearing his robes, wandered through traffic, ordering drivers to put on their seat belts. At another intersection, three young men helped an elderly police officer direct a traffic jam.

In Benghazi’s new order, the court building overlooking the Mediterranean has become both a seat of rebel power and the town hall.

U.S. Trying to Pick Winners in New Middle East

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was unable to reach the foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, Mr. Crowley said, citing a technical glitch.

That’s also my cat’s name.

The administration has urged Saudi Arabia not to impede King Hamad’s attempt to undertake reforms in Bahrain, an island connected to Saudi Arabia by a causeway and dependent on the Saudis for political and economic support.

I also wonder if that does not include military support as well. It’s not just the military support Saudi Arabia receives from the United States, in terms of weapons and other defensive equipment, but also the reliance of Bahrain’s ruling family on an internal security service composed primarily of foreigners. I recently heard a suggestion that perhaps Saudi was sending some of its notorious religious police into Bahrain, over the bridge connecting the two countries.

An incredible video from CNN’s only correspondent in Libya, Ben Wedeman…
Gawker: The Incredible First News Footage from Liberated Benghazi, Libya
Look at all those people hallucinating on Nescafe.

WSJ: Our Bargain With The New Gadhafi

Gadhafi’s vicious regime has left Libya far worse than he found it on the day of his coup in 1969. King Idriss was at least a unifying figure for a country that had not long been unified and had been independent only since 1951. Gadhafi has established no national institutions, not even allowing a fake parliament of the Mubarak or Ben Ali variety that could perhaps be turned into something real.

Nor is there an army such as in Egypt, with the prestige and unity to intervene, restore calm and (we all hope) set the country on a better path. Gadhafi, who took power in a military coup, was too clever to allow a well-organized army that might do the same to him. Many units are organized along tribal lines, which has kept Gadhafi safe but may be his undoing now. If the tribes are central to defeating him, the next government will have to balance them carefully, using Libya’s oil wealth to buy support and time to address its many crises.

Like Idi Amin and Emperor Bokassa, Gadhafi will soon join the pantheon of grotesque dictators who leave their countries in ruins. Given the last years—when quiet disapproval replaced forceful denunciation as U.S. policy—we can only hope that Libyans remember the decades when we were Gadhafi’s worst enemy.

Roger Cohen’s latest Op-Ed in the Times…
NYT: From Oklahoma to Tobruk

I could only think of the long journey traveled by the United States from its “original sin” of slavery, through the civil war and Jim Crow, on through the long civil rights campaign and the King assassination, to the once unthinkable thing: the election of an African American to the nation’s highest office.

It takes a long time — centuries — to establish that all men really are created equal; and that “certain unalienable rights” belong to all citizens rather than to all citizens except those of a certain color.

The Arab world has embarked on a very long road to enfranchisement. It will be tempestuous but the direction taken is irreversible.


 

The Middle East: An Update

I know… once again this blog has failed to keep up with the rather current events taking place in the Middle East… though I have been reading much about what is currently unfolding in Cairo, Yemen, and now Syria and Jordan. Poor Lebanon’s almost been squeezed out of the news. Nobody cares anymore about Hezbollah’s “coup”, if you will. The events in Cairo have greatly overshadowed the news coming out of the Middle East. Just a couple of quick notes before I get down to business here. First off, I don’t think anybody ever expected or thought that 2011 would be the year where such fundamental changes would take place in the Middle East. What we are witnessing is truly having a profound impact on the way in which Arab citizens in countries around the region interact with their leaders. For me, it was best put by an Egyptian street protester interviewed by CNN, he spoke in broken English and said to the camera, that what we are witnessing is a rebirth of the Arabic mind. And this is precisely what is happening. It is truly historic. And I am profoundly jealous and bitter that I am not there to witness it myself, though as I write this, events in Egypt have taken a sudden, violent turn. But still, it is funny to reflect how the last year I spent in Beirut was oddly peaceful and pretty much functioned under the existing status quo, which has now been completely upended. We are truly witnessing a historic change in the Middle East.

Here’s what I’ve found to be of some interest in tracking these events…

This is probably the most ironic image I’ve seen recently :

Courtesy The Daily Dish: Democracy in The Middle East – A Visual Argument

Here is a rather fascinating insight into the events in Cairo written by a Google Blogspot blogger by the name of The Bionic Arabist who writes the blog The Colorless Revolution.
I’ll repost the entry entitled The Anti-Lawrence here, in its entirety.

I wrote this late at night/early in the morning, when I had decided to go. I’m not sure it’s the most flattering portrait of my thought-processes, but it’s honest:

I’m not exactly living through a revolution so much as living next to one. Most of the foreigners I know in Cairo, except the journalists and would-be journalists, are having a similar experience. Ultimately, this is why I’m going to leave Cairo. I don’t think I’m in danger, but this isn’t my revolution, my family and friends are worrying, and I don’t really know what to do with myself here.

The thing that I don’t know how to explain over the phone is the mixture of boredom and excitement. In one sense, it’s really boring. I spend most of my time glued to al-Jazeera, or cooking to distract myself. Occasionally, I can hear gunfire coming from the Interior Ministry, a couple blocks away, but that’s as scary as it gets (pro-tip: when searching for an apartment, consider whether you want to live next to the most hated ministry in the country. Location, location, location). Needless to say, I’m not getting dissertation research done. Libraries aren’t open, and for some reason nobody wants to talk about houses…

But there’s another sense in which it’s really exciting. This feels vain, but it’s true. It’s intoxicating. All around me, people are coming together with remarkable discipline to bring down a regime whose combination of thuggishness and banality was making me depressed, to say nothing of the people it was actually hurting. It’s exciting. I feel like I’m in the realest place in the world.

But it’s not actually my revolution. I haven’t been protesting or covering it like a journalist, or doing anything else to bask in the reflected glory of Egypt’s uprising, to feel like I’m a part of it. It’s tempting to join in the protests, but it would feel to me like a case of Lawrence of Arabia syndrome. I’m a nerdy little scholar who often finds life back home boring. Planting myself in someone else’s protest to feel like I’m involved in Something would be, I don’t know how else to put it, deeply self-indulgent. It’s not my country, and if I don’t like the new or the old regime, I can leave; the stakes for me are not the same as for Egyptians here.

The Bionic Arabist raises a fair point here. Having spent a year in Beirut, I can definitely say that it is quite easy to get carried away with the ideas and passions running not only around one’s host country, but around the region. It’s easy to get caught up in them, and to want to espouse them, or participate in their formation and evolution in a society. But at the end of the day, its simply not the same for us. We have to put ourselves at a distance from those we come to love and care about there. As much as I hate to say it, we live different lives. We can always return home. But its simply not the same for them. They have nothing else but to cope with the reality they face in their own countries. Wherever the problems come from – the political, social, or economic situation. It’s not our problem to fix, its theirs. Though we cannot deny some culpability, perhaps, in the reality they currently face. But it is not up to us to determine the outcome of their situation. Of course, this does not mean that we cannot help. Personally, I would stay, as I would have in Lebanon if some potentially terrible situation would have evolved that placed foreigners living in the country at a risk. The one thing we can do is to document what is going on, to make our own citizens and leaders aware so that they might make informed decisions in our policy. If I had a choice between braving a revolution that was not my own, or suffering through an epic New England snowstorm, well, I’d choose the former.

I don’t think I’m the only one, either in Cairo or at a keyboard back in America, who feels the urge to be a part of someone else’s revolution because of that thrill. Even if I’m not participating, just being here is exciting. I won’t lie and pretend there’s no vicarious thrill to this. Bumming around Cairo, hunting for fresh vegetables, hanging out with neighborhood watch guys, speculating about when Mubarak will give up and go away, passing the time with other nervous expats while the streets take on a carnival atmosphere – ok, a carnival with tanks, but still, it’s an adventure. I have front row seats for history.

But there are people back home who are worried about me, and the excitement isn’t worth the possibility that the phones could go down again and they’d have no way to contact me. I’m a selfish only child, but not that selfish. So I’m going. I hope I can come back soon, under a new and better regime.

Yeah, regrettably he’s right.

Other Links of Interest:

A rare Wall Street Journal interview with Syria’s President – Bashar al-Assad

NYT Magazine Preview: Julian Assange

Dealing With Assange and The Secrets He Spilled

The Times has published a fascinating account of its dealings with the man behind WikiLeaks, Julian Assange… some select quotes…

Assange was transformed by his outlaw celebrity. The derelict with the backpack and the sagging socks now wore his hair dyed and styled, and he favored fashionably skinny suits and ties. He became a kind of cult figure for the European young and leftish and was evidently a magnet for women. Two Swedish women filed police complaints claiming that Assange insisted on having sex without a condom; Sweden’s strict laws on nonconsensual sex categorize such behavior as rape, and a prosecutor issued a warrant to question Assange, who initially described it as a plot concocted to silence or discredit WikiLeaks.

I came to think of Julian Assange as a character from aStieg Larsson thriller — a man who could figure either as hero or villain in one of the megaselling Swedish novels that mix hacker counterculture, high-level conspiracy and sex as both recreation and violation.

Another time he called to tell me how much he disliked ourprofile of Bradley Manning, the Army private suspected of being the source of WikiLeaks’s most startling revelations. The article traced Manning’s childhood as an outsider and his distress as a gay man in the military. Assange complained that we “psychologicalized” Manning and gave short shrift to his “political awakening.”

Because of the range of the material and the very nature of diplomacy, the embassy cables were bound to be more explosive than the War Logs. Dean Baquet, our Washington bureau chief, gave the White House an early warning on Nov. 19. The following Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving, Baquet and two colleagues were invited to a windowless room at the State Department, where they encountered an unsmiling crowd.

Unlike most of the military dispatches, the embassy cables were written in clear English, sometimes with wit, color and an ear for dialogue. (“Who knew,” one of our English colleagues marveled, “that American diplomats could write?”)

And it was important to remember that diplomatic cables are versions of events. They can be speculative. They can be ambiguous. They can be wrong.

The broader public reaction was mixed — more critical in the first days; more sympathetic as readers absorbed the articles and the sky did not fall; and more hostile to WikiLeaks in the U.S. than in Europe, where there is often a certain pleasure in seeing the last superpower taken down a peg.

Although it is our aim to be impartial in our presentation of the news, our attitude toward these issues is far from indifferent. The journalists at The Times have a large and personal stake in the country’s security. We live and work in a city that has been tragically marked as a favorite terrorist target, and in the wake of 9/11 our journalists plunged into the ruins to tell the story of what happened here. Moreover, The Times has nine staff correspondents assigned to the two wars still being waged in the wake of that attack, plus a rotating cast of photographers, visiting writers and scores of local stringers and support staff. They work in this high-risk environment because, while there are many places you can go for opinions about the war, there are few places — and fewer by the day — where you can go to find honest, on-the-scene reporting about what is happening. We take extraordinary precautions to keep them safe, but we have had two of our Iraqi journalists murdered for doing their jobs. We have had four journalists held hostage by the Taliban — two of them for seven months. We had one Afghan journalist killed in a rescue attempt. Last October, while I was in Kabul, we got word that a photographer embedded for us with troops near Kandahar stepped on an improvised mine and lost both his legs.

A free press in a democracy can be messy. But the alternative is to give the government a veto over what its citizens are allowed to know. Anyone who has worked in countries where the news diet is controlled by the government can sympathize with Thomas Jefferson’s oft-quoted remark that he would rather have newspapers without government than government without newspapers.

The intentions of our founders have rarely been as well articulated as they were by Justice Hugo Black 40 years ago, concurring with the Supreme Court ruling that stopped the government from suppressing the secret Vietnam War history called the Pentagon Papers: “The government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people.”

Ninety-nine percent of what we read or hear on the news does not profoundly change our understanding of how the world works. News mostly advances by inches and feet, not in great leaps. The value of these documents — and I believe they have immense value — is not that they expose some deep, unsuspected perfidy in high places or that they upend your whole view of the world. For those who pay close attention to foreign policy, these documents provide texture, nuance and drama. They deepen and correct your understanding of how things unfold; they raise or lower your estimation of world leaders. For those who do not follow these subjects as closely, the stories are an opportunity to learn more. If a project like this makes readers pay attention, think harder, understand more clearly what is being done in their name, then we have performed a public service. And that does not count the impact of these revelations on the people most touched by them. WikiLeaks cables in which American diplomats recount the extravagant corruption of Tunisia’s rulers helped fuel a popular uprising that has overthrown the government.

He spun out an elaborate version of aU.S. Justice Department effort to exact punishment for his assault on American secrecy. If he was somehow extradited to the United States, he said, “I would still have a high chance of being killed in the U.S. prison system, Jack Ruby style, given the continual calls for my murder by senior and influential U.S. politicians.”

My American Dream

Word Cloud from Obama's State of The Union

Alright… here we go… I have grudgingly accepted the necessity to write about the current state of affairs in the Middle East. Let’s begin with a story first. As many of you may know, I passed the written examination for entrance into the Foreign Service last October. This is the first of a multi-step process to become a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State, and has remained my dream and ultimate career goal for nearly half a decade now. From passing the written examination (on my second try) I moved into the next stage of the process which was answering a number of personal narrative questions (or QEPs, I believe, for anyone familiar with the process) which were then submitted for review. The answers provided for the questions are accompanied with recommendations, or essentially, sources to provide a credible backing for each answer. I thought my responses were pretty decent. In addition to this, I participated in a phone interview in Arabic with the Foreign Service Institute as I had indicated on the written exam my proficiency in Modern Standard Arabic. There really was no way to find out how I did on that interview. And I wasn’t entirely sure how well it went, since my examiners jumped to a more difficult level with my asking questions in Arabic about the U.S. congressional elections and the state of our democracy. Passing a language exam, at the required Level 2, can only help an application, not hurt it in any way. Therefore, I was somewhat surprised, finally receiving word back this week on my progression as a candidate for the Foreign Service that I had not been selected to procede to the next stage of the examination process, which would have been the Oral Examination. Needless to say, I was pretty dismayed, and have since been in somewhat of a stupor when it comes to following events in the realm of U.S. Foreign Policy. Though, oddly enough, the rejection of my dream came to coincide with President Obama’s State of the Union Address.

Prior to the address, watching Hillary Clinton and the rest of the Cabinet walking down the aisle on the floor of the Capitol, I was admittedly bitter, having just been rejected by the woman who leads the department I want to devote a career to and represent. She stands for something more than politics now; she is the head of our foreign policy and our face to the world. So I sat there grimacing, with a stoney, emotionless expression on my face, waiting for the President to deliver his address to the nation.

What’s more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea -– the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny.  That’s why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here.  It’s why our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like “What do you think of that idea?  What would you change about the world?  What do you want to be when you grow up?”

This is what defines America. I am not particularly a fan of the term “American exceptionalism” because it has been seriously misconstrued and spun into something quite dangerous by individuals such as Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman. But that we were the first nation to be founded upon an idea, or perhaps a bed of multiple ideas that came out of the Enlightenment, as it were, does make us unique, and is something that is enshrined in the principles laid down in our founding documents. And don’t get me wrong, we’re certainly not the only nation anymore that’s been founded upon an idea, and perhaps one can even make the argument that human civilizations have been founded on ideas since the dawn of time, but it is something that defines America. And certainly, at the time when our nation was established, there was nothing quite like it on Earth. It follows a political perspective I’m fond of, when it comes to determining how America should behave internationally, which is as the “first among equals.” We’re not better or superior than anyone else, nor should we define ourselves as exceptional or some how above the rest. But we should lead, and lead well.

In fact, to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice:  If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child — become a teacher.  Your country needs you.  (Applause.)

I’ve strongly considered doing this at some point in my life. Teaching history or some aspect of international politics or foreign policy would undoubtedly be highly rewarding. And it was actually through a high-school history teacher that I came to piece together the idea of wanting to become a civil servant in some capacity.

And America’s moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom and justice and dignity.  And because we’ve begun this work, tonight we can say that American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored.

Yes, it should shine. We should lead by example, with our principles dictating our actions and not the other way around. Is Obama invoking Wilson here, perhaps just a bit? And as far as our image being renewed… well, ha, it’s going to take a lot longer than 2 years of a Presidency to do that. We’ve still got a hell of a long way to go, especially in the Middle East, to rectify our standing.

And yet, as contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can sometimes be, I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth.

Though I might enjoy living and serving my country from the outside more than inside, I’ll always be grateful to return to the places here that I consider home.

We may have differences in policy, but we all believe in the rights enshrined in our Constitution.  We may have different opinions, but we believe in the same promise that says this is a place where you can make it if you try.  We may have different backgrounds, but we believe in the same dream that says this is a country where anything is possible.  No matter who you are.  No matter where you come from.

And this is where I didn’t feel so bad anymore about not being selected to move on to the next stage of the process for the Foreign Service. I might have to go back to square one and take the written exam again, but I will certainly do it again next October. I can only keep trying.

We’re a nation that says, “I might not have a lot of money, but I have this great idea for a new company.”  “I might not come from a family of college graduates, but I will be the first to get my degree.”  “I might not know those people in trouble, but I think I can help them, and I need to try.”  “I’m not sure how we’ll reach that better place beyond the horizon, but I know we’ll get there.  I know we will.”

As often as I read about Lebanon and feel the knife twist inside the open wound I’ve carried since leaving that country, I can say without a doubt that I always return to the notion that there are so many reasons for me to go back there. I’ll  never forget my interaction with Asra, that little girl in the Shatilla Palestinian Refugee camp in South Beirut. She taught me more Arabic than I could teach her English. The way her smile lit up the dark, gray areas of a camp and a school that had absolutely nothing. It doesn’t take some grand foreign policy strategy to help her or others like her. It only takes one individual to care.

And that’s why I must try again at the Foreign Service and must eventually return to Lebanon, or anywhere else where I feel I can do something to help.

That is my American Dream.

Fisk: The Brutal Truth About Tunisia

The Independent: The Brutal Truth About Tunisia

The end of the age of dictators in the Arab world? Certainly they are shaking in their boots across the Middle East, the well-heeled sheiks and emirs, and the kings, including one very old one in Saudi Arabia and a young one in Jordan, and presidents – another very old one in Egypt and a young one in Syria – because Tunisia wasn’t meant to happen. Food price riots in Algeria, too, and demonstrations against price increases in Amman. Not to mention scores more dead in Tunisia, whose own despot sought refuge in Riyadh – exactly the same city to which a man called Idi Amin once fled.

Watch The Last King of Scotland… why do all the despots seem to flee to Saudi?

No, in the Arab world, we want law and order and stability. Even in Hosni Mubarak’s corrupt and corrupted Egypt, that’s what we want. And we will get it.

The truth, of course, is that the Arab world is so dysfunctional, sclerotic, corrupt, humiliated and ruthless – and remember that Mr Ben Ali was calling Tunisian protesters “terrorists” only last week – and so totally incapable of any social or political progress, that the chances of a series of working democracies emerging from the chaos of the Middle East stand at around zero per cent.

The job of the Arab potentates will be what it has always been – to “manage” their people, to control them, to keep the lid on, to love the West and to hate Iran.

Indeed, what was Hillary Clinton doing last week as Tunisia burned? She was telling the corrupted princes of the Gulf that their job was to support sanctions against Iran, to confront the Islamic republic, to prepare for another strike against a Muslim state after the two catastrophes the United States and the UK have already inflicted in the region.

The Muslim world – at least, that bit of it between India and the Mediterranean – is a more than sorry mess. Iraq has a sort-of-government that is now a satrap of Iran, Hamid Karzai is no more than the mayor of Kabul, Pakistan stands on the edge of endless disaster, Egypt has just emerged from another fake election.

And Lebanon… Well, poor old Lebanon hasn’t even got a government. Southern Sudan – if the elections are fair – might be a tiny candle, but don’t bet on it.

It’s the same old problem for us in the West. We mouth the word “democracy” and we are all for fair elections – providing the Arabs vote for whom we want them to vote for.

In Algeria 20 years ago, they didn’t. In “Palestine” they didn’t. And in Lebanon, because of the so-called Doha accord, they didn’t. So we sanction them, threaten them and warn them about Iran and expect them to keep their mouths shut when Israel steals more Palestinian land for its colonies on the West Bank.

For years, this wretched man had been talking about a “slow liberalising” of his country. But all dictators know they are in greatest danger when they start freeing their entrapped countrymen from their chains.

And the Arabs behaved accordingly. No sooner had Ben Ali flown off into exile than Arab newspapers which have been stroking his fur and polishing his shoes and receiving his money for so many years were vilifying the man. “Misrule”, “corruption”, “authoritarian reign”, “a total lack of human rights”, their journalists are saying now. Rarely have the words of the Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran sounded so painfully accurate: “Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trumpetings, and farewells him with hootings, only to welcome another with trumpetings again.” Mohamed Ghannouchi, perhaps?

And they will do what we want. Ben Ali has fled. The search is now on for a more pliable dictator in Tunisia – a “benevolent strongman” as the news agencies like to call these ghastly men.

 

A Diplomatic Tribute

Richard Holbrooke as Assistant Secretary of State in 1977 outside the Vietnamese Embassy in Paris

Holbrooke’s impeccable style is also evident. Yay for well dressed diplomats.

Holbrooke as diplomatic envoy to Af/Pak sits with a displaced man and his child in a refugee camp.

Read his body language here. I recall reading an article that talked about how Holbrooke was at ease walking into a refugee camp wrought with devastation and would often invite himself to sit down with displaced refugees in their tents to ask them about their lives in order to figure out in what capacity the United States could help them. I like this picture… it shows Holbrooke’s genuine interest and desire to help people. He doesn’t look like he’s the kind of guy who attempted to wield American superiority over others. He merely wanted to listen and do what he could to help others.

Well Dear Readers, this blog would not live up to its name if we did not cover the recent passing of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. He was a true American statesman, and his influence on foreign affairs in this country and his impact on the world stage should be noted by just how much his accomplishments have been talked about following his recent passing. I was watching Charlie Rose last night on TV, which is an excellent talk show by the way, in the style of the way television used to be done without all the ridiculous partisan crap that characterizes American media nowadays – anyway – there was a roundtable discussion about Holbrooke’s achievements, and I am very interested in reading the book Holbrooke published about his efforts to mediate the crisis in the Balkans which ended with his role in brokering the Daytona Peace Accords. Now, I haven’t studied the civil war in the Balkans in depth, but from what I do know, Holbrooke played a significant role in preventing the continued persecution and massacres of Bosnian Muslims during the conflict. It’s fair to say that because of his actions further death and destruction were avoided. Holbrooke represented, to the American foreign policy tradition, an idealization of the principles our foreign policy should be founded upon. He truly believed that America should be a force for good in the world, and that America has a duty and an obligation to fight for those individuals around the world who are at a disadvantage or are in need of help. His vision wasn’t messianic, as George Bush’s was. It was a pragmatic approach to international affairs that saw America as having the ability to improve the quality of relationships around the world. I really want to emphasize how realistic this man’s view of the world was. He didn’t attempt to idealize the world or say that the American system was right for everyone. He had no qualms about dealing with people who committed immoral acts. He was committed to restoring the art of diplomacy to its rightful place in America’s arsenal of tools. A point was made on Charlie Rose that Holbrooke was always talking about the militarization of American foreign policy, and given his initial placement with U.S. AID during the Vietnam War, this is not entirely surprising. He was probably more aware how seriously U.S. foreign policy had been coveted and dominated by the military than most people. I’ll leave it here for now and add some select quotes from some of the articles I’ve stumbled across. Apparently, his last words were to the effect of… “We’ve got to end this war in Afghanistan.” Yes, yes we do.

The New Yorker: The Envoy

If the Supreme Court had allowed the votes to be counted in 2000, then the Envoy, almost certainly, would have become the Secretary of State, and the next decade would have unfolded very differently. As it is, Holbrooke has left a stronger, more positive, more creative mark on history than all but a few of those who have held that post. He certainly did not die of a broken heart—Kati Marton saw to that—but it was surely the ghastly, impossible demands of his last, impossible assignment that brought on the rending of his aorta. He died for his country as surely as any soldier. And his deathbed words may turn out to be the most important he ever spoke.

The New Republic: Richard

The legend of his career, and the flamboyance of his person, has obscured a proper recognition of his commitments. Holbrooke was not only a student of power; he was also a creature of beliefs. What he believed in most of all, I think, was in the ability, and the duty, of the United States, by a variety of means, to better the world. He was, in his cast of mind, a realist, but his cast of mind was not his philosophy: this realist—the Democrats’ most accomplished Machiavellian—was always returning to first principles, to moral considerations, to the alleviation of human suffering and the spread of political liberty as goals of American statecraft.

Even in his most virulent criticism of what he regarded as America’s military mistakes abroad, there was not a trace of the temptation to surrender a high sense of America’s role in history. Isolationism disgusted him. He had a natural understanding, it was almost an attribute of his character, of the relationship between diplomacy and force. He had no illusions about the harshness of the world, and therefore about the toughness that is required for the creation of a world less harsh.

American interventionism, for him, was not just a policy; it was a way of existing responsibly in the world, the measure of a national (and personal) ideal, the real greatness of a great power.

I’ll save the best for last… here’s a 5 page article in The Washington Post that offers a glimpse into Holbrooke’s life. Worth reading.
The Washington Post: Richard Holbrooke Dies: Veteran U.S. Diplomat Brokered Daytona Peace Accords