Is Barack Obama really responsible for inspiring democracy in the Middle East?
If one were to confine their reading to progressive outposts, one could be forgiven for believing that a glorious new age of freedom and democracy is emerging in the Middle East. Yet while it is arguable that democracy, as represented by the overthrow of authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, and ongoing unrest in Yemen, Algeria, Libya, Bahrain and Iran, may indeed be developing, the idea that freedom is an integral part of such developments is questionable at best. The "people's triumph" as it was referred to by Anand Gopal in a column for The Nation, may yield a far less triumphant future, when short-term jubilation gives way to long-term reality.
As expected, while events are still be viewed through progressive, rose-colored glasses, the removal of despotic regimes in the Middle East accrues to Barack Obama's credit. The "Bush Doctrine," a central plank of which included the idea of establishing democracies in the region to combat terror, is dismissed by Nation columnist Ari Berman as a "messianic, barrel-of-a-gun foreign policy," which pales by comparison to the "grassroots, bottom-up spirit of the Obama [presidential] campaign." Mr. Berman extrapolates: "Would the Egyptian youth have taken to the streets during the invasion of Iraq? Only to denounce the imperialism and recklessness of the United States. It was only after the election of Barack Obama—and his repositioning of the United States as a friend to the Arab world, most notably during his visionary speech in Cairo in June 2009—that pro-democracy activists in Tehran and Cairo saw a friendly ally in the United States."
Perhaps Mr. Berman's memory is somewhat faulty. When Iranian protesters took to the streets to protest Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's stolen election--within days of Mr. Obama's "visionary speech"--the president decided that "meddling" in Iranian affairs was a bridge too far. "It is not productive, given the history of US and Iranian relations to be seen as meddling in Iranian elections," he said. The president went further at a later time, explaining that "[t]he difference between Ahmadinejad and [Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein] Mousavi, in terms of their actual policies, may not be as great as has been advertised." Perhaps the president might explain how the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most politically viable "opposition group," whose slogan, "Allah is our objective, the Prophet is our leader, the Koran is our law, jihad is our way, and dying in the way of Allah is our highest objective" represents a contrast "in actual policies" to the Mubarak regime.
And then there is the characterization of the Egyptian protesters themselves. Uri Aveny, writing for Counterpunch, described them as "non-violent, their demands were reasonable, their actions were spontaneous, they obviously expressed the feelings of the vast majority of the people. Without any organization to speak of, without leadership, they said and did all the right things." Yet several news people covering the uprising were roughed up, including CNN's Anderson Cooper, who claims he was beaten by "pro-Mubarak supporters." Perhaps he was. Or perhaps not. As Cooper himself put it, "There was no rhyme or reason to it—it was just people looking for a fight, looking to make a point, and punching us." ABC's Christiane Amanpour had her car surrounded by part of the mob. She reported that they said, "We hate Americans." And in a story which CBS News sat on for almost a week, it has been revealed that reporter Lara Logan, "covering the jubilation," as CBS put it, was sexually assaulted by a mob of Egyptian men who beat her up badly enough to put her in a U.S. hospital, where her condition is described as "serious." It was reported that the men were shouting, "Jew, Jew!" as the assault took place.
Why would CBS sit on a legitimate news story? CBS says Ms. Logan wanted to maintain her privacy. Yet CBS could have announced that one of their reporters in Egypt had been sexually assaulted without naming names. One suspects a mob of sexual predators with anti-Semitic tendencies conflicts with the prevailing characterization of "non-violent" and "reasonable" Egyptians. This reality doesn't exactly validate the description given by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who wrote of a "Twitter-enabled Tahrir youth" that embodied "one the great triumphs of the human spirit." Nor does it square with Huffington Post columnist Clarence B. Jones' contention that the Egyptian uprising was "a massive eloquent validation of the moral force and power of non-violent civil disobedience" comparable to the "legacies of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr."
Yet reality itself is in play. Apparently drawing on the energy of the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, Iranian protesters are once again taking to the streets in another attempt to bring down the Islamic theocracy running their country. And despite the fact that the Obama administration took a pass in 2009 on arguably the greatest opportunity to engender real change in the Middle East, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton maintained that "[o]ur message has been consistent and it remains the same. We wish the opposition and the brave people in the streets across cities in Iran, you know, the same opportunity that they saw their Egyptian counterpart seize in the last week." Mrs. Clinton further claimed that the administration supports "the universal human rights of the Iranian people."
Universal human rights? To use Mrs. Clinton's own phrase, the idea that either she or the president have consistently supported universal human rights requires the "willing suspension of disbelief" that the Secretary herself expressed when the universal human rights of the Iraqi people were being supported by General David Petraeus and the Bush administration. Then, and even now, many of those on the left who criticized the removal of Saddam Hussein from power, which is more correctly characterized as the abandonment of freedom for stability, are unfazed by a double-standard of "consistency" which apparently necessitates Mrs. Clinton's attempt to re-write history with regard to Iran. Perhaps progressives believe democratic and/or freedom movements should only be initiated by locals. This might partially explain why the "good war" in Afghanistan, the one they championed as a contrast to the "bad war" in Iraq, is no longer good.
Where is the Middle East headed? Islamist apologist Mark Levine offers a sobering, if somewhat inaccurate assessment in the Huffington Post: "No one knew what the next days would bring, but everyone knew that they had been part of something incredible, which no one would be able to take away from them. After centuries of Ottoman, British, monarchical, and military rule, Egypt was free--at least for a night."
Egypt is still being ruled by the military, Mr Levine. And as further nights give way to further days, the world will see whether the "incredible" uprisings taking place across the region give way to genuine democratic reforms, or if those reforms become nothing more than a stepping stone for Islamic jihadists to impose Sharia law across the entire region.
As this writer and others have noted, there is a vast difference between one man, one vote--and one man, one vote one time.
Arnold Ahlert is a contributing columnist to the conservative website JewishWorldReview.com.