Saturday, March 26, 2011

Middle East Uprisings 101

It is nothing short of remarkable to see the struggle for freedom sweeping across the Middle East, a region that, for quite some time, has been home to some of the most repressive regimes on the planet. We are witnessing incredible history unfolding before our very eyes on our television and computer screens, in our newspapers and magazines. Libyan rebels have captured the key strategic city of Ajdabiyah. More uprisings are planned for Syria. Protests are about to take place in Bahrain, Yemen and Jordan. It's all happening so fast, at such a dizzying pace. A new headline each day tells stories of demonstrations and violence. Crackdowns have become a regular occurrence. Meantime, a coalition of Western powers still strikes targets in Libya from the air. Where is it all going?

From the Right: From a realist perspective, Robert D. Kaplan offers an interesting analysis in the Wall Street Journal. Headlined "The Middle East crisis has just begun," the article is brooding analysis, a cautionary tale of seismic power shifts. You may not agree with everything Kaplan says, but his perspective is insightful. He is clearly worried about China's growing influence in the Middle East, which seems to increase each time the United States intervenes in the region. A highlight from Kaplan's piece:

In the background of the ongoing Middle Eastern drama looms the shadow of a rising China. China is not a "responsible stakeholder" in the international system, as we proclaim it should be; it is a free rider. We are at war in Afghanistan to make it a safe place for China to extract minerals and metals. We have liberated Iraq so that Chinese firms can extract its oil. Now we are at war with Libya, which further diverts us from concentrating on the western Pacific—the center of the world's economic and naval activity—which the Chinese military seeks eventually to dominate.

Every time we intervene somewhere, it quickens the pace at which China, whose leaders relish obscurity in international affairs, closes the gap with us. China will have economic and political problems of its own ahead, no doubt, and these will interrupt its rise. But China is spending much less to acquire an overseas maritime empire than we are spending, with all our interventions, merely to maintain ours.

From the Middle: From a slightly different P.O.V., Samia Nakhoul of Reuters offers a sweeping snapshot of events in the region in an analysis titled "Ground shifts as new Middle East order takes shape." This piece may be the best succinct overview of everything that has happened to date. Nakhoul tells us who the main players are, what they're struggling for, and reveals the common threads that tie all of these recent events together. Bottom line: It is a balanced assessment, with no axes to grind, and a very clear-eyed and lucid view of the region, grounded in a deep understanding of its politics, culture and history. Very well done.

From the Left: Gary Younge, a very eloquent and thoughtful British journalist who writes for The Guardian and lives in the United States, weighs in on the intervention in Libya in an outstanding column titled "The Innocence of the Liberal Hawk," which appears in the April 11 issue of The Nation magazine. As the headline indicates, Younge weighs in on the issue of folks on the liberal-left side of the spectrum who applaud this latest military intervention. The best thing about the column is that Younge sees the nuances and complexities very clearly in this issue. A highlight from the article:

This time around, however, there is no need for historical references, because the hypocrisy is playing out in real time. When protests started in Tunisia in January, the French foreign minister offered the Tunisian police training to “restore calm.” The day before Libya was attacked, dozens of protesters were shot dead in Yemen. Less than a week before, Saudi forces invaded Bahrain, where many protesters have been killed. These are American allies.

So while the West clearly has the power to intervene, given its history of colonialism and imperialism, it has no more credibility to do so on humanitarian grounds in this region than Iran would to bomb Bahrain in defense of the Shiites who are currently being killed there.

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