Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Mideast Tyranny's Unexpected Expiration Dates

As decades-long dictatorships teeter and fall, is it unreasonable to ask whether anyone in or out of our government really knows what's going on and why?

TV screens fill up with talking heads of politicians, academics and think-tank denizens whose combined wisdom comes down to admitting they don't know why this is happening now and can't tell how and when it will end.

A New York Times panel of experts ponders the question, "Why Didn't the U.S. Foresee the Arab Revolts?" and is reduced to citing "group think," preoccupation with minutae and the ultimate platitude that "revolutions are unpredictable."

Instead of scoffing at all this confusion, a more constructive response might combine humility about predictions with a broad and deep reassessment of how far, in a time of its own economic crisis, the U.S. should go in trying to control what happens in turbulent countries far from home.

Afghanistan, for one example. In all the hubbub about Egypt, Tunisia, Libya et al, overlooked is the growing unease among even gung-ho Republicans, typified by former Reagan Defense official Bing West with a new book, "The Wrong War," over shoring up Hamid Karzai with American blood and money.

Iraq, for another, as crowds resembling those that have dominated the news elsewhere for weeks, rally in protest against the "democratic government" we have installed there at a cost of thousands of lives and billions of dollars.

As the Obama Administration faces the immediate problem of getting Americans out of harm's way in Libya, isn't this the right time to reconsider the U.S. role all across the region?

For one thing, shouldn't we think about shifting emphasis from weapons there to an underlying cause of the revolts--people don’t' have enough to eat? A Surge of food instead of troops might serve our interests better.

At the very least, it would reflect our humanitarian traditions better than the confusion we are trapped in now.

Update: Defense Secretary Robert Gates tells West Point cadets, “The odds of repeating another Afghanistan or Iraq --invading, pacifying, and administering a large third-world country--may be low” and the U.S. should concentrate on ways to “prevent festering problems from growing into full-blown crises which require costly--and controversial-- large-scale American military intervention.”

"In my opinion," Gates says, "any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.”

Amen to that but, in the meantime, how do we get out of the costly and controversial messes we have been in for so many years?

1 comment:

Blakenator said...

The NY Times question is typical of the current American. The intellectual laziness of the average American has been exacerbated by the news agencies who have become de facto tools for the propaganda wars. By that, I mean the only stories that these people are interested in are the ones that feed the desired stereotype the propagandists are pushing. There is a whole world out there but if you can't be bothered to pay attention, you will always be surprised.