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Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Worm Turns

Well here is an interesting bit of how do you do that flashed across Kid Various' TV this morning:

CAIRO, Egypt - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (news - web sites) on Saturday ordered a review and amendment of the country's presidential election law, paving the way for the possibility of multi-candidate polls in September.

The surprise announcement follows increasing opposition calls within Egypt for political reform.

And sooooooo, another piece of the puzzle falls into place.

Of course, the audience that the despot Mubarak was addressing responded in typical toady style

The audience broke into applause and calls of support, some shouting, "Long live Mubarak, mentor of freedom and democracy!" Others spontaneously recited verses of poetry praising the government.

But be that as it may, the first multi-party elections in Egypt for the Presidency is nothing to sneeze at. Make no mistake, a chill wind is blowing for autocracy in the Middle East. Just in the past 2 weeks, one can discern a noticeable shift here.

And this before the Kid even read David Brooks' OP/ED in the New York Times this morning!

This is the most powerful question in the world today: Why not here? People in Eastern Europe looked at people in Western Europe and asked, Why not here? People in Ukraine looked at people in Georgia and asked, Why not here? People around the Arab world look at voters in Iraq and ask, Why not here?

Thomas Kuhn famously argued that science advances not gradually but in jolts, through a series of raw and jagged paradigm shifts. Somebody sees a problem differently, and suddenly everybody's vantage point changes.

"Why not here?" is a Kuhnian question, and as you open the newspaper these days, you see it flitting around the world like a thought contagion. Wherever it is asked, people seem to feel that the rules have changed. New possibilities have opened up.

The question is being asked now in Lebanon. Walid Jumblatt made his much circulated observation to David Ignatius of The Washington Post: "It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, eight million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world."

Can the worm really be turning?

Kid Various does not like to make predictions on this point. He is rock solid in his belief that freedom and Enlightenment values will take root and flourish in the long term. But betting on the timing of a specific revolution is tricky business.

Still the President said that the Middle East is experiencing it's own "1989" and the Kid hopes to God he's right. Historically speaking, these things don't happen gradually. Things are static for a long, long time. Then one spark lights the fire. Like the fall of the Berlin Wall did for Eastern Europe in 1989. And hopefully how now the U.S. liberation of Iraq will produce a cascade of liberalism throughout the region.

But what is the surest sign that avalanche of freedom is upon us? Even the doughy Old Europeans (and Canada), our erstwhile allies are seeking to jump on the democracy bandwagon.

A fledgling Iraqi democracy?
A free election for a Palestinian government committed to democratic reform?
A peaceful uprising in Lebanon against occupying Syria?
A multi-party election in Egypt?
Multi-party local elections in even *gulp* Saudi Arabia?

Obviously the nay-sayers will cluck their thick tongues, and decry our hubris and arrogance, secure in the certainty that the United States will come to grief in the Middle East, shorn on the rocks of our own ideological naivete. And, of course, their most potent venom is reserved for the President, the know-nothing cowboy who's appalling lack of subtlety so offends their effete, international sensibilities. The bile has been building ever since President Reagan left office.

But, in the final analysis, Reagan was vindicated. The venerations of Reagan that emananted forth from the quarters that previously spewed such hatred toward him during the funerary proceedings last spring were a wonder to behold. And one must ask the question, in 20 years time, is it possible that they will speak of President Bush in the same fashion?

C'est Impossible!

But maybe, just maybe, the doubters should give just a sliver of thought to the question, as the Europeans seem to be doing, what if, like Reagan, George Bush is right?

Actually, the answer isn't as obvious as it might seem. President Ronald Reagan's visit to Berlin in 1987 was, in many respects, very similar to President George W. Bush's visit to Mainz on Wednesday. Like Bush's visit, Reagan's trip was likewise accompanied by unprecedented security precautions. A handpicked crowd cheered Reagan in front of the Brandenburg Gate while large parts of the Berlin subway system were shut down. And the Germany Reagan was traveling in, much like today's Germany, was very skeptical of the American president and his foreign policy. When Reagan stood before the Brandenburg Gate -- and the Berlin Wall -- and demanded that Gorbachev "tear down this Wall," he was lampooned the next day on the editorial pages. He is a dreamer, wrote commentators. Realpolitik looks different.

But history has shown that it wasn't Reagan who was the dreamer as he voiced his demand. Rather, it was German politicians who were lacking in imagination -- a group who in 1987 couldn't imagine that there might be an alternative to a divided Germany. Those who spoke of reunification were labelled as nationalists and the entire German left was completely uninterested in a unified Germany.


At Sunday, February 27, 2005 at 5:30:00 AM EST, Anonymous Jim - PRS said...

Very well said.

I think that history may well place George W. Bush in the company of Lincoln, who also presided over a deeply divided country, who was characterized by his detractors as ungainly, ape-like and stupid, who was opposed by former generals, but who nevertheless persisted in the pursuit of his vision for the country.

I also believe that those who hate the President are beginning to sense this possibility, and it is driving them crazy.


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