Monday, April 11, 2011

Land of the free?

In keeping with American tradition, I am going to completely ignore the current events in the Ivory Coast, the overthrow of Gbagbo, the nearly thousands of dead civilians - burned and tortured, and the waves of protests and underground mutterings regarding French involvement and the future reign of Ouattara.
Because they don't have oil and their religious feud is far less interesting than the quagmire that is the Middle East.
So, let's talk about the Middle East, a subject that never gets dull due to the constant train of broken promises, dead soldiers, dollars and cents.
First of all, the 2010 deadline has clearly already passed to bring troops out of Iraq and now it looks as though this year might not reach that glorious milestone either. Excuse me while I feign surprise. I was highly suspicious of that bullshit laden speech as soon as it wafted out from Obama's mouth. Now that he's building his re-election campaign however, he'll have to come up with something good to avoid the glaring truth that he furthered an unpopular war and has not stood by his promise to end it....umm...I suggest the good old fashioned "It's our safety at stake here. We're preventing terrorist attacks."
Meanwhile, in Syria, a country that until recently seemed immune to the "Arab Spring," is now entering into the cyclone of public disapproval and mass protests. Rallies keep escalating as the death toll of civilians killed by the government surpasses 100 people. What critics say is making President Bashar al-Assad (successor to his father, Hafez) really nervous is that the epicenter of these protests is in Daraa, a highly conservative town, as opposed to towns such as Hama or Aleppo, where the banned Muslim Brotherhood has a slew of supporters. Needless to say, it's only a matter of time before the dominoes really start crashing. The interesting thing, once again, is the eerie parallels between Syria and our own city upon a hill. While their chants call for freedom and democracy, the economy is the real source of their outrage. The agricultural regions of the South have been battered by a drought while the entire country suffers from shitty money management. Unemployment for young citizens is a huge issue, most young graduates with advanced degrees do menial work such as drive taxis. There's also much grievance with corruption in the upper echelons of society, particularly targeting Assad's cousin, Rami Makhlouf, a tycoon infamous for pocketing government kickbacks.
Hmmmmmm...sounds so familiar....wait, don't tell me...holy shit! It's like us! Ha, small world huh?
Here's where it actually starts to differ - the President has in fact begun to make some concessions towards the will of the people: he has released jailed protesters, fired his entire cabinet and tossed out the publicly loathed governor of Daraa, Faysal Kalthum. He's still on thin ice but clearly realizes that he is not immune to the power of public opinion. It's not quite clear if Syria is on track to completely overhaul their government or if reform is enough to quiet the uprisings. We wait with bated breath...
Meanwhile, in Yemen, the US is now putting pressure on President Saleh to step down. It's been a tricky call for us, considering that Saleh has been a main player in fighting the Yemeni branch of Al Qaida. We waited while his supporters fired on unarmed demonstrators in the streets, hoping that it would all just go away like a bad dream and we could go back to playing puppet master in the sand box of the Middle East. Unfortunately, no play time on the horizon. Protests continue to escalate so we now have made public our reluctant suggestion for Saleh to cede power to a deputy, while simultaneously keeping his relatives in charge of counterterrorism...ummmm..OK. I think the point is to just oust the whole fucking house of cards, dick sticks, but by all means, place your agenda at the forefront and move your pawns accordingly. The "little people" of Yemen are not too pleased by the US's eventual commentary. Tawakul Karman, a leader of the anti-government youth movement said, "We are really very, very angry...We feel that we have been betrayed." Well done US. Your diplomacy is about as effective as a doggy door in an elephant cage.
Onwards to Libya where Qaddafi toys with the idea of escape, but only if he receives full immunity, something NATO forces are not completely tossing out. If they can get Qaddafi the hell out of there and try to begin the rebuilding process, NATO feels that it might be the only way to save lives. Meanwhile NATO has quieted their guns due to the confusion brought on by a recent bombing of Qaddafi's tanks, which had been overtaken and were then manned by the rebels...oops. So, the rebels are pissed b/c they're not getting much back up anymore and NATO is pissed b/c they don't know who the fuck is who and don't want to guess, risking the lives of not just soldiers but hundreds of civilians.
And, by the by, who are we really fighting for? I'm all for democracy and peace, but something has to fill the vacuum, and I'm guessing it won't be hippies with flowers in their hair and love in their hearts. While rulers like Qaddafi and Mubarak were cruel dictators by trade, they knew how to keep a lid on extremists, at least to a point...kinda like Hussein. Yeah, remember him? The truth of the matter is that although extremist groups like Al Qaida are not widely popular in countries like Egypt or Libya, the turmoil is perfect for their kind of rhetoric. Get rid of the Western leaning secular swine and replace him with an Islamist ruler. It really doesn't sound far fetched - particularly when you consider that there have been mutterings of Al Qaida involvement with the rebels in Libya, even by NATO's commander, U.S. Adm. James Stavridis.
It's kind of like the Tea Party here - it's not that the overwhelming majority of Americans agree with their extremist views, it's just that they are the loudest and they jumped into action at the perfect time - grabbing key support and raising their bullshit agenda above the seemingly lost sheep of the rest of the country. Something similar may be happening in Libya, particularly when you consider out track record in the Middle East is an easy target for new recruits. You don't have to travel far to find a bomb or gun shell with our name on it.
So, in the end, maybe we should've at least done a little more research before we sent our monster planes over to save the day. But, as Bush and friends will tell you, planning takes time - time we don't have b/c the terrorists are after us...ooooo - don't look now but the Boogie Man outside is holding a Quran.
Bottom line: you save more lives with intelligent diplomacy than you do with air raids. It just makes for less exciting television.

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