The Costs of the Arab Spring

In a general sense, the main stream media has done an extremely poor job of covering the President, so intent as they

1 September 2010. During Middle East negotiati...

1 September 2010. During Middle East negotiations, Mubarak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel look at their watches to see if it is officially sunset; during Ramadan, Muslims fast until sunset. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) We won’t see this gang together again

are in protecting him that we seldom get good interview questions from the usual crew of White House reporters.  The Pimp with a Limp asked better questions than the usual gang of NBC, CBS, and ABC boot lickers, however during Obama’s interview with Telemundo the President was actually asked a serious and pertinent question:

Jose Diaz Balart – Would you consider the current Egyptian regime an ally of the United States?

President Obama:  I don’t think that we would consider then an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy.  They’re a new government that is trying to find its way.  They were democratically elected.  I think that we are going to have to see how they respond to this incident.

Obama seemed to be caught off guard because it was a really good question, and he hasn’t gotten many of those lately.  Practically speaking, the Arab Spring only seems to subtract from the list of US allies, it doesn’t add to them.  Any Arab country that has any sort of free and fair elections are going to vote in Islamist regimes since, as the Pew polls demonstrate, that is what the people want.  So in the case of Arab countries, Democracy = Islamist governments.  I assumed that the administration had a strategy for that, since they supported the Arab Spring. But it seemed that their “smart diplomacy” was based mostly on the supposed healing force of Obama’s personality.

Of course this isn’t just Obama’s foreign party debacle.  Both parties share the blame in this, including king of the neo cons himself; George W. Bush.  Bush delivered a speech in May that outlined how he thought America should conduct itself in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Some in both parties in Washington look at the risks inherent in democratic change—particularly in the Middle East and North Africa—and find the dangers too great. America, they argue, should be content with supporting the flawed leaders they know in the name of stability.

But in the long run, this foreign policy approach is not realistic. It is not within the power of America to indefinitely preserve the old order, which is inherently unstable. Oppressive governments distrust the diffusion of choice and power, choking off the best source of national prosperity and success.

This is the inbuilt crisis of tyranny. It fears and fights the very human attributes that make a nation great: creativity, enterprise and responsibility. Dictators can maintain power for a time by feeding resentments toward enemies—internal or external, real or imagined. But eventually, in societies of scarcity and mediocrity, their failure becomes evident.

America does not get to choose if a freedom revolution should begin or end in the Middle East or elsewhere. It only gets to choose what side it is on.

And that’s why ultimately we didn’t have much choice other than to be more or less supportive of the Arab Spring.  We supported dictators and other strongmen during the cold war because we needed allies against the Soviets, so in the great game of superpower politics, it made sense.  We also supported Mubarak specifically to maintain the Egyptian Israeli peace; the one US “victory” in Arab/Israeli relations.  However it was a peace dependent on US troops in the Sinai, lots of money to both Israel and Egypt, and of course, supporting an Egyptian dictator.  With the dictator gone, the string that is holding the fragile peace together is slowly unraveling.

So the Arab Spring, which started last year and is still causing waves, including the current civil war in Syria, left us with little choice but to support it, although so far we’ve done it in such a ham handed way that we’ve caused ourselves a great deal of damage.  We supported Mubarak… supported him, supported him….and yer out!  To any other ally of the US, it looked as if we had betrayed our chosen ally based on the impulses of a mob.  We owed Mubarak something, and rotting in a jail cell doesn’t highlight the benefits of being a US ally.

Although the administration screwed up royally with its handling of Egypt, I’m not guilt free myself.  I supported democracy for the Middle East.  And I supported elections in Egypt, although I didn’t support forcing Mubarak to step down.  What I would have wanted, as a US reaction, was to support free and fair elections… in the future.  To at least give time for some more moderate parties to organize and to provide US support for them.  The only organized opposition to Mubarak was the Muslim Brotherhood, so no surprise they end up as the big winners.

Even crazier was our policy towards Libya.  The West had spent years trying to bring Gaddafi to heel, and after seeing the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Gaddafi decided to make nice with the West.  He paid compensation for Lockerbie, and turned over his WMD’s to the UN.  In other words, he became the very model of a modern Middle Eastern dictator, transforming his rogue state to one that was coming in out of the cold.  The “Libyan Terrorist” was no more.  So when the Arab Spring hit Libya, Obama decided to declare war.  Or rather, the UK and France decided to declare war and Obama quickly changed course to join in.

So wherever the Arab Spring arose, the US was there to lend support. Except of course in the two countries where the Arab Spring could have removed avowed enemies of the US:  Iran and Syria.  During Iran’s Green Movement in 2009 Obama went out of his way to ignore the protesters, concentrating on his policy of wooing the Mullahs, who eventually crushed the protesters.

Although one of the many phony reasons for our involvement in Libya was to prevent a civilian massacre, in Syria the death toll is already at 27,000 during the 10 month civil war and rising.

27,000 dead.

So on the Middle East scorecard, we’ve supported the mob in overthrowing governments that were either our allies or in countries where we had no US national security interests.  Egypt was an ally of the US, and we paid billions to it for decades to keep the peace between it and Israel.  Libya, after years of being a rogue terrorist state, finally “came in from the cold” and was rejoining the international community.  Now, the Israeli-Egypt Peace treaty is ade facto corpse, and Marty McFly’s feared Libyan terrorists have once again been freed to drive around the world in VW vans with RPG’s.  Our main adversaries, the Mullahs in Iran and the Bathist dictatorship in Syria, still rule.    I could hardly have sat down and devised a worse outcome of the Arab Spring for the United States.  Meanwhile, the author of this foreign policy disaster, President Obama, is just starting to figure out what a mess he’s caused.

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QE3 Sugar High

With less than two months to go until the Presidential Elections, in rides Ben Bernanke on top of a white horse named QE3, to help boost President Obama’s election chances by injecting a little cocaine into the national bloodstream. The FED

WASHINGTON - MAY 16:  Federal Reserve Chairman...

WASHINGTON – MAY 16: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke speaks during the conference ‘New Building Blocks for Jobs and Economic Growth’ May 16, 2011 at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. Bernanke spoke on the government’s role on promoting and research and development. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

announced today their latest program of quantitative easing, QE3.  However instead of Treasury bonds, this program will buy mortgage backed securities to attempt to further push down mortgage interest rates.

Unlike the other quantitative easing programs, this one is open ended.  The FED will buy 40 billion dollars in mortgage backed securities a month until “conditions improve”; or at least until January of 2014, when the FED chairman’s appointment ends.  This may be Bernanke’s attempt to keep his job, since Governor Romney has already stated that if elected President, he won’t re-appoint Bernanke.  President Obama hasn’t made promises (publically) either way, but if Bernanke can boost up the economy just long enough to drag Obama across the finish line for reelection, it’s a sure bet he will be staying on.

But this sounds suspiciously like how we ignited the financial crisis in the first place.  Even NPR looks upon this round of quantitative easing as a gimmick, as it amusingly collected some of the more common quantitative easing analogies.  I prefer the tried and true sugar high myself.  Injecting cash into the economy is a bit like some candy and soda (non diet of course).  That gives you the sugar high of high stock prices and an upward wobble in GDP growth, but then of course since there is no real economic growth to match, the market declines again, growth tapers back off, and the sugar crash occurs.

Long term however, like human cells subjected to constant rushes of glucose, the economy develops an insulin resistance, requiring greater and greater amounts of sugar to stir any growth.  My analogy breaks down right about here as our economy finally gets diabetes.  That’s when all of the excess cash in the economy causes inflation, which paradoxically pushes interest rates up; the opposite of what the FED is trying to accomplish.

Of course, since our economic recovery has remained rather sluggish, inflation hasn’t had much chance to rear its ugly head, although as I had written last year, what inflation there is has been kept fairly well hidden by the current government reporting methodology.  Now I know there are inflation doubters, who don’t see any connection between the supply of a currency and it’s value, but I did notice this little tidbit in a Bloomberg story:

U.S. stocks rallied, sending benchmark indexes to the highest levels since 2007, silver and gold surged while the dollar weakened as the Federal Reserve said it will buy mortgage securities to bolster the economy. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index climbed 1.6 percent to 1,459.99 at 4 p.m. in New York and rates on mortgage bonds tumbled to record lows. Ten-year Treasury yields slipped three basis points to 1.73 percent after rising as much as seven points earlier. Oil climbed 1.3 percent to $98.31 a barrel, a four-month high, while gold jumped to the highest price since February. The Dollar Index (DXY), a gauge of the currency against six peers, fell 0.6 percent to the lowest level since May.

Just saying…

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The Mindy Project

Women are in this year, and thanks to the wonders of on demand I’ve seen the pilot for the new Fox Mindy Kaling vehicle, The Mindy Project.  The show, which premieres September 25th, is pretty clearly a show made by, and for, women.  So what am I doing watching it?  Well I’m certainly a fan of Wendy Kaling from her Office days as Kelly Kapoor.  As a writer on The Office, she has certainly earned her reputation as a funny gal, and I, as someone who spent 20 minutes flipping through her book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? in a bookstore without actually buying it,  can attest that she seems to be able to write some amusing anecdotes about her own life as well.

So I felt that was a good enough reason to give her show a try.  But I have to admit, it’s not exactly the type of show I would have bothered with usually.  A female OBGYN; professionally successful but unlucky in love… sound familiar?  It could be a base description of most romantic comedy heroines, and it’s not by coincidence.  Kaling is going for a pseudo romantic comedy vibe as a running theme of her show.  The pilot shows her at various ages, under a voiceover, watching a series of 80’s and 90’s romantic comedies, absorbing their “lessons” to apply to her own romantic life.

Does America really need another romantic comedy sitcom?

We already have Mike & Molly.

Of course, with this romantic comedy, they are taking the long view.  There is no obvious Mr. Right evident the pilot.  The two men in her life in the pilot, Dennis (Ed Helms), the checklist perfect first date and “good” guy, and Jeremy (Ed Weeks), a fellow doctor and “bad” boy.

Guess who she ends up hooking up with?

So give the show some credit for some honesty at least.  Mindy’s weight is mentioned and yes, she is getting chubbier from her Office days.   Also the character is a slut.  That’s a ballsy move in sitcom land.  Yes, sluts are familiar features of situation comedies and TV sitcoms, but as peripheral characters, or “the best friend.”  Not as the main character in the show.  Does America really want to see a chubby slut make stupid personal decisions week after week?  Or do we get enough chubby slut drama at our own workplaces?

Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think the answer is maybe, and I say that as someone who is not sure myself.  Will I get wrapped up in the character and want to keep coming back week after week, or will I just throw up my hands and say she deserves to be alone, start your cat collection now?

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