Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Revolution and the Middle East: Why the U.S. Should Stay the Hell Out of It

This morning, on Facebook, a conservative gay that often times comments on my wall posts, made a comment today, when I posted a status that was celebrating Tunisia, Egypt and now Bahrain, that "Egypt was easy because they didn't want a bloody coup on their hands. Some of these countries will now be bloody (and some have been). Think about where we would be if we backed the FIRST Iranian protesters last year instead of standing by, timid..."

First of all, I don't believe the U.S. government was at all timid during the Iranian protests. I think that Obama understood the politics and reality of the situation. Also, comparing the uprising in Iran with what has taken place in Egypt and Tunisia are not valid comparisons. Very simply...the uprising in Tunisia and Egypt worked. Iran failed.

As I said to this gentleman on Facebook, I do not deny at all that the Iranian people have the POWER to overcome their current government. And, should the people of Iran rise up and throw down the Supreme Council, I believe the U.S. should immediately recognize whatever new transitional government is formed. It is going to take sacrifice by the Iranian people, and it is going to cost lives. The people rose up once before and threw down the Shah. I believe that, specifically, is why their uprising took place and failed.

It took place because, to the young people of Iran, the revolution of the 1970s, was disconnected from their personal narratives in that they did not live through it. Like all human beings that inherit history but were not around to live through the history, we relate to it differently. As a black American, the Civil Rights movement resonates with me deeply. It gives me a sense of pride and an understanding of the power of people. I look back at that time and think about the unity of community, the folks unafraid to take to the streets and face dogs, water hoses, lynchings, and police brutality. It makes me want to grab everyone I know and form a new human rights peoples army and march off to Washington or Selma or Minneapolis or, better yet, Wall Street. I wonder why our elders aren't marching off with us, leading us, taking us where we need to go.

Of course, right there, is part of the dissonance. I look at the Civil Rights movement from a distance of history and from a vantage point that has been privileged by the work that has gone before without having had to experience any of the pain that went with it. For those folks that fought the fight during the Civil Rights era still bear the scars, pain, and knowledge of exactly how far the state is willing to go to maintain the status quo. That memory is often and can be paralyzing.

I fully believe that the reason that the Iranian uprising was not successful was, in part, due to the memory of the overwhelming repressive actions taken to maintain the Shah's authority. To face that sort of repression once, and survive, is an act of heroism. One is no less of a hero if the idea of facing that sort of repression again is too much for the spirit to handle.

So those beautiful young people in Iran rose up against the Iranian government...but, unlike with the Shah, the movement was limited, isolated, and was facing a modern state with all the powers of social control at its command along with a willingness to roll tanks over angry students if necessary.

Also, if we had intervened during the protests last year, the Iranian government would have had all of the fodder they needed to paint the protests as a U.S. backed attack on Islam and the Islamic Republic of Iran. That would have absolutely galvanized the ultra-conservative base that props up the regime, and Ahmadinejad would have had absolutely no qualms about blowing up a few city blocks in Tehran to wipe out protesters, if it meant retaining power and upholding the Supreme Council. And, if the uprising last year would have been successful and the U.S. had backed the protesters, whatever regime would have come into power, no matter how legitimate, would have been seen as a tool of the U.S. That would have made it continuously vulnerable to reactionary forces and given them a bullet-proof platform to fight against any democratic progress AND, if they manage to regain control of the government, institute such draconian state controls that any movement for democracy will be put far out of reach for the next 30 years. Don't believe me? I got two words for you: Tienanmen Square.

And let's be real about why the U.S. can not intervene in any of these tremendous and powerful uprisings taking place in North Africa and West Asia. It is directly a result of the United State's fucked up, suck ass, imperialist ambitions and actions in the Middle East...when moments like this arrive...when the people are rising up to demand change from their government (or to overthrow their government)...the U.S. has neither the standing nor the relationships within these legitimate pro-democracy movements that would allow us to support grassroots democratic movements. Historically, it has not been in our best interest to support democracy anywhere outside of Europe and North America. Folks living in the underdeveloped world are not stupid. They understand that many of their most oppressive leaders have been able to hold onto power because of direct support from the United States. The Shah of Iran, Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Manuel Noriega, Papa Doc, Trujillo, Fulgencio Batista, and the list goes on and on of the dictators that the U.S. has supported that have used the most despicable means of social control on their own people.

We should absolutely recognize, immediately, any real movement for democracy in a country as it is happening. When those movements are successful, we should move quickly to offer aid and support for the new governments. We should offer quiet aid packages to the new regimes that will help support them through the transition. The U.S. should send send CIVIL delegations from the U.S., from places like the Liberty Tree Foundation/Center for Media Justice/FairVote, and other democratic practice NGOs, as teams of experts to help work with the new regime in setting up new institutions that will help preserve and expand democratic practice as it makes sense for the countries where nascent democratic movements are taking place. But our government should stay far far far away from these movements and from the new governments....unless we want to see them brought down in bloody civil wars and arch-conservative backlash movements.

The bottom line is that I fully believe that it is up to the people of each country in the world to bear responsibility for changing their ruling regime. In almost all cases, I absolutely oppose any foreign intervention in the self-determination process of nation-states, including the use of violent resistance to the state, including guerrilla actions and civil war. There is one notable exception to this rule. I believe that anytime that there is evidence of genocide, there is a moral obligation and a human rights imperative that ALL nations, especially developed nations, have the right and obligation, without permission from the particular nation-state sponsoring the genocide to intervene and do whatever is necessary to protect those being "ethnically cleansed."

Outside of that, I truly believe that, even if a regime is propped up by the U.S. or whatever other world power, the ultimate responsibility for confronting and changing a repressive government is the responsibility of the people living in that place. Real democratic practices requires a ground up process that has only ever proven effective by being developed through a revolutionary process that has cost innumerable lives. Name for me ONE single country in the entire world that is a stable democracy that did not arrive at democracy through a process of war, revolution, popular uprisings, and social agitation by the undeserved. Democracy is only powerful when the people choose it because it is the best vehicle for their well being.

I am super heartened by the popular uprisings taken place right now. Some have already been brutality smacked down while others are clearly headed for or have achieved some level of victory. The worst possible thing that could happen right now would be for the U.S. or any of the European powers to intervene in these organic processes. Let the people fight their fight and find their own voice, and when they reach out to the rest of the world in friendship, let's be ready to give them the support they need to walk tall down their own democratic path.


  1. I don't even know why I bother subscribing to a newspaper or developing my own opinions. Yours are always better

  2. I love you because you are so damn supportive. Crazy. But supportive.


  3. What Obama needs to do is to REPUDIATE that sorry history, emphatically, and unambiguously, and apologize for it. Do it in a national address, and have that broadcast worldwide. Do it in such a way that makes it politically impossible for a subsequent administration to return to that policy ... and then formulate a foreign policy that isn't framed around support for authoritarian regimes that serve U.S. interests while abusing their people.

    THAT would be CHANGE we can believe in. Until we stop being a hypocritical nation, we can't speak with any credibility on these issues, and often our speech will be counter-productive.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings, and insights. And thank you for reading!