Foreign Policy

After the overthrow of aging dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, seeds of revolution are emerging in other North African and Middle Eastern Arab countries. However, the country where a popular uprising could have the biggest impact, not just internally, but for the whole region and the world is Iran.

Like Egypt, Iran, formerly known as Persia, has a rich culture that pre-dates Islam by more than a thousand years. Iran has a young, well-educated population that has been ruled by brutal religious fanatics for thirty years.

In Egypt political repression was relatively moderate and it is conceivable that the Mubarak regime will ultimately be replaced by something much worse. In Iran, however, any change in regime can only be for the better. While some in the West were cautious about embracing the Egyptian revolution, there should be no such hesitation when in comes to support for the Iranian people trying to overthrow their oppressors.

Almost two years ago, the Iranian people tried to rise up against their government. The Green Movement was brutally suppressed after major initial successes. At the time the Obama administration showed no support for this amazing opportunity to change the Iranian regime. After being supportive of the Egyptian uprising, there can be no excuse for not strongly supporting the desire of the Iranian people to be free and we hope that Obama will not repeat his shameful behavior of 2009.

Demonstrations in Iran started today despite efforts by the regime’s thugs to suppress them. Since journalist cannot operate freely in Iran, the only reports come from people at these protests via the internet. Here is one amateur video of what is happening:

You can follow the events in Iran on Twitter under hash tag #iranelection.

We hope that the Green Movement from June of 2009 can revive and succeeds without massive loss of life.

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egypt5 Danger and Opportunity in EgyptThe popular uprising in Egypt has left politicians and commentators scrambling for an appropriate reaction. Just about the only thing we know for certain about what will happen is that we cannot predict the outcome and there is very little the United States can do to affect the course of events.

What Happened So Far
To the best of everyone’s knowledge the initial spark for this week’s events occurred on Dec. 17 when Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian fruit stand vendor set himself on fire in protest over the government’s confiscating the goods he was selling. Over the next few weeks growing protests resulted in the departure of the man who had been president of Tunisia for over twenty years and ongoing attempts at a transition government. These events which have been called the Jasmine Revolution inspired people in other Arab countries to protest against their autocratic governments. Rising food prices throughout the world have increased discontent among people in many poor countries who face spending more and more of their earnings on food. This is likely to have lowered the threshold for normal discontent to boil over into uprisings against oppressive governments. We could go into the causes of rising food prices and whether inflationary policies in the US and other Western countries are contributing to unprecedented cost of basic commodities, but this would take us a little far away from the current events in Egypt.

A week ago people started protesting in Egypt, a country of 85 million people, which is also one of America’s most loyal allies in the Middle East and one of only two Arab countries that have signed a peace treaty with Israel. Initially, the protests seemed unorganized and express general discontent with President Mubarak, Egypt’s leader for the past thirty years. In the past day or so, Mohamed el Baradei, a diplomat and former head of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), has emerged as a spokesman for the opposition which includes the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group with lots of documented terrorist ties.

What’s Next?

President Mubarak’s government is on the defensive and has opened negotiations with the opposition. The army has announced that it won’t shoot at protesters. It looks like the rule of the 82-year-old Mubarak is quickly coming to an end. What’s next?

Nobody knows. The best case scenario is a gradual transition to a hopefully maturing democracy that rejects Islamist fanatics. The army, which appears to be respected by the people, may play a role similar to the army in Turkey – a firewall against extremists and anarchy. The Egypt emerging in this scenario would continue to be at peace with Israel and an ally of the United States. This scenario could be seen as a vindication of President Bush’ policy of bringing democracy to the Middle East via Iraq.

But there is a darker, much more dangerous course of events. The initial transition may be to a relatively weak leader like el Baradei followed by the eventual takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood which would turn the country into another Islamic Republic. Many revolutions have started with the initial turnover of power to people that are nice and reasonable, but who are no match to the committed ideologues waiting in the wings. This is what happened over 200 years ago in the French Revolution. It happened again in 1917 in Russia and thirty-two years ago in Iran.

In such a scenario, Israel would face a new threat to its existence, trade with Europe via the Suez Canal could be threatened and disruptions in the oil supply could result in sky-rocketing energy costs (e.g. gas at $5 or more a gallon). Worst of all, the Islamist contagion could spread to other Arab countries and become the main alternative to autocratic, secular governments in the region.

The successful suppression of the uprising by Mubarak seems unlikely especially now that the army has announced that it will not attack the demonstrators. This would be a bloody outcome similar to the 1989 Tinaman Square massacre in China or the suppression of the 2009 Iranian Green movement. Not something the United States should be associated with.

The Obama administration faces no good options. If we keep supporting Mubarak too long, the people of Egypt may see America as an ally with their oppressor. If we support the opposition uncritically, we may aid the ultimate victory of Islamist radicals. Other imperfect US allies may cool their relations with us when they see how quickly we dump an ally of thirty years. Opinions on this are widely divided, but the best approach may be to privately urge Mubarak to leave and threaten loss of US support, open up a dialogue with the army and key opposition figures and try to help with a transition that has some type of safeguards against an Islamist takeover.

It’s a high stakes game with an uncertain outcome. We are concerned whether President Obama has the understanding and experience to navigate this biggest foreign policy crisis of his administration. In matters of national security such as this, all Americans have to hope that President Obama receives the best advice and acts wisely in the interest of the United States.

Israel has more at stake in these events than any other country in the world. Here are comments from Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper:

The administration faced a dilemma. One can guess that Obama himself identified with the demonstrators, not the aging dictator. But a superpower isn’t the civil rights movement. If it abandons its allies the moment they flounder, who would trust it tomorrow? That’s why Obama rallied to Mubarak’s side until Friday, when the force of the protests bested his regime.

The street revolts in Tunisia and Egypt showed that the United States can do very little to save its friends from the wrath of their citizens. Now Obama will come under fire for not getting close to the Egyptian opposition leaders soon enough and not demanding that Mubarak release his opponents from jail. He will be accused of not pushing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hard enough to stop the settlements and thus indirectly quell the rising tides of anger in the Muslim world. But that’s a case of 20:20 hindsight. There’s no guarantee that the Egyptian or Tunisian masses would have been willing to live in a repressive regime even if construction in Ariel was halted or a few opposition figures were released from jail.

Now Obama will try to hunker down until the winds of revolt die out, and then forge ties with the new leaders in the region. It cannot be assumed that Mubarak’s successors will be clones of Iran’s leaders, bent on pursuing a radical anti-American policy. Perhaps they will emulate Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who navigates among the blocs and superpowers without giving up his country’s membership in NATO and its defense ties with the United States. Erdogan obtained a good deal for Turkey, which benefits from political stability and economic growth without being in anyone’s pocket. It could work for Egypt, too.

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We normally don’t agree with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on anything. So when Harry Reid is right about something, it deserves some attention. Watch Reid call President Hu of China, who is attending a state dinner at the White House tonight, a dictator:

Predictably Reid backpedals a little, but he is correct. China has been ruled by the Communist Party since 1949 and, while recent regimes have not been as murderous as the founder of Communist China, Mao Tse Tung, who between 1949 and 1976 caused the death of 40 to 70 million people, China is still ruled by a single party, which is engaged in genocide in Tibet and represses many of its people including 2010 Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo.

China has been very successful economically by largely replacing communist economics with capitalism, so successful, that China today is in fact America’s banker owning a large portion of American government debt. China is also a rising military power building weapons that could become a threat to American military superiority. It is forming alliance and building basis to expand its power into the Indian and Pacific Oceans. And China continues to repress its people’s freedom including freedom of speech and religion.

We have hoped in vain for thirty years that economic liberalization will be followed by political liberalization. This has not happened. Formerly communist Eastern Europe has followed the opposite, and much more successful path: a change in the political system has been followed by economic liberalization and growth in wealth.

Our dependence on China for financing our debt is unfortunate and there are no quick short-term solutions. Our uneasy relationship with China is likely to continue. We need to remain alert to the potential threat China will pose to the United States in the decades to come.

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The publication of classified documents by WikiLeaks has caused much embarrassment for leaders around the world who believed that they were talking to American diplomats in confidence. It will be more difficult for our government to have frank discussions with other countries about sensitive topics. The damage to American diplomacy is significant and the Americans who leaked these documents and Wikileaks editor Julian Assange should be prosecuted for the crimes they committed.

The documents also reveal what a dangerous world we live in and that foreign leaders often are much more supportive of American action against the world’s terrorists and rogue regimes than we are lead to believe by the media. For example, the king of Saudi Arabia urged the Obama administration to take out Iran’s nuclear capabilities by force. He and other Middle East leaders are concerned about a nuclear Iran, not about a few Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

Tonight, a new story has emerged that China is ready to abandon the mad regime of North Korea and accept a unified Korea led from Seoul, South Korea’s capital. That is good news although how to get to this goal remains a challenge and who knows how Kim Il-Jung and his generals will react in the midst of the current confrontation with South Korea.

Here is a discussion of the WikiLeaks revelations on Fox News:

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Fidel Castro, recently returned from the almost dead, has become quite talkative giving speeches in public and now an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic.

When asked if he believed the Cuban model was still something worth exporting he answered: “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.”

No kidding. Watch this video for to see what 51 years of Cuban communism have done (via Babalu Blog):

But why would Castro make such an admission? Goldberg tries to explain the statement away and goes on trying to show what a cuddly old retiree the murderous dictator has become telling us about a visit with Castro to a dolphin show.

We don’t know what’s going in Castro’s mind, but some of the other things he said may offer clues to his agenda. Like he did in front of Cuba’s communist parliament a few weeks ago he talks Iran’s nuclear ambitions. He throws Goldberg a line condemning Iranian president Ahmadinejad’s anti-semitism. He even expresses regret about asking the Soviet Union to threaten the US with nuclear weapons during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration would like to lift the embargo against Cuba. Could Castro’s behavior be targeted to encourage the forces in America that would like to see the embargo lifted? A few nice-sounding phrases for a massive economic lifeline thrown to the decrepit Cuban regime may seem like a good trade off for the Castro brothers. Allahpundit at Hot Air was one of the first to speculate about this.

CASTRO 300x199 Castro: Cuban Model Doesnt Even Work for Us AnymoreI have no illusion about Fidel or Raul Castro. These two gangsters have been playing games with gullible Westerners too long to have any credibility. If Castro were serious about the his communist model for Cuba not working, why not initiate massive change?

Cuba could benefit from the examples of former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe that have transformed themselves from communist slave state to thriving free societies. There is twenty years of experience that Cuba could learn from.

If Castro wants the embargo lifted, that is a good argument for keeping it in place until the decrepit regime collapses. I understand Cuban-American support for the embargo although I have always been ambivalent about it. If we could establish trade that doesn’t benefit the regime, but rather individual Cubans (a big if), could trade with Cuba hasten the demise of the regime? After all communist countries like the former Czechoslovakia and Poland conducted trade with the West in the 1970s and 1980s. Communication between visiting Westerners and locals helped firmly entrench the political and economic ideas of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Reagan which became guiding forces once the people of Eastern Europe were free to choose their destiny.

Still this is not the time to lift the embargo especially if most Cuban Americans, many of whom have family members still suffering in Cuba, oppose such a move. While it would be intriguing to set up more contact with the Cuban people and such a move could help subvert the regime, the gang in Washington certainly isn’t capable of executing such a plan. The Obama administration with its leftist elitism instead would focus on building relationships with the government and just help prop it up longer.

We shouldn’t be fooled by Castro playing the mellow old man who suddenly says surprising things. There is an agenda there and it can’t be anything good for the Cuban people and for the advance of freedom.

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