The democracy protests that swept Tunisian President Zine el Abedine Ben Ali from power are going viral, but sadly President Obama and other Western leaders seem immune.For the generation of the 1930s a similar question was asked. Why didn't the democracies support Loyalist Spain? Why did they let Hitler and Mussolini use the military revolt by General Franco to test weapons and train troops for the coming world conflagation?
Indeed, it is quite likely that the president and his colleagues in Europe are as frightened of the potential explosion of people power across the Middle East and North Africa as are the sclerotic autocratic leaders of the region against whom the protests are being directed.
The question is, why?
Why would Obama, who worked so hard to reach out to the Muslim world with his famous 2009 speech in Cairo, be standing back quietly while young people across the region finally take their fate into their own hands and push for real democracy?
Shouldn't the president of the United States be out in front, supporting non-violent democratic change across the world's most volatile region?
So the question really needs to be asked - whose interests is President Obama serving by remaining silently supportive of the status quo when he could, and by any measure, should, be lending vocal, public support for the peoples of the Arab world as they finally rise up against their leaders?
Is it companies like Lockheed Martin, the massive defence contractor whose tentacles reach deep into every part of the fabric of governance (as revealed by William Hartung's powerful new book, Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military Industrial Complex)?
Is it the superbanks who continue to rake in profits from an economy that is barely sputtering along, and who have joined with the military industrial complex's two principal axes-the arms and the oil industries-to form an impregnable triangle of corrupt economic and political power?
It's hard to think of any other candidates at the present time.
Tonight in his State of the Union address the world will learn whether President Obama has any of his once celebrated vision, courage and audacity left in him, or if he's been so thoroughly beaten down by the forces that actually run Washington that he can barely muster support for the young people around the Arab world who are increasingly saying "Kefaya", Enough!, To their governments, and the larger global system that has kept them in power for so long.
It's probably too much to ask the President to say "Kefaya" to the forces that have so circumscribed his once progressive vision.
But it would be nice if he could at least offer a few words of support to the people of Tunisia, and now Egypt and other countries across the region, who are actually following the example of the United States and fighting for their freedom.
For the generation of the 1960s a similar question was asked about why the US didn't respect the Geneva accords calling for elections in North and South Vietnam. Why did the US back a repressive regime that led to Buddhists burning themselves in the streets? Why did the US help depose and kill Ngo Dihn Diem? Why did the US support a series of military dictators?
For the generation of the 1970s a similar question was asked about the US planning and supporting a military coup against a legally elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende. Why did they back a repressive military regime that herded people into stadiums and let death squads kill indiscriminately? Why in the 1970s did the US support the Dirty War in Argentina?
For the 1980s generation a similar question arose about Reagan, a US president, defying laws passed by Congress prohibiting aid to the Contras, death squads, roaming Nicaragua. This was especially poignant because the US administration sold rockets to Iran, a deadly enemy that had held American citizens hostage for a long, long time in order to get the dirty money to pay the Contras.
For the 1990s generation a similar yet somewhat different question arose. Why with the collapse of the "evil empire" didn't the US disarm? Why did the US military continue to grow until its budget was bigger than the budgets of the ten next biggest military budgets? Why was such overwhelming superiority needed? Especially when it was used so oddly. It was used to chase the Iraqis out of Kuwait so that the pampered princes could have their gold-plated bathrooms back. But when Bush called on the Iraqis to rise up and overthrow Saddam Hussein, the military was not used. Instead, it stood down and let Hussein fly his helicopters to massacre those who rose up against him. Why?
For the 2000 generation the question is similar but different again. Why these interminable wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that kill so many civilians but seem completely incompetent to rid these lands of a handful of Al Qaeda fanatics? Why would a US president issue a "we will get Osama bin Laden dead or alive" but when they had him trapped in the Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan, did they use hired mercenaries to "trap" him despite the knowledge of how corrupt these local "fighters" were? Why declare a war in Iraq on false pretenses (weapons of mass destruction) that would cause so much grief and do so little good. In fact, this war handed Iraq over to Iran, the sworn enemy of the US. Why?
I would love to get some answers from Barack Obama tonight. But I don't expect any. I expect only the bland self promoting statements, the feel good statements, the call for a "better America" and the achievement of America's "promise". I don't expect any real truth. Any getting down to the ugly facts of history and how cruelly democracies have treated the poor and the disenfranchised. I expect no truth about power politics and corruption. I expect nothing to be said about a military-industrial complex on steroids that is a cancer destroying America by bleeding the economy dry to fight endless wars that have no purpose and no successful termination. (Think of the huge waste of life and treasure in Vietnam to defeat a supposed "mortal enemy" who is no a treasured economic partner with whom the US trades happlily in the new world order.)
It would be great to get some answers from Obama. But I don't expect anything. I fully expect the US to remain silent about the mideast turmoil. Or for the US president to call for "cool heads" to prevail or some other innocuous words while behind the scenes the US is probably shipping arms and "trainers" into the region to prop up the dictators.
Thanks to Thomas for pointing me at this article. Needless to say, the above views are mine and not those of Thomas.