Colin Steele graduated from Georgetown's School of Foreign Service in 2012 and earned the Religion, Ethics, and World Affairs certificate. In 2010-2011, Colin participated in the Berkley Center's Junior Year Abroad Network from both Turkey and Ireland. In 2012, Colin participated as a fellow in the first annual Millennial Values Symposium and worked on the Jesuits and Globalization Project with Professors Banchoff and Casanova.
November 9, 2010
Turkey is a country in search of an identity. Eighty-seven years after Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded the Republic of Turkey, the bedrock principle of secularism is being put to the test by "liberal" reformers who want to reintroduce some forms and functions of Islam into the public arena.
Today, 98 or 99 percent of Turks are Muslim, the vast majority of whom are Sunni. Public displays of Muslim faith are strictly forbidden in official settings, however. This is thanks to the strictly secularist principles espoused by Atatürk, enshrined in the latest constitution by the leaders of the 1980 military coup, and enforced today by the Kemalist "deep state" apparatus rooted in the military and the courts that everyone loves to hate.
The schools are now a major public battleground between Turkey's Islamic and secularist factions. Specifically at issue is the full ban on headscarves in schools, despite the fact that approximately 70 percent of Turkish women choose to cover their hair. This ban is in effect at all levels from primary school to university, and has been a source of increasing angst among female Turkish students. The hotly-contested package of reforms proposed by the current Justice and Democracy Party (AKP)-led government originally had included a measure to lift the headscarf ban, but the provision was struck down by the traditionally conservative Turkish Constitutional Court before the referendum was approved by voters on September 12th.
Just a few days ago, I had an unexpected encounter with Turkey's secularism-in-schools norms. I have grown out my beard over the last month. I have also made a commitment to teach English at a local elementary school as part of the McGhee Center's Community-Based Learning initiative. The first time I showed up to class with my beard, it was an instant sensation with the students. Initially, I chalked up their amazement to the novelty of my new and bright red beard. The Turkish teacher we work with, however, explained that the children were excited to see a teacher with a beard, since teachers "like all Turkish civil servants" are forbidden to grow beards. As with so many seemingly thoughtless details, "Water before or after coffee? What do you mean I can't combine cold food and hot food?!", growing out my beard ended up sending cultural signals of which I was unaware. It turns out that mustaches are considered Turkish, while beards connote leftist/Islamist political views.
Turkey is a land of apparent contradictions: Liberals want to bring religion back into public life while conservatives want to keep it out. Every imam and muezzin is educated, employed, and monitored by the avowedly secular government's ministry of religious affairs. As one of our professors noted, Turkey is a land of Byzantine churches turned into Ottoman mosques turned into museums, the churches of the Turkish secular state.
Turkey has been secular to a fault for close to 90 years. Now, it seems that the time has come for Turkey to forge its own identity, but no one is sure what form that identity should take. Should it take the leftist path, forgoing the uncertain prospect of EU accession in favor of an eastward-looking, less-secular future? Should it listen to the political conservatives, keeping strict secularism in force and prioritizing EU membership? Is there perhaps a third way in which Turkey could publicly embrace its Muslim identity and become a respected regional power without being labeled Islamist or turning its back on Europe?
Based on the recent growth of public support for relaxing Kemalist secularism and waning enthusiasm for EU accession, it seems that something is going to have to give. Most Turks I have talked to feel like change is just around the corner. They envision a very different Turkey within the next generation.
As a Muslim country bordering the Arab world and a westward-looking prospective member of the European Union, Turkey is a literal and metaphorical gateway between the two regions. Turkey has the opportunity define itself independently of both the Euro-centric modernization paradigm and the Islamist/statist ideologies of many of its neighbors. Skillfully charting a course between the two would fulfill Atatürk's dream of a Turkish Republic based on "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and Justice" for all, a phrase that unites the ideals of the French Revolution with the distinctly Islamic conception of justice.
COMMENT FROM PROF. ROBERT LIEBER - April 16, 2011
Colin's intervention is thoughtful, but it is essential to add here that the Erdogan regime has gone about curtailing press and political freedoms. Journalists, independent media, business people, opposition figures and others have been subject to arbitrary and repressive actions, including wiretapping, tax and "judicial" measures, and even imprisonment for alleged conspiracies. Important and non-partisan NGOs such as Freedom House have criticized these abuses as serious violations of political freedom.
January 17, 2011
Thoughts, reflections, and observations on the end of one semester, the beginning of another, and a move across a continent:
I have just completed a journey across Europe from the McGhee Center in Alanya, Turkey to the National University of Ireland, Galway. That's two time zones, an entire continent, and more miles than I can count. In so doing, I've exchanged my Mediterranean view for one of the Atlantic, sandy beaches for rocky cliffsides, minarets for steeples, and five calls to prayer each and every day for going to church on Sunday when I feel like it.
Despite all the apparent differences, life is still a lot more similar than I expected it to be. The scenery creates natural beauty from the same basic ingredients: ocean/sea, the shore, ships moored in marinas, and local flora. The political and social situations in Ireland and Turkey have many echoes of one another. Both have issues of national integrity (Turkey's Kurdish southeast vs. the six counties of Northern Ireland); both have long and complex relationships with their respective majority religions (Sunni Islam vs. [often Catholic] Christianity); and both have their issues with Europe (Turkey's half-century quest for EU membership vs. Ireland's ignominious economic situation that, along with Portugal, Greece, and Spain, threatens the integrity of the monetary union).
Three weeks' travel across Europe at Christmas-time, particularly in an unseasonable snowstorm, was absolutely magical. I visited Istanbul, Vienna, Prague, Brussels, Antwerp, Gent, Bruges, Cologne, Dublin, Cork, Blarney, and finally Galway in that time. Family friends in Antwerp hosted me for Christmas and I rang in the New Year in my new home with a pint of Guinness in Dublin's Temple Bar district.
I've been a lot of places and seen a lot of stuff between Damascus and Galway, but Belgium takes the cake so far for best society, best-preserved Gothic/Dutch Renaissance ambiance, and best quality and selection of food and drink. The people couldn't be friendlier, most speak better English (and Flemish and French) than I do, and the fusion of Dutch and French cuisine plus Trappist beer is hard to beat.
The experience of meeting up with large groups of newly-arrived Americans here in Galway can only be described as surreal. There are a few full-year American students here at NUIG, but of the people I know, I am the only one to have both been abroad without interruption since August and to have arrived in Galway from the east instead of the west. After not meeting any more Americans outside of our program than I could count on one hand for four-plus months, suddenly being surrounded not only by lots of Americans but by people who have just been in the States has created actual inter-cultural experiences. Apparently, I have completely missed the evolution of "jeggings" in America and had to have that concept explained; my friends also got a good laugh out of watching me stop dead in my tracks at the sight of Kellogg's cereals in the food store when we all went shopping for the first time. After a five-month hiatus, turning the corner and being confronted with Tony the Tiger, the Cornflakes rooster, and Snap, Crackle & Pop was so unexpected I laughed out loud.
With a broad sample size in mind, I think I can say with some confidence that neither the Turks nor the Irish are really "European" in the modern sense. Don't get me wrong: I'm glad Ireland is in the EU and I think Turkey should be as well, but after seeing Italy, Belgium, and Germany in particular (and I have not even been to France yet), it seems pretty clear to me that the Turks and the Irish are not just geographically on the edges of Europe, but there are real cultural differences between them and central/western continental Europeans as well. Both countries are clearly the working-class neighborhoods of Europe, and indeed both have long been exporters of labor to the Continent. The modes of dress are also more similar between Turkey and Ireland than between either and the mainland, with the jeans not as tight, the shoes not as pointy, and the general style of clothing tending more towards the workaday than the latest Milan runway items.
One of the major points of study at the McGhee Center was whether or not we thought the EU should let Turkey in. Turkey was among the earlier prospective members (its application has been open since 1959), yet it is continually rebuffed. It is something of a truism to accuse Europe of being a white, Christian club that will of course not find room for a Muslim country; having now traveled through the EU after all that time in Turkey, I would love to see Turkey become a member of the Union and let the wild rumpus of cultural diffusion start. I think both sides could profit immensely from increased integration with the other, as the Turks could do great things for Europe economically and the Europeans could contribute a lot to Turkish culture and society. The gesture itself of welcoming Turkey into the EU would also go a long way in dispelling accusations of the EU as an inwardly-focused, civilly xenophobic Greater France. Turkey could get the Europeans off their too-high horse and Europe could help show Turkey the way to better democratic and religio-social norms. Sadly, the window may be closing on both sides as the Europeans continue to embrace former Soviet satellites with far worse socio-economic-democratic issues than Turkey and the Turks increasingly want to just move on without the EU, already.
If I had to bet on the long-term vibrancy of one, I'd pick Turkey. It is a much more "happening" place and it has the feel of a young racehorse chomping at the bit. Europe is more the retired stallion happy to be put out to pasture. Europe might be eminently civilized, but it doesn't have the same feeling of youthful energy and transformation that Turkey does. It must be said that Turkey is dogged by the twin specters of non-democratic government and religious fundamentalism; if either of these ever-present undercurrents triumphs, Turkey is lost. Ironically, I think that relaxing its rigid secularism laws might be the best thing Turkey could do right now to disarm the fundamentalists, by decoupling the ability of citizens to freely express their identity as Muslims from the legitimacy of the government. Strict secularism might have been important in the beginning to allow the Turkish state to differentiate itself both from its Ottoman past and its Islamist neighbors; 90 years later, it is time for Turkey to cultivate and embrace respect for and respectful freedom of expression. Thanks in large part to secularism and westernization, Turkey does not have the hopelessly dead-end feel of neighboring Syria, a society that is clearly spinning its wheels. That said, the government must realize that, nearly a century after the nation was proclaimed by Atatürk, allowing the headscarf back into public life is unlikely to put the country into a hard right turn towards the reactionary Islamism of the Middle East.
February 4, 2011
Like too many of its neighboring (largely Arab) governments, the Egyptian regime has long been amongst the most repressive and democratically backward in the world. As anyone who has been even cursorily glancing at any serious front page(s) lately should know, President (for life) Hosni Mubarak's regime has been keeping a tight lid on the country for 30 years and pursuing the so-called kleptocratic practices that we in the U.S. so often decry in Russians and assume are inherent in Arabs. Whether or not bad government is coded into the Arab genome is beyond the scope of my real knowledge, but I'll happily go way out on a limb and guess that it is not. My impression is that the whole area floundered into the modern era with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire (remember them?) only to be beset by the slippery issues surrounding oil production. That said, it must be noted that North Africa (including Egypt) is Arab but not really oil-producing; the downside of this situation being a regime just as repressive as any of the real OPEC fat cats', but with the upside--if it is that--of a legitimate possibility of regime change, if for no other reason than the purely cynical one that the U.S. and allies can risk the collapse of a totalitarian "ally" against terrorism in a way that they cannot do with a major oil supplier.
On leaving Syria, I was convinced that the regime there was unsustainable. By far the least democratic place I have ever experienced, I was deeply troubled by the twisted and "quietly ferocious" form of state-socialist government I encountered there. Syria is another Arab country with all the problems of its neighbors and--like Egypt--none of the obscene oil riches that keep regimes in power and still dissenting opinions in the Arabian Peninsula. Turkey, too, felt like a place on the verge of momentous change by the time I left there about a month and a half ago. As had been the case in the Arab world (of which Turkey, importantly, is not a part) before a Tunisian vegetable-seller reached the end of his rope, Turkey had the feeling of place that was going to (and needed to) undergo a serious social reckoning between its longstanding competing social, political and economic interest groups. Add the potentially-explosive ingredient of Islamism (more vibrant in Egypt than Turkey), and the situation seemed quite precarious indeed.
It should go without saying that this is a genuine Moment in the history of the Arab and Muslim worlds (again, not coterminous). The Big Question of the past decade has been, Can Islam and Democracy coexist? In the immediate aftermath of the Tunisian rebellions, I read a number of commentaries that encouraged Tunisia to go the way of Turkey in marrying democracy and Islam. I would caution writers and rebels to be wary in hoping for the advent of little Turkeys throughout the Arab/Muslim world. To laud Turkish democracy, religious affairs, and especially Turkey's ways of squaring the two, as exemplary for all other Muslim nations is to fall under the spell of a shallow appreciation of Turkish history and politics. As Colin Powell used to say, those advocating the spread of the Turkish system should "be careful what they wish for, because they might get exactly that."
If Turkey is a 99% Muslim country currently celebrating 90 years of democracy and a rapidly-increasing global stature, why should Arabs now in revolt or thinking of revolting be skeptical of the Turkish model? The first reason has to do with the unique circumstances of the creation of the Turkish Republic: Turkey emerged in the wake of WWI with a civil war that had been begging to happen for a long time and finally found its moment as the Great Powers caught their collective breath after the Great War; further, Turkey happened in large part due to the singular influence and leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, its inimitable and still-revered founder. As many of the same articles that prescribe Turkey for Tunisia note, there currently appear to be no leaders-in-waiting with the vision, ambition and strength of personality of Ataturk. There is a reason the man known as Mustafa Kemal Pasha took the name "Father Turk;" I do not know of any "Father Tunisia" or "Father Egypt" waiting in the wings in either country right now.
Secondly, Turkey does not enjoy a truly democratic democracy. Its version is light-years ahead of that operated by Egypt's National Democratic Party or the recently-deposed Constitutional Democratic Rally Party of Tunisia, yet it is far from perfect. The army--viewed since Ataturk's day as the vanguard and guardian of democracy--has not, in the 90 years of Turkish independence, seen fit to actually leave democracy to the people. In that time, it has staged no less than two full coups and three "soft coups" in which the civilian leadership was not actually deposed; though still highly-trusted and seen as a force for democracy, by virtue of remaining either at the controls or at least in the control room of Turkish democracy to this day, the Turkish Army remains a concealed but nevertheless significant obstacle to true democracy in Turkey. Thankfully, the armies of both Tunisia and Egypt have so far stayed out of politics and more or less on the side of the protesters; arguing for those countries following Turkey's lead would create a logic if not a mandate for military government in the name of democracy in each. Much better that people like Mohamed ElBaradei lead transitional governments than that the generals seize the moment.
Thirdly, Turkey has, to the cursory view, succeeded in getting Islam and democracy to coexist. The problem is that Turkey's success, such as it is, has come by means of incredibly strict secularism laws that have in some ways buried the issue of Islam in politics and public life and created a secular-nationalist religion of the state in its stead. As the world waits with baited breath to see what role the political Islamists in Tunisia and Egypt have in those countries' present and future democratic (?) iterations, why root for the Turkish outcome, which seems on the verge of a great reckoning anyway? Since coming to power, the vaguely-Islamist Justice and Development Party currently leading Turkey has generated a serious national soul-searching that has brought the country face-to-face with its legacy of secularism (initiated by Ataturk and thus infallible in the eyes of many) and the undercurrent of political Islam and popular expressions of religion that, it seems, are still in tension after all. Turkey has not solved the apparent problem of democratization/modernization in a Muslim country so much as it simply wrote political Islam out of the public sphere. Now that Islam is creeping in--and especially given global views of Islam today--the issue buried by Ataturk is rearing its head with a vengeance today. Turkey itself is going to have to determine if and how to fit the square peg of Islam into the round hole of pluralistic democracy--it therefore makes no sense to encourage Arab nations to essentially duck the issue as Turkey did. At least for now, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt seems quiescent and willing to negotiate and work with ElBaradei to create a transitional government, why not encourage this kind of self-starting democratic behavior on the part of a notoriously conservative and militant Islamist organization?
So if Tunisia, Egypt, and whatever other Arab countries go next are not to follow Turkey, what should they do instead? What if they did become little Turkeys--isn't the devil we know better than the one we don't?
Not only is rooting for (or even actively encouraging) such an outcome not better, it is simply not right. First of all, meddling in the first truly popular democratic movements the Arab world has seen in a long time would be undemocratic on the part of the U.S. and/or the West, should we attempt it. Secondly, the people involved have been quite firm in stating that they do not really want anything more out of the United States right now than verbal support for democratic processes and outcomes; in other words, kingmaking, advice, money, and most especially weapons are not wanted right now.
That brings us to the second reason we need to hope for and encourage more out of the current Arab revolts than simply copycatting of Turkey. Frankly, America has not done well by these countries or had particularly healthy relationships with them in the past, so they are not in the greatest rush to see us step in now. Furthermore, we all saw how well not listening and instead barging ahead got us in Iraq and Afghanistan; we have neither created democracy nor won a lot of brownie points with the Arab and Muslim worlds for all of our efforts in either place. Most of all, the best thing we can do to recover some of the credibility and democratic/moral legitimacy we sacrificed in Iraq right now would be to openly encourage democracy in Tunisia and Egypt. I mentioned the unhealthy relationship we have had with these places of late; in real terms, this has meant the U.S.'s support of these very undemocratic regimes for fear of Islamists and their doing our dirty work for us. Specifically, we have long been the armorers of Arab despots against their citizens, a favor they have returned by employing on U.S. prisoners the torture techniques they have developed by use on their citizens. Every time you read about or see someone getting shot in Egypt right now, consider that the shooter's weapon, ammunition, and training (if he is a soldier) are all made in the U.S.A. The same holds for many of the tanks on the streets, the fighter jets that buzzed Cairo the other day, and the tear gas canisters used by riot police.
In conclusion, my view is that we, the United States and other leading democracies of the world, need to take this opportunity to put our money (and our mouth) where our mouth has been for so long. It has been obvious for so long that the Arab world was overdue for democratization and that, when it came, it wasn't going to be an easy process or a pretty one. Now that it or something like it is upon us, we would do well to offer the loudest support for true democracy in the region that we can. If, as currently seems to be the case, we are unwilling to say much more than that we have the situation under observation and would like peace, democracy, and McDonald's to reign happily ever after, then our loudest vote of support for democracy would actually be to just shut the hell up. It might even be the most prudent--we're on touchy ground with many Arabs and Muslims these days, and if we learn to listen twice as much as we talk, our standing might go up dramatically. We would also reduce the chances of putting our foot in our mouth: we're currently hedging our comments so much because the outcomes of all this in the near and long term are so uncertain; saying as little as possible now means proportionately fewer chances of supporting a regime that either is or gets ugly.
The threat posed by Islamism, which has led us to support regimes such as those being toppled today in the past, is both a real and a delicate one. It is just as important that democracy come into being in these countries as that it be as free as possible of radical Islamist tendencies. That said, democracy in the Muslim world will not, should not, and cannot be free of Islam. Islam is by nature a more political religion than we in the West are comfortable with or accustomed to; it is also the dominant religion in the Arab world and its social and political expression is going to be part and parcel of any true Arab democracy that comes into being. Turkey decided to simply ban expressions of Islam, notably the headscarf, and their recent reintroduction has caused a national identity crisis; the chances of even imposing such bans in places like Egypt in the first place are infinitely smaller than they were under Ataturk at the dawn of modern Turkey. As long as the Islamist elements in Tunisia and Egypt continue to keep low profiles and support democratic outcomes, let them. How many times have we heard a U.S. president (Bush or Obama) tell us we have nothing to fear from Islam in the past 10 years? Time to find out how we really feel.
So let's not talk Turkey. This democratic moment in the Arab world has been a long time in the making--why not make the most of it? The Turkish Republic has more or less worked for Turkey and it's more or less democratic, true, but we should really be encouraging new thinking, new democratic iterations, and new leadership in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Is it really so inconceivable that the Tunisians and/or Egyptians in 2011 come up with a fresher or better method of creating an Islamic democracy than Ataturk did in the 1920's? What if the Tunisians come up with a headscarf policy that Turks want to emulate? What if Egypt transitions to democracy without the military ever taking power? It's not like the U.S. is going to apologize out loud for our inconsistencies and screwups in dealing with these countries until a couple of weeks ago, so why not seize the democratic moment ourselves and, by word and deed, actively promote the truest and newest democracies anyone could hope for in the Arab world?
The coming days, weeks, months and years will be messy, uncertain, fractious, tense, and hopeful--in a word, democratic--in Tunisia, Egypt, and quite possibly other Arab countries tired of the same old same old. Their citizens are trying to "win the future" for themselves, and wouldn't it be a lot better if they did so by the ballot box and not with bullets we gave them?
A democratic Arabia, Middle East, and Muslim world? That ought to be a change we can believe in.
March 30, 2011
For this post, I’ll step back briefly into a former major (IPOL/Security) and a former life (last semester in Turkey) to offer a few comments on the situation unfolding in the Middle East today, specifically in Libya. In a previous article, I argued that the “Jasmine Revolution” then happening in Tunisia and Egypt was something that should be cheered and encouraged by the United States. President Obama did eventually come out in support of the Egyptian people and demanded Hosni Mubarak step down, which I believe was the right message to send, but now the president has committed U.S. forces to some kind of conflict/intervention/action-that-looks-a-lot-like-war in Libya. Was that also the right call?
The short answer is, yes, it was. What is happening in the Arab world right now is a truly momentous upheaval in which peoples are throwing off stifling old regimes that seemed implacable as ever as recently as December. That deserves the support and guidance of America, one of the greatest and certainly the most influential democracy in the world.
The most oft-cited reason for the NATO-led, French-driven, U.S.-orchestrated, UN-blessed (sort of) intervention was to prevent the mass killings of Libyan rebels by forces loyal to Col. Muammar Qaddafi, the country’s eccentric and iron-fisted leader. This is indeed a valid and noble goal. But the intervention also had everything to do with three important theories of international affairs, of which it upheld two and abrogated the third.
The first concept is that of American exceptionalism. This notion holds that America is a “City on the Hill” or “Light unto the Nations,” biblically-worded assertions that, in short, we’re something special. More specifically, this idea holds that American democracy is and of right ought to be the model democracy in the world; the connotations often attached to this vision include the ascription of a unique moral rightness to U.S. motives and an obligation to be at the forefront in spreading and defending democracy around the world. Whether or not the exceptionalist narrative and its attendant assumptions of obligation and morality are correct, they still inform the national discourse and leave us feeling that it is in our national interest to prevent slaughter in Libya. By intervening, the U.S. has upheld the exceptionalist view and perpetuated our de facto role as world policeman. No matter how much we complain about always spending the most time, energy and money on world policing, as long as exceptionalism maintains its currency, we are agreeing to our moral culpability for the world’s problems and imposing a moral duty on ourselves to be the exemplary democracy we think or say we are.
The second concept, much more consequential from the point of view of developing standards within the international community, is the so-called "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P). This doctrine was developed in the wake of the Rwandan genocide of 1993, after which the world vowed (again): “never again.” President Obama himself linked the exceptionalist and R2P rationales for intervention in his official speech on U.S. actions in Libya: “Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And, as president, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.”
Facing its first serious test as a guiding principle of international intervention, R2P has been robustly upheld in Libya, but it remains to be seen how far or how often we – the U.S., NATO, the UN – are willing to invoke this supposedly binding doctrine. Will R2P still be in play if and when the oil-rich countries revolt?
Finally, the concept abrogated by the Libyan intervention was the “Bush Doctrine” of unilateral, pre-emptive war. With the U.S. and the international community tripping over themselves to appear deliberate, multilateral and acting in the interests and with the blessing of all concerned international organizations, President Obama’s first military action was an exercise in repudiating Iraq. But instead of fighting the last war, we are now fighting against the last war, and there are dangers in that, too. For all the proclamations of a new, righteous, Obama-esque theory of intervention now splashed across the op-ed pages, we are really back to the future: the “Obama Doctrine” is really a Clintonian redux, and we would do well to recall the weaknesses and difficulties that bedeviled military action during the Clinton years. It was Clinton’s inaction on Rwanda that produced R2P, after all; other low-commitment, low-risk, multilateral adventures included Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo.
The bottom line is, we are now involved in Libya, for better or worse. No matter who is in command of the operation or whose flag is on Western pilots’ orders, we have decided that R2P really is a value worth fighting for and that preventing mass casualties in other countries is integral to American interests – at least for now.
On balance, I think that President Obama has done a remarkably dextrous job of negotiating one of the toughest policy challenges of the post-Cold War era. If the events in the Arab World today really are the revolution that drags that region back into connection with the outside world, it will have vast consequences for Arabs, Americans and everyone else. The U.S., by virtue of its unilateral dealings with each of the Arab nations before the uprisings broke out, had set itself up to be tied in knots if and when Arab political forces started to pull strongly in different directions, as is happening now.
Unfortunately, the knot we currently find ourselves in is a product of being pulled between exceptionalist ideals and realist concerns. Whether this is the crisis that finally convinces us that oil reliance might not be the best or easiest policy to maintain anymore remains to be seen; in the short run, it is inconceivable that the U.S. will do the truly exceptional and push whole-heartedly for Arab democracy in cases where our oil interests would be at risk (starting with Saudi Arabia).
That said, we can and should hope that President Obama and others at the top of the American policy-planning chain recognize and capitalize on the golden opportunity presented by the “Jasmine Revolutions:” to simultaneously bring freedom to the Arab world and an end to the U.S.’s and the world’s dependence on oil.
It is cruel and unusual to expect that the Arabs should continue to mire in the world’s most backward societies, and it is time we developed the same conscience about oil that we have about coffee – paying $10 per gallon of “Fair-Trade” gasoline would bring about the alternative energy future in a hurry. Now that we have involved ourselves in the Libyan revolution, it is time to determine a desired outcome there and elsewhere that will actually bring about Arab democracy. As the saying goes, “you can’t get a little bit pregnant.” Preventing a mass slaughter of the rebels by Qaddafi was only the first step – now it is time to carry this intervention to term and help give birth to a new, modern and democratic Arabia.