Democracy, Authoritarianism and Course Corrections

(In response to comments on US and western involvement in our regional conflicts)

Abuse of power is common to all who have it. But democratic countries like the US allow for self-criticism and self-reflection and therefore, for the possibility of course correction.

In our struggle to bring democracy to our part of the world, where authoritarianism makes course-correction on a variety of issues well-nigh impossible, it will be positive to lobby for support from established democracies. Failure to lobby in this regard will leave the stage to be occupied by pundits with little knowledge, understanding  and appreciation of shifting realities in the region, and other lobbies which represent the interests of ruling regimes and all varieties of parties who are not interested in democracy to begin with.

As a superpower America has many interests in our region and will continue to interfere in it one way or another. It will be much better for us to try to influence her decisions and shape her policies in this regard rather than complain. Our regimes complain but they also spend enormous amounts of money lobbying for their particular interests, American policies tend to reflect that lobbying. It also reflect indigenous ignorance of the region, the traditional arrogance that comes with power, and that supposedly “pragmatic” streak that make politicians uninterested in the long-term impact of certain of their policies on the peoples of the region. Our absence from the scene contributes to this situation as well. The future of any part of our world is no longer shaped by forces and processes that are completely indigenous to it, the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can start taking active part in the making of our future. Change anywhere requires action everywhere.

As for conflicts in our region, the US will remain part of that and has been in fact, long before Iraq, so long as it has interest in the outcome. The endgame is not getting the US out, but making sure that conflict is over, and what is standing in the way of that is a host of issues that are internal to the region.

Let’s not forget here that just as the US dabbles in the affairs of the region, there are those in the region who dabbles in its affairs, and have vested interests in the outcome of its political and economic processes. Disentanglement and neutrality are impossible. We all have interests in each other’s affairs, and the outcome depends on the ability of each player to be organized around a certain vision.

Indeed, the peoples of the region are not idiots, but they are also not united, and different groups have different if not conflicting interests. When you get to the nitty-gritty of civic and political activism in the region, you will find out that much depends on creating the kind of strategic and tactical alliances that can empower you, both on the short and long runs, and provide you with the necessary wherewithal to gain relevance and make an impact. That’s not easy, to say the least. But this kind of politicking is necessary if you want to influence the processes shaping the future of the region.

Pure intentions have no business in politics, no matter who’s involved and what principles are used to justify involvement, that much we know.

True, the “Arab World” or the Broader Middle East in general would have been better off without Western involvement. But the West did get involved, is involved and will continue to be involved, one way or another. And we are weak, and they are strong, and they tend to pursue their interests at the expense of our freedoms when that suit them, empowering our autocratic and corrupt rulers. All that is true. But how do we redress the balance of power, especially considering the fact that we are not united, and can never be united?

Obviously, some of us will choose to get involved in the process trying to influence it from within, others will choose to work against the system. In both cases, strange and shifting alliances will emerge, and no one really knows what the eventual outcome will be.

Take Lebanon for example, and look at the shifting positions of various political figures there throughout the last few decades, everybody finds that situation to be disgusting, including the Lebanese themselves, and despite many theoretical proposals, on the ground, no one managed so far to impose a different system. Does Lebanon represent the best that can be achieved for now? Do Somalia and Yemen represent the worst case scenario? I don’t know. What I do know is that our politics will for long be ugly, and that we need to be involved nonetheless.

Finally, I, too, don’t subscribe to the clash of civilization thesis. What we have is a conflict of interest on a global scale.