Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bowing to Them Didn't Help

Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institute, a liberal think tank, has some strong words for the worldview of his fellow liberals in a column at The New Republic, a liberal opinion journal. He notes that in the Arab world the U.S. is actually more unpopular and less respected under President Obama, who made it a point to be the unBush, than it was under President Bush.

In an article titled What Obama and American Liberals Don’t Understand About the Arab Spring Hamid writes:
It is worth noting that Bush’s short-lived embrace of Mideast democratic reform—despite his deep personal unpopularity throughout the region—did not appear to hurt the Arab reform movement, and, if anything, did the opposite. This is something that reformers themselves reluctantly admit.

In 2005, at the height of the first Arab spring, the liberal Egyptian publisher and activist Hisham Kassem said, “Eighty percent of political freedom in this country is the result of U.S. pressure.” And it isn’t just liberals who felt this way. Referring to the Bush administration’s efforts, the prominent Muslim Brotherhood figure Abdel Moneim Abul Futouh told me in August 2006, “Everyone knows it....We benefited, everyone benefited, and the Egyptian people benefited.”

Liberals had often told the world—and, perhaps more importantly, themselves—that the Bush administration’s destructive policies were a historic anomaly. When a Democrat was elected, America would undo the damage. For many liberals, including myself, this was what Obama could offer that no one else could—a president with a Muslim name, who had grown up in a Muslim country, who seemed to have an intuitive understanding of the place of grievance in Arab public life.

But, after President Obama’s brief honeymoon period, the familiar disappointments returned. In a span of just one year, the number of Arabs who said they were “discouraged” by the Obama administration’s Middle East policies shot up from 15 percent to 63 percent, according to a University of Maryland/Zogby poll.

By the time the protests began in December 2010, attitudes toward the U.S. had hit rock bottom. In several Arab countries, including Egypt, U.S. favorability ratings were lower under Obama than they were under Bush. Indeed, an odd current of “Bush nostalgia” had been very much evident in Arab opposition circles. In May 2010, a prominent Brotherhood member complained to me: “For Obama, the issue of democracy is fifteenth on his list of priorities....There’s no moment of change like there was under Bush.”
Liberals want Arabs to like us. Conservatives want Arabs to respect us. The former will never happen no matter what we do. The latter will happen to the extent that we remain strong and adhere to our principles of encouraging freedom and democracy around the world. In the Arab world as elsewhere, the people will always follow the strong horse and despise the weak one, but strength is not a virtue among liberals. It is to many of them a symptom of imperialism, hegemony, and inegalitarianism.

Thus the current administration has chosen to "lead from behind," to give the world the impression that we see ourselves as a nation in decline and that the last thing we want to do is promote and push our values onto other cultures. It's feared by our leadership that such would be taken as an insult, but to those who have given or risked their lives in Tahrir Square American political values are, as they were for the Chinese at Tiananmen Square, a source of hope and inspiration.

Arabs don't like us, the call us kafir (infidel), but it is to us - not Russia, not China, not other Arab countries - they turn when they yearn for freedom and need help.

Read Hamid's column. It really is insightful.

Tempest in a Teapot?

My good friend Byron writes to chastise me for posting the story of Governor Beverly Purdue of North Carolina who recently suggested that we suspend elections so that politicians could concentrate on solving our problems without having to worry about what the voters would think. Byron thinks that I go too far in averring that Ms Purdue's comment is symptomatic of an inclination toward totalitarianism in the heart of many progressives. Here's the gravamen of his complaint:
Really, why even write about this? You say that there is a totalitarian impulse deep in the heart of many a liberal. Maybe that is a quote that someone ought to distance themselves from, for that matter, as it strikes me as remarkably rude to accuse nearly half of your fellow citizens of such nefarious impulses. And, frankly, unfounded, I'd say. I'm glad, Dick, that you did say you were not accusing anyone of really planning such a move (to cancel elections) as some fellow conservative bloggers do imply (yes, I've seen them, alarmist, conspiratorial blogs suggesting this is really what Obama has in mind.)

So, if you admit this isn't really any plan of anybody, and is just a dumb comment, why try to make a point out of it, as if it stands for something significant? You've joined the chorus of those making undue political, partisan hay out of this tepid tempest in a teapot. I have a limited amount of time to read on-line each day and I turn to Viewpoint for important insights about important stuff. You have better things to write about. Please stop wasting our time by exposing goof-ball stuff that is said here and there as if it matters. If ten more influential people agree with her, if she shows no remorse, if you even show reasonably that this is some significant trend, I'll eat my words.

For now, though, it seems to me that you've needlessly dignified her comments and you ... have offered just more Hot Air over something that will be forgotten next week. (I suspect you will think I am unfair for saying you are wasting time writing about this kind of nonsense, that your bigger point is that liberals have these tendencies.

You have made that point before, but you should know that drawing this implication from a statement that, if asked, nearly every other elected Democrat would disagree with, is a stretch. No, they may not think it necessary to renounce her---why bother, it's crazy talk, and we all know it! But if you polled other leaders if they, too, want to cancel elections, you won't find many, I'm sure. Which is to say this lurking desire for totalitarianism you accuse your neighbors and friends of is not as dangerous or maybe not as real as you alleged.)
In my defense I offer the following points:

It's manifestly true that there's a penchant on the left for controlling people's lives and that the further left along the ideological spectrum one travels the greater is the desire for control. This seems to me to be inarguable. The yearning to regulate what we can say, what we can eat, what kind of light bulbs we use, what our thermostats should be set at, what kind of car we drive, where we can pray, where we can send our kids to school, and much else emanates from the left. Each of these represents a chipping away of human freedom and each is a step, if only a tiny step, in the direction of total government control of our lives.

Secondly, if a particular post is a "waste" of one's time then the obvious course is simply to move on to something else. To write a lengthy email saying how a post was a waste of one's time seems itself to be rather a waste of one's time. No one is going to find every post on any blog worth reading.

Oddly, Byron himself has a fine blog on which he writes, sometimes at great length, about books. I think it would be very peculiar if a reader who found one of his posts to be of little interest to complain that an essay about a certain genre of books wasted his time. I'm sure Byron would advise his correspondent to just not read it.

Thirdly, Bev Purdue is not a nobody in the Democrat party. She is the governor of a major state. What she says is just as important, and just as revealing of the sorts of ideas circulating among her peers as are the thoughts of, say, Arizona's governor. Jan Brewer. Anyone that high up in the party hierarchy represents, and gives voice to, the ideas of a constituency of millions.

Fourthly, even if it's true that no other party leader would admit to sharing her views, as Byron alleges, that doesn't mean much. What people think and what they will admit to are often two different things. It's an article of faith among liberals, for example, that the number of racists in this country is far greater than the number of people who'll admit to being racist. Of course people won't admit to wanting to suspend elections, just like they won't admit to being racist, even if they'd like to see it done. They realize that they'd look like kooks if they did.

Finally, I write about things that interest me. That's what a blog is for. I don't write about what I think would interest somebody else. If a reader thinks that calling attention to the thinking of a major politician in this country is not important, that's up to them, but I think it is important, and, as President Bush once said, I'm the decider.