Saturday, January 29, 2011

Turmoil in the Middle East and What We Can Learn From it.

In Tunisia, a country of over 10 million people, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was forced out of office after a popular uprising. Ben Ali has ruled as a dictator for 23 years. The uprising began after the self-immolation of a college graduate who was working as a street vendor and was dissatisfied with the lack of economic opportunities. Tunisia has one of the more educated Arab populations, has been a secular country, and has suppressed Islamist groups. The new Provisional Government is promising elections in six months and says it is seeking to build a democracy.

Meanwhile, with the Prime Minister of Lebanon visiting the US, Hezbollah effectively took over that government and garnered enough support to elect their hand picked candidate as the new prime minister. This puts an Iranian backed regime on Israel's northern border.

Then we turn to Egypt where there have been demonstrations for a week now. Egypt, with a population of over 80 million people, has been the leading Arab country. Mubarak has been dictator for 30 years, and has also suppressed Islamist groups, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas is an offshoot of the Brotherhood. While Mubarak has far more support from his military than Ben Ali had from his, it is not guaranteed that Mubarak survives this uprising. Even if he does, his age makes it likely that it will not be for long. The Muslim Brotherhood, while outlawed in Egypt, nevertheless remains the key opposition group. And while the demonstrations were prompted by the same desire of the people for freedom and economic opportunity - as in Tunisia - the chances of Egypt becoming an Islamist state are uncomfortably high.

Under Mubarak, the peace treaty with Israel was strained at best. As an Islamist country the treaty with Israel would be dead. Egypt's military is significantly stronger than the last time it faced Israel in a war. It has about 300 F-16 fighter jets, the M1A1 tank, a large navy and double the size of Israel's army. (As reported by Caroline Glick in the Jerusalem Post online.)

Yet, as Nero fiddled while Rome burned, Obama is still pursuing the establishment of yet another Islamist regime on Israel's border - "Palestine." Obama, having made a recess appointment of an ambassador to Syria, is also seeking to have Israel return the strategic Golan Heights to Syria. Obama and those in his Administration have repeated on numerous occassions that the failure of Israel to make a deal with the palestinians has been the main obstacle to overall peace and stability in the Middle East. Now we can see just what a Big Lie that has been. The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have NOTHING to do with Israel and the palestinians; and everything to do with a desire by the people for freedom and economic opportunity. However, while the cause of these uprisings is unrelated to Israel, the effects can and likely will have a significant impact on Israel. Israel is surrounded on all sides by hostile neighbors. How much greater will the threat to peace be if the neighbors are Islamic fundalmentalist regimes and/or tied to the Iranian/Syrian/Hezbollah/Hamas (and now Turkey perhaps) axis. Clearly, the influence of the US and its main Arab allies - Egypt and Saudi Arabia - has already dwindled; while Iran, Syria and Turkey are playing far greater roles in Muddle East affairs.

So what lessons can we in the US learn about our own democracy from the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East? As expressed in our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, we have a historical belief in the primacy of the individual over the state. It is "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" as well as all the rights enumerated in our Constitution. These individual rights are of vital necessity to a free and democratic society. Mere elections are not enough. Mere elections resulted in Hamas winning in Gaza, with their resultant iron-fisted rule and denial of basic human rights. Mere elections resulted in Hezbollah winning many seats in the Lebanese Parliament, speeding its way to what now may be total control. Mere elections may result in the Muslim Brotherhood controlling Egypt.

Here in the US there has been much disagreement between the Left and the Right over the significance to be given to our Constitution. Liberals have accused conservatives of treating the Constitution as a holy document; rather than a living and breathing document that should carry no more weight than any other law. As the Federal Government takes on an ever expanding role in our day to day lives, there seems to be little appreciation for the incredible system established by the Constitution - dividing power between a Federal Government, State Governments, and the People. A government that moves away from the Constitution sees itself as able to enact any laws it sees fit.

Obamacare passed with the Big Lie that the people demanded it when nearly 2/3 of the people opposed it. More importantly, there was little consideration given to how the Congress had the authority to order people to buy health insurance. Then Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave her now famous reply to a reporter's question about where in the Constitution Congress was given the power to order such a mandate by stating: "Are you kidding me?" Her assumption, like many in Congress assume, is that there is no limit on Federal power. What makes her belief different than that of the leaders of Hamas or Hezbollah or other dictators? Yes, I know she undoubtedly believes in some of the freedoms we hold dear. But what about "net neutrality?" What about a return of the "fairness doctrine?" What about a Congress that sees no impediment to forcing government control of healthcare down the people's throats? Without a core belief in the significance of our founding documents, just where is the limit on Federal power? What about a Supreme Court that interprets, for the first time in our history, the Fifth Amendment provision that says the government may take private property for public use, when that public use is nothing more than a better tax rate if your home is converted to a commercial use? When the Congress and the Courts view the State as having greater significance than the individual, then our country is lost. So that is why conservatives want to defend the Constitution and its division of powers between the People, the States and the Feds; and why we insist that it is more important than any other law that Congress may pass.

So whither the Arab Middle East? More secular dictatorships? More Islamic Fundamentalist dictatorships? Or free societies where those elected respect individual rights as being more significant than the State or Islam? I am not optimistic about the last option prevailing.