Saturday, February 12, 2011

Dan Carlin: Common Sense

Every two weeks or so, independent-minded commentator, Dan Carlin releases a current affairs podcast 'Common Sense'.

The last episode is titled 'The Obama Doctrine'. As always, I enjoyed listening to Dan's show, which is informative, interesting, and thought provoking. In the very recent installment however, I found myself often not convinced by Dan's train of thought.

What Dan refers to as the Obama Doctrine is a generalization of Obama's reaction to the recent uprising in Egypt. Obama seemed to take a stand for a transition towards democracy, coming out in support of the legitimate wishes of the Egyptian population. Under this approach, Obama should have also aggressively came out in favor of the demonstrators in Iran over a year a go.  Unfortunately his archive store is a little disorganized and it's hard to locate Dan's relevant episode and compare his reactions to the two popular uprisings in the Middle East.

What bewilders me is that Dan is usually somewhat of an 'isolationist', taking the position that the US should not interfere globally. However, all of a sudden when an opportunity of supporting  a popular struggle for democracy comes, he is for intervention. He also asks whether the risk of a popular islamist regime that will choose to fight American interests and go to war with Israel, is enough of an impetus to suppress the desires of the people. His only condition for support of any Egyptian democratically elected government is that the maintain the democratic process going.

Where I think Dan misses the mark on this one, is that if history teaches us anything is that populists that come to power in an election, usually make it the last election. That is a risk that is implied, if the US is to adopt Dan's 'Obama Doctrine'. And once the die is cast, there is nothing any of us can do about it. For Dan it may be an abstract, historical exercise. Personally, as an Israeli I have a lot at stake.

Another point where I completely disagree with Dan in this episode, is that he seems to attribute all of the popular anger of peoples that live under such authoritarian regimes, to US bolstering of their dictators. This is not true. Authoritarian regimes have been ruling Egypt since Narmer and Iran since Cyrus the Great. Unfortunately, with the exception of Israel, in the Middle East you have to pick your poison.

Another statement from Dan that I find questionable is: 'You prefer a Shah to a Mossadegh, you get an Ayatollah'. The problem with this statement is that it's based largely on the self serving statement by Kermit Roosevelt who as a CIA field agent, claimed that he almost singlehandedly brought Shah Reza Pahlavi to power. The reality is that Mossadegh lost power due to many domestic reasons and for reforms that came to weaken the landowning class and the clergy. The Shah tried to do the same and lost power to those groups. The Shah lost western support while the Ayatollah had it. The same optimistic thinking that the Islamic revolution is not Islamic in nature persisted in western media back then. So much for that.

Unfortunately, to get get a stable democracy out of an autocracy, outside interference is required, unless of course, you are willing to accept the mistakes of the past, such as the rise of Hitler, Stalin and Khomeini.

The question is what's the best way to transition such states to democracy.


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