Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Only Difference

There's a ton of talk out there about what Obama should or shouldn't have done with respect to the Egypt and Tunisian rebellions. One major refrain is that the success of the revolts in these two countries show that, had Obama pushed a little harder during Iran's 2009 Green Revolution, that country's dictatorship could have fallen too.

I'm dubious. The US didn't really do much of anything but watch and try and stay out of the fray in Egypt (Tunisia we barely even had time to react to). And when you think about it, how much can we do? Ultimately, any revolution is going to be in the hands of the people revolting -- it's their concerns and their conditions which dictate the course of the movement. Except where the US can credibly threaten to intervene militarily -- implausible in all the countries we're talking about -- there is very little we can do to influence the situation, at least overtly.

Actually, I think there is one very simple reason why Egypt succeeded where Iran failed. As LGM put it, the Tank commander said "no":
Last night, a military officer guarding the tens of thousands celebrating in Cairo threw down his rifle and joined the demonstrators, yet another sign of the ordinary Egyptian soldier's growing sympathy for the democracy demonstrators. We had witnessed many similar sentiments from the army over the past two weeks. But the critical moment came on the evening of 30 January when, it is now clear, Mubarak ordered the Egyptian Third Army to crush the demonstrators in Tahrir Square with their tanks after flying F-16 fighter bombers at low level over the protesters.

Many of the senior tank commanders could be seen tearing off their headsets – over which they had received the fatal orders – to use their mobile phones. They were, it now transpires, calling their own military families for advice. Fathers who had spent their lives serving the Egyptian army told their sons to disobey, that they must never kill their own people.

Thus when General Hassan al-Rawani told the massive crowds yesterday evening that "everything you want will be realised – all your demands will be met", the people cried back: "The army and the people stand together – the army and the people are united. The army and the people belong to one hand."

And that's the key difference. Protesters rarely stand any chance, pound-for-pound, against a halfway decent state military apparatus. The question is whether, when push comes to shove, the military is actually willing to crush the demonstrations violently, or whether they link up with them. In Egypt, they weren't willing to fire on their own people. In Iran, they were. And so we have our different outcomes.

In any event, we're going to get a bunch of new data points on this shortly. New protests are emerging in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Iran again. Obviously, I hope for the best in all of these countries. But I think the ultimate outcome is not likely to be contingent on what Americans say or do. It has to do with the nerve of the protesters, and the ultimate decisions of the country's military forces -- to join the revolution, or crush it.


N. Friedman said...

I think, David, you are largely correct about Egypt. The military decided not to attack the demonstrators. The question, though, is why that was the case. The best explanation I have read thus far - and, of course, any explanation thus far is speculation - is that the army was perturbed with Mubarak over his plan to install his son as successor and, so, the military chose to sit on its hands because it had decided to get rid of Mubarak, using the demonstrators as its agent of change.

On a different topic, I certainly hope that you noticed that the concept of being open minded of the customs of foreign peoples can serve as a shield to prevent acknowledgment of vile customs and vile Antisemitism. In this regard, I note in particular PG's refusal even to acknowledge or address Antisemitism among Egyptians on the posting board for your post article titled "First Time for Everything." That, I am afraid, is the decrepit state of today's liberals - even if the speaker is your friend.

PG said...

Except where the US can credibly threaten to intervene militarily -- implausible in all the countries we're talking about -- there is very little we can do to influence the situation, at least overtly.
If anything, given the standing of the U.S. in this region, overt shows of support that could give the slightest credence to fears of another CIA-backed coup would *undermine* the revolutionary movement. In that sense, it might also make sense for Israel not to express support for the revolution, because there's at least as much paranoia in the region that Israeli agents are influencing domestic politics as there is about the U.S.

N. Friedman,
Wow, dragging your beefs from one thread to another, completely unrelated one? I really can't think of any way to respond to that that wouldn't put me on your level.

N. Friedman said...


Those, like you, who are unwilling to condemn Antisemitism in the Arab world (or anywhere else, for that matter) deserve to be exposed and challenged. Such, from today's new Left - really pseudo-liberals and pseudo-leftists - is inexcusable. You have more than one example, from the last century, of where silence before Antisemitism leads.

I am extremely open minded. However, being open minded does not mean that condemnable hatreds become less worthy of condemnation. That you do not understand that speaks volumes. In that you have large numbers of people who think like you and claim to carry the banner of freedom, it is shameful - shameful, shameful, shameful.

PG said...

N. Friedman,

Please point to where I have refused to condemn anti-Semitism where I wasn't just refusing to participate in a derailment -- usually committed by you -- of what the discussion was actually about. I'll be especially entertained if you can find anti-Semitism in a Muslim cabbie's explaining his religion's prohibition of alcohol.

For someone who plumes himself on not saying that people on the right have said/done anything bigoted, you're awfully quick to assume that people on the left who disagree with you do so because they're insensitive to anti-Semitism, not because they refuse to participate in your thread-hijacks.