A Cautionary Tale: The Middle East and the U.S.

While Americans are witnessing the dissent in Egypt, they are unwilling and/or unable to apply their concern to similar issues here at home.  The unrest in the Middle East, a result of decades of divisive economic policies, nonexistent social reform and a penchant for supporting the kings and dictators to the detriment of the general population, is finally catching up to those who propagated those policies for so long.  Tunisia, Egypt and now Jordan are revolting against the economic and social injustice that exist in those countries.  Although the United States seemingly has a much more established process for the transfer of power, can circumstances that we are seeing in the Middle East occur on our own shores?  Absolutely.  I will be citing a number of links that will help you see how the actions in the Middle East are a cautionary tale for our nation.  It will be worth your while to read them, I promise.

Mubarak is finished in Egypt.  There is no way a thirty-year-old dictatorship, with his son waiting in the wings, can deliver the economic and social changes that the people are demanding.  It also is not acceptable for Mubarak to delay his decision until the September elections.   The country will never hold together for that long under its current leadership, creating a recipe for more violence, anarchy  and the possibility of an even more repressive regime stepping into Mubarak’s shoes.  Just moments ago, he announced that he will not run again in the fall.  Not good enough; he needs to leave the seat of power right now.  The situation is very complicated and nuanced.  Despite the United States’ interests in the area, we cannot and should not jump into the fray and demand Mubarak’s removal.  Hillary Clinton was magnificent on last Sunday’s political programs.  She was the first government official (I am sure she had specific instructions from her boss.) to use the word “transition” in describing corrective measures for Egypt.  Her explanations and admission of this very problematic situation were straight forward.  She grasped the general and specific picture and succeeded in communicating the difficulty of the situation.

America cannot force its will for leadership on any sovereign nation.  We can discuss, cajole and even bribe, but we must not demand.  To do so would jeopardize our interests even further.  It would backfire.  Also, as complex as the issues are, I do not believe that the ultimate deciding factor should be the viability of Israel.  The ability of these troubled Mid-Eastern countries to work out their problems is necessary in order for them to achieve the goals of freedom, justice and democracy.  If foreigners step in to usurp this process, the whole kit and caboodle will have been for naught.  Roger Cohen writes of this need to advise, but not demand, solutions to these crises.  To use Israel as the ultimate victim of the regional turmoil would be just as detrimental for Israel; it would undermine and invalidate Israel’s right to exist more than any threat by an adversary.

The revolt in Egypt was primarily in response to years of economic tyranny and a void of social reform.  Forty per cent of all Egyptians earn $2 a day.  This uprising was predicated on unfair economic practices first and foremost.  The ruling class cannot maintain a viable government if the people are being denied equal opportunity for a decent life.  This uproar was not ignited by religious fervor; however, if the global community does not handle this hotbed of unrest carefully, an extremist religious result can be the outcome.  It ain’t over ’til it”s over.

In the United States, the economic divide between the classes has never been as wide as it is today.  Opportunity exits for those with assets and earning power.  This top 2% of  American earners, whether they admit it or not, are holding back the opportunity for the other 98% of Americans.  That is the real sin.   Not that so few people control such a majority of our economy, although that is pretty lousy, but that in order for them to maintain their dominance, they must prevent the advancement for the bulk of Americans.  The status quo is the ruling principle here.

A few examples are needed.  The GOP is fighting hard to repeal health care reform.  Mind you, they have nothing specific with which to replace the new law.  Their one and only goal is to undo what President Obama has accomplished.  Yesterday, a judge in Florida ruled that the HCR law is unconstitutional because it mandates every American to carry health insurance under penalty of law.  Keep this is mind: should the new law go to the Supreme Court for a final decision and if it is repealed, not only will the insurance mandate be unconstitutional, but the entire law will be null and void.  This means that stipulations such as the illegality of pre-existing conditions and a life-time cap on out-of-pocket expenses will also go down the drain.  Yet the GOP insists, through their unwillingness to be proactive, that it is much better to let the chips fall where they may and flow with the status quo.

Within the last twelve hours, I have had discussions with two people who are near and dear to me and who are also Republicans.  Hey: I am an equal-opportunity friend.  However, I also have reached the tipping point of choosing honesty and altruism over politeness.  After all, I do have to be able to live with myself and also sleep at night.  One individual waxed sympathetic to the fact that we need to bring back jobs to our shores and that all Americans should have health insurance.  Her platitudes are, well, just that: meaningless social chatter with no intended actions to back up those words.  She was not willing to give of herself, either economically or at the voting booth, to make the necessary changes to ensure those circumstances.  In order to return jobs to American soil, I saw no acceptance of higher labor costs and thus, steeper prices for American-made products.   Her biggest complaint for repealing the HCR law was that it was too long, composed of over 2000 pages.  I told her that health care is a very intricate issue.  Our discussion actually began when she related to me that the economic realities that almost caused  a total meltdown two years ago were still in place.  I pointed out that perhaps the rules and regulations of our new health care bill were warranted to prevent a collapse of the health care industry and protect, IN ADVANCE AND WITH FORESIGHT, a banking-like industry near-catastrophe.  She did not appreciate the similarities.

Her refusal to admit the necessity of government regulations was a poor excuse for her lack of personal committment to change.  She wants changes and equality in words only.  In actions, she wants no such thing.  She, along with the GOP, are hoping for a repeal of everything Obama and then to just coast on the way things have been.  This mere lip service for change just might be the undoing of our country.  If economic injustice is allowed to grow even more widespread than it is today, we very well could have a repeat of the dissatisfaction rearing its head in the Middle East.

The other individual I had a conversation with believed (firmly) that there is no such phenomenon as global warning.  She stated that there have been many short-term fluctuations in the earth’s climate of which our current crisis is one.  She said that if global warming was a reality, how come the burning of wood by prehistoric man did not set off a catastrophe.  Stunned by her ignorance, I responded that the population of prehistoric and early man was a drop in the bucket compared to the world’s burgeoning population today.  Furthermore, up until the Industrial Revolution, there was no large-scale pollution of our air, water and land.  She did not go for that, but did acknowledge the disaster of Love Canal.

This conversation was another instance of an individual who will not invest in reality because it might cost her a buck and she might have to adapt her own lifestyle, however minimally, for the world to survive.  She sees her role as an infinitesimal speck on the continuum of history and time,  and therefore inconsequential, to the viability of our world.  That is exactly the problem: too many people are unwilling to adapt their personal behaviors for the greater good, all the while refusing to admit that the communal effort would indeed make an impact.  This selfishness is emblematic of the GOP as well.  Their mantra is to get the government out of our lives as much as possible, then to coast on the present and hope for the best for the future, a time at which they will be long gone so the impact will be felt by others. This is called “kicking the can down the road,” which is how we got into so many messes in the first place.

Obviously these discussions got my dander up.  Actually, it was silly of me to get riled up, because these two people are so provincial in their outlook and truly have no policy antidotes, just like the GOP.  They are not the parties with whom to debate the issues.  Concerned Americans need to affect change by showing up at the polls and making donations to those leaders who acknowledge our shortcomings and offer concrete solutions.  This is why President Obama’s State of the Union address had such a great impact.  If America fails to represent its citizens, all of them, by denying that such problems exist in areas such as education, health care, industry, if America refuses to take care of its own on the most basic of levels, we will not be competitive.  Our national as well as international existence will fracture, allowing domestic turmoil and global irrelevance.

A cautionary tale if I ever saw one.  Not that different from the Middle East.

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