Is freedom
September 12, 2001 1:45 PM   Subscribe

Is freedom the answer? We've discussed the inadequacies of various policies. Is the ultimate answer simply to strive to make the Middle East free?
posted by marknau (7 comments total)
is it the answer? how about, is it possible?
posted by kevspace at 2:09 PM on September 12, 2001

Free of what? Free from what? Free for whom?

The unspoken truth of the NR piece, when it talks of the US's failure to encourage the development of open, democratic societies in the Middle East, is that for every Syria there's a Saudi Arabia, and for every Iran there's a Kuwait. The distinction -- as in 20-odd years of Afghan conflict -- has always been between "friendly" or "unfriendly" autocracies, often to the point of self-contradiction. When Kurdish separatists were fighting Saddam, they were good; when they're fighting in Turkey, they're bad, even if they're the same Kurds.

(The UK's equally complicit in this.)
posted by holgate at 2:27 PM on September 12, 2001

You can't give freedom to a people. They have to take it. That's the lesson of post-colonial Africa; the Europeans set up "free" nations there and pulled out, and every one of them sank into despotism. A free nation requires more than a constitution: it requires a middle class and a history of freedom; it requires an educated populace; and it requires an honest judiciary. None of those things can be sustained unless the people want them to be sustained.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 2:46 PM on September 12, 2001

I'm talking about sponsoring political and economic freedom for the people of that region. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, there have been a large number of countries that have moved toward more freedom for their citizens, all around the world.

With the exception of Jordan, the entire Middle East has been completely immune to this trend. So, the question is "Can we sponsor changes in the Middle East that lead to freer societies?" Or will we have to keep using them as pawns against one another, as holgate spelled out?

Free societies do not generally kill each other.
posted by marknau at 2:47 PM on September 12, 2001

That's the lesson of post-colonial Africa; the Europeans set up "free" nations there and pulled out...

It's also the lesson of the Middle East, Steven: remember that the entire region from Libya to Iran was carved into model republics and monarchies, by the French and British respectively, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918.

markau: I have to agree with Steven, and believe that the conditions need to emerge from within. Saudi Arabia and Syria are both plutocracies; the difference between the cultivation of one as an ally and the other as a "rogue state" has as much to do with oil reserves as it does intrinsic political virtues. (The same applies, for instance, to the autocratic regimes in Central Asia, which are regarded as strategic partners because their ex-Soviet leaders provide the "stability" that guarantees that 20-year lease on the gas pipeline.)

Education is a good starting point. It's the reason I hold out a long-term hope for Iran, which seems (however paradoxically) to do a better job of educating its young people, particularly its women, than most Muslim states in the region.
posted by holgate at 4:17 PM on September 12, 2001

Marknau, I believe the answer is that we are not capable of sponsoring changes in those countries. That is what I was trying to say. I believe that there is exactly nothing whatever that the US is capable of doing which would cause that kind of change there.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 5:51 PM on September 12, 2001

Fair enough. What you both say makes sense, and I have no counter proposals.

All the countries I know of that successfully made the transition to freedom did so mainly on the strength of their people's will to do so. Although there are instances where free countries have arguably assisted the process, the impetus apparently must come from within.

Unfortunately, I don't see any hope of peace so long as the people of the Middle Eastern countries are the intellectual and political captives of their governments.

Sometimes there is no good answer.
posted by marknau at 6:03 PM on September 12, 2001

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