Feb 22nd 2011

The Change We Need

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

When speaking about the Arab uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and beyond, the language used here in the U.S. is euphoric. Expressions like "nothing will ever be the same again" and "the existing order is being swept away" are common. But when the conversation comes home, the exuberant rhetoric is pushed aside and hard-nosed practicality becomes the order of the day. "The President had no choice," the pundits said, "he had to veto. Republicans would have pounced on him and the pro-Israel crowd would have made his life miserable." This is the accepted wisdom.

It is, of course, always easier to discuss what other countries and their leaders must do, than it is to face up to the hard realities of what must be done in our own backyard. At the same time, though, it is a bit brazen, and even bizarre, that we can be so blind to the stark contradiction between what we advocate for others and what we fail to do for ourselves. But this is what is taking place.

Right now in commentaries the Bush crowd is crowing "we were right," finding new justification in their past promotion of democracy - ignoring, of course, the utter hypocrisy of their overall approach to the region. They gave lip-service to democracy, to be sure, but then they: led America into two deadly and failed wars (both of which they wrongly projected would usher in democratic change); turned a blind eye as Israel ravaged Palestinians and Lebanese; and instituted the wide-spread use of profiling, prolonged detentions without due process, and prisoner abuse - all of which they pressured Arab allies to support.

The net result was a roiling of Arab public opinion and a delegitimizing of some Arab leaders, who had befriended America, making them more vulnerable and less receptive to proceed on the path of reform. Then, after strong electoral performances by hard-line religious parties in several countries, the Bush Administration, not liking the outcome, shelved their democracy rhetoric.

More disturbing than this irritatingly predictable neo-conservative effort to rewrite history and hijack the Arab uprising, is the fact that many liberals can find no more creative response to these Arab uprisings than to become latter-day "neo-cons," themselves.

All this posturing ignores several uncomfortable truths. America's favorable ratings across the Arab World are back to Bush-era lows and the post-Cairo optimism that America would change its approach to the region has all but evaporated. America, it bears repeating, is not unpopular among many Arabs because we have supported their leaders, rather it is some Arab leaders who have become unpopular because they have supported our policies. We were, in a real sense, not in the game, having long ago dealt ourselves out. In their efforts to make change in their own countries, Tunisians and Egyptians weren't looking to us. This was their movement, not ours.

There is a real danger that in this moment of crisis we will either learn the wrong lessons, or learn no lessons at all. What is required now is to recognize the degree to which our failed policies of the past have alienated Arab public opinion, undercut our stated values, and put at risk those who sought to be our friends.

At a critical moment in the midst of the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King delivered his "Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam." In this speech he said "I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values...A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of our past and present policies." This challenge is as true today as it was then.

Unless our political leaders can put aside "politics as usual" and end their callous disregard for the suffering of Palestinians; unless leaders are willing to challenge their political fears and do what is right, instead of what is convenient; unless we can stand up against the Islamophobes who threaten to tear apart the fabric of our nation; unless we can restore our commitment to fundamental freedoms and constitutional protections; and unless we can stop ignoring Arab concerns and truly listen to what Arab voices are telling us about their needs and aspirations - we will continue to operate clumsily, and, at times, brutally on the wrong side of history.

As Arabs seek change at home, the challenge we face is to question how we can bring real change to America and to the way America deals with the Arab World and its people. This is what Barack Obama promised when he said that he would lead the effort to "change Washington" and, in the process, "change America and change the world." This is still the change we need. Unfortunately, it hasn't happened yet.

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More Current Affairs

Jul 29th 2022
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Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Right-wing media outlets including Fox News, One America News (OAN), Newsmax, and talk radio are grossly abusing the right to free speech and are causing profound, if not irreparable damage to our country at home and abroad. They have been engaged in these deliberate practices of spreading poisonous misinformation all in the name of free speech." ---- "A team at MIT, analyzing propaganda techniques in the news, underscores the use of logical fallacies – such as strawmen (the misrepresentation of the other’s position), red herrings (the provision of irrelevancies), false dichotomies (offering two alternatives as the only possibilities), and whataboutism (a diversionary tactic to avoid directly addressing an issue). ---- Whataboutism is worth considering more closely because it is becoming ubiquitous among Republicans – perhaps this is not surprising given that it is certainly Trump’s “favorite dodge.” It is one of the fundamental rules by which he operates: when you are criticized, say that someone else is worse. In an interview with Trump, Bill O’Reilly states the obvious fact that “Putin is a killer,” and who can forget Trump’s response: “There are a lot of killers. You got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?” That is classic whataboutism. And it is also of course all over Fox News’ most popular line-up."
Jul 24th 2022
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Jul 21st 2022
EXTRACT: "For some countries, diasporas also are not new. Just ask the Russians. For three-quarters of a century, Stalin’s NKVD and its successor, the KGB, kept close tabs on expatriate Russians, constantly worrying about the threat they might pose. And now, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s security service, the FSB, is continuing the tradition. According to recent FSB estimates, almost four million Russians left the country in the first three months of this year. Obviously, FSB statistics are hard to verify. But the sheer magnitude of this year’s departures is striking."
Jul 20th 2022
EXTRACTS: "We need leaders who will be honest about our problems in the short, medium, and long term. We are becoming poorer than our neighbors, with our per capita growth and productivity lagging behind theirs. We confront surging energy prices, soaring inflation, and public-sector strikes. Our fiscal deficit is uncomfortably high. Our influence is diminished. Far from recognizing these challenges, let alone proposing sensible solutions, the candidates to succeed Johnson are trying to win votes with reckless proposals like ever-larger tax cuts." ----- "There is one exception. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak refuses to abandon the notion that expenditure should bear some relationship to revenue. "
Jul 13th 2022
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Jul 5th 2022
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Jul 2nd 2022
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Jul 2nd 2022
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Jun 29th 2022
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Jun 28th 2022
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Jun 25th 2022
EXTRACT: "Public opinion in Belarus remains firmly against involvement into the war with Ukraine. Moreover, according to a Chatham House survey, 40% of Belarusians do not support Russia’s war, compared to 32% who do, while around half of those questioned see predominately negative consequences of the war for Belarus (53%) and for themselves (48%). The Belarusian military and security services are also aware of the determined and skilful resistance that Ukrainian forces have put up against Russia and the risks that they would therefore be running if they entered the war against Ukraine. This, in turn, means that the risk to Lukashenko himself remains that he might lose his grip on power, a grip which depends heavily on the loyalty of his armed forces." ---- "Ultimately, Belarus may not be on the brink of being plunged into war quite yet, but its options to avoid such a disaster are narrowing."
Jun 20th 2022
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Jun 11th 2022
EXTRACT: "If Trump had his way, then Vice-President Pence would have also broken his oath to the constitution and derailed the certification of electoral votes. Our continued existence as a Republic might very well have hung on Pence’s actions that day. The mob’s response was to call for Pence to be hanged, and a noose and scaffold was erected apparently for that very purpose. What was Trump’s reaction when he was told that the mob was calling for Pence’s summary execution? His words were: “Maybe our supporters have the right idea.” Mike Pence “deserves” it."
Jun 10th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Speaking to journalist Sophie Raworth on the BBC’s Sunday Morning show recently, former war crimes prosecutor Sir Howard Morrison, now an advisor to the Ukraine government, highlighted the dangers posed by the negative – often insulting and dehumanising – statements made by some Russian politicians and media personalities about Ukraine and its people." ---- "The conditions and attitudes described by Morrison have existed for centuries: Russians have viewed Ukrainians as inferior since before the Soviet era." ----- "And, as Morrison said, stereotyping and denigrating a people as inferior or lacking agency makes atrocities and looting more likely to happen, as we are seeing in Ukraine."
Jun 9th 2022
EXTRACT: "Unless Russia realises that the west is willing and able to push back, a new, stable security order in Europe will not be possible. Concessions to Russia, by Ukraine or the EU and Nato, are not the way to achieve this. That this has been realised beyond Ukraine’s most ardent supporters in the Baltic states, Poland, the UK and the US is clear from German support for strengthening Nato’s northern flank and a general increase in Nato members’ defence spending."
Jun 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "Highly civilized people can turn into barbarians when demagogues and dictators exploit their fears and trigger their most atavistic instincts. Rape, torture, and massacres often happen when soldiers invade foreign countries. Commanding officers sometimes actively encourage such behavior to terrorize an enemy into submission. And sometimes it occurs when the officer corps loses control and discipline breaks down. Japanese and Germans know this, as do Serbs, Koreans, Americans, Russians, and many others."
Jun 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "Like Metternich, Kissinger commits the fatal error of believing that a few wise policymakers can impose their will on the world. Worse, he believes they can halt domestically generated change and the power of nationalism. Many years ago, this is what Senator William Fulbright termed the “arrogance of power.” This approach failed in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. It is also doomed to fail in Russia and Ukraine." ------ "Not surprisingly, Kissinger misunderstands Russia. He appears to believe that, because Russia has been an “essential part of Europe” for over four centuries, it is therefore fated to remain so for the foreseeable future.The claim is completely at odds with history." ---- "Finally, Kissinger misunderstands the implications of his own analysis for Western relations with Russia. “We are facing,” he said, “a situation now where Russia could alienate itself completely from Europe and seek a permanent alliance elsewhere." ---- "But what’s so bad about Russia’s isolating itself from Europe and becoming a vassal state of China? "
Jun 1st 2022
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Jun 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "Casualties are very high. A very conservative estimate of overall Russian losses is that they have lost more troops killed since February 24 than in ten years of fighting in Afghanistan. This implies well over 40,000 men taken out of the fight, including the wounded." ----- "Away from the cauldron of Donbas, Belarus has been rattling its somewhat rusty sabre by deploying troops to its border with Ukraine. This is unlikely to trouble Kyiv. The Belarus president, Alexander Lukashenko, is well aware that he may need them at home to shore up his shaky regime."