Most rebellions end in carnage and tyranny. So why, Niall Ferguson asks in this week’s Newsweek, are Americans cheering on the Arab revolutionary wave?
Americans love a revolution. Their own great nation having been founded by a revolutionary declaration and forged by a revolutionary war, they instinctively side with revolutionaries in other lands, no matter how different their circumstances, no matter how disastrous the outcomes. This chronic reluctance to learn from history could carry a very heavy price tag if the revolutionary wave sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East
breaks with the same shattering impact as most revolutionary waves.
Protestors in support of the revolution in Libya gather in front of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011. (Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP Photo)
Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson hailed the French Revolution. “The French have served an apprenticeship to Liberty in this country,” wrote the former, “and now… they have set up for themselves.” Jefferson even defended the Jacobins, architects of the bloody Reign of Terror. “The liberty of the whole earth was depending on the issue of the contest,” he wrote in 1793, “and was ever such a prize won with so little innocent blood?… Rather than [the revolution] should have failed, I would have seen half the earth desolated.”
In Ten Days That Shook the World, the journalist John Reed was equally enthusiastic about the Russian Revolution of 1917, a book for which Lenin himself (“great Lenin” to Reed) wrote an enthusiastic preface. Reed’s counterpart in China’s communist revolution was Edgar Snow, whose characterization of Mao—“He had the simplicity and naturalness of the Chinese peasant, with a lively sense of humor and a love of rustic laughter”—today freezes the blood.
Time and again, Americans have hailed revolutions, only to fall strangely silent as those same revolutions proceeded to devour not only their own children but many other people’s, too. In each case the body count was in the millions.
Only the hopelessly naive imagine that thirtysomething Google executives will emerge as the new leaders of the Arab world, aided by their social network of Facebook friends.
* They take years to unfold. It may have seemed like glad confident morning in 1789, 1917, and 1949. Four years later it was darkness at noon.
• They begin by challenging an existing political order, but the more violence is needed to achieve that end, the more the initiative passes to men of violence—Robespierre, Stalin, and the supremely callous Mao himself.
• Because neighboring countries feel challenged by the revolution, internal violence is soon followed by external violence, either because the revolution is genuinely threatened by foreigners (as in the French and Russian cases) or because it suits the revolutionaries to blame an external threat for domestic problems (as when China intervened in the Korean War).
To which an American might reply: Yes, but was all this not true of our revolution too? The American Revolution was protracted: Five years elapsed between the Declaration of Independence and Yorktown. It was violent. And it was, of course, resisted from abroad. Yet the scale of the violence in the American Revolution was, by the standards of the other great revolutions of history, modest. Twenty times as many Frenchmen were killed in battle between 1792 and 1815 as Americans between 1775 and 1783. And, as Maya Jasanoff points out in her brilliant new book, Liberty’s Exiles
, the losers in the American Revolution were not guillotined, or purged, or starved to death. Most of them simply left the 13 rebel colonies for more stable parts of the British Empire and got on with their lives.
There were other important differences, too. The people who made the American Revolution were, by 18th-century standards, exceptionally well-off and well-educated. People in Libya today are closer to the sans-culottes of the Paris back streets, the lumpenproletariat of the Petrograd slums, or the illiterate peasants who flocked to Mao’s standard. And that is why the likelihood of large-scale and protracted violence is so much greater in the Arab world today than it ever was in North America in the 1770s. Poor, ill-educated young men. Around 40 million of them.
Two weeks ago, I criticized the Obama administration
for its failure not only to foresee this crisis but also to have any kind of coherent grand strategy to cope with it—resulting in a period of hapless confusion in American foreign policy. A number of critics wondered what such a coherent strategy might have looked like. The answer is this.
For many years U.S. administrations tried to have it both ways in the Middle East, preaching the merits of democratization while doing next to nothing to pressure the region’s despots to reform, provided their misbehavior remained within tolerable limits (no invading Israel or Kuwait, no acquiring weapons of mass destruction). The Bush administration put an end to that double-talk by practicing as well as preaching a policy of democratization—using force to establish elected governments in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Obama administration was elected by a great many Americans who regretted the costs of that policy. Yet in place of the Bush doctrine came… nothing. Obama’s obsequious 2009 speech in Cairo offered a feeble hand of friendship to the Muslim world. But to whom was it extended? To the tyrants? Or to their subject peoples? Obama apparently hoped he, too, could have it both ways, even shaking hands with the odious Muammar Gaddafi.
The correct strategy—which, incidentally, John McCain would have actively pursued had he been elected in 2008—was twofold. First, we should have tried to repeat the successes of the pre-1989 period, when we practiced what we preached in Central and Eastern Europe by actively supporting those individuals and movements who aspired to replace the communist puppet regimes with democracies.
Western support for the likes of Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia and Solidarity in Poland was real. And it was one of the reasons that, when the crisis of the Soviet empire came in 1989, there were genuine democrats ready and waiting to step into the vacuums created by Mikhail Gorbachev’s “Sinatra Doctrine” (whereby each Warsaw Pact country was allowed to do things “its way”).
February 27, 2011 | 10:58pm
, Soviet Union
, Thomas Jefferson
, Egypt Revolution
, Niall Ferguson
, Mikhail Gorbachev
, Korean War
, Weapons Of Mass Destruction
, Benjamin Franklin
, American Revolution
, North Africa
, French Revolution
, Arab Dictations
, Liberty's Exiles
, Mideast Uprisings
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My ancestors fought in the American Revolution, and were not on the Tory side like Ferguson's people. There is still a great gulf between people like him and me and always will be.
Most Americans, except for the far Right and corporatist conservatives, are natural democrats. So I will stay on the side of the Revolution.
Even in countries like France and Germany, it took them a few tries before they got it right, so if the Revolution does not succeed in this generation, there will be others in a generation or two.
Sooner or later, we are going to have another one in this country.
1:56 am, Feb 28, 2011
Swampy...You are always longing for a "revolution" in this country. Revolutions are bloody and long. In the end, the best you can hope for, the very best possible outcome is what we already have.
As for this concept of "natural democrats" you seem to miss the point of the article. Most Americans' hearts go out to the young idealists who are fighting for change. The question is whether their prize will be stolen from them by ruthless and violent people who are already out there and will stop at nothing to become powerful.
8:03 am, Feb 28, 2011
Of course thy are, snafina, for anything real requires effort. Nothing ever changes in this world without effort, determination and sacrifrice.
people here forget that Britain was betting against us all the way...
well at least
the "propertied" classes were...and if it wasn't for how barbaric slavery was viewed in Europe they would have happily jumped in on the Southern side just to destroy our "republican experiment"
it's the people who blindly support our oligarchs who are worried that democracy us spreading
they've a big gap between what they say they believe (all those tea people with "do not tread on me" signs) and what they actually want to do...
tread all over everyone else...
what is a natural democrat? you mean the southern democrats who were in the kkk? or sen "kkk" byrd? that to me is a natural democrat. you're saying a natural democrat is someone who wants all citizens, no matter what color, to be slaves to the government and look to them for sustenance and provision? is that the natural democrats you're talking about? we fought a revolution to be free of tyranny remember?
2:48 pm, Feb 28, 2011
the knowledge that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights...
as opposed to the Might makes Right set...that supports rigid hierarchy and the supremacy of power and wealth....
Natural Rad Rightster
be careful what you wish for, what looks dashing and romantic (like Hemingway in the Spanish Civil War) is far from it. Besides you lefties wouldn't do too well in a "revolution" or civil war.
Odds are Ferguson is right. These Middle East countries are toxic societies and will trade one brutal set of dictators for another. Islam is antithetical to encouraging secular democratic values.
8:13 pm, Feb 28, 2011
The Spanish Civil War was anything but romantic and the Republic was anything but a Utopia, but compared to the Nazi dictatorship that followed for 40 years--led by your friend Gen. Franco--it wasn't so bad.
Of course, the people of Spain got another chance against your kind in 1975.
You know it's a bad movie when you have zero sympathy for David and you wouldn't be bothered if Goliath wins. This is what we've been watching on the Arab streets for the past months. Remind me of a saying about the Iran and Iraq war, a war where both sides deserve to lose.
Nail, you are the most negative, glass half empty pundit out there. We know the history. We know the risks. But what would you have the current generation in the ME ( and the next few also) do, live under dictatorship? In you home country it took several hundred years from the Magna Carta being forced down King John's throat to get to any semblance of fairness and equity. That is why so many of you came here.
Whatever form of democratic governance emerges, it most likely won't look like anything existing today..... no carbon copies...... but the hope is that freedom of speech and economic opportunity will blossom.
The only other choice, which I trust you are not suggesting, is for the West to give no support or encouragement to the quest for freedom. Remember without Madame Defarge there would be no modern France.
Niall Ferguson is still pushing the Big Lies that A-stan and Iraq wars were about "democracy", and presumably that they are "winnable". People with integrity got beyond that mindless thinking years ago.
And I fear our own elite and aristocratic class at home far more than I do any revolution abroad, for our rulers at home only trample on the common people and care nothing about the country as a whole. They are only motivated by greed and corruption.
Our real enemies are here at home, like the big bankers who got a bailout and now want to crush the people into the dust.
2:25 am, Feb 28, 2011
Those elites have nothing but contempt for the rest of us. That includes the right wingers who regularly troll around here. If you think they're ever going to act in our best interest, you're sadly, foolishly mistaken.
10:57 am, Feb 28, 2011
I think they finally have broken the US beyond repair with this latest crash. Right now, we're in the middle of a depression with a real unemployment rate of 16% or more, and we're talking about cutting donmestic spending to the Eisenhower level in the 1950s--when the US was still Number One in the world.
We're far from that now. We're on the way down, but other countries are on the way up. Even the Arab world appears to be going through a major revival or renaissance, while we are just stagnating.
this is my fear as well swamp
we haven't even lasted half the time of Rome's Republic...and it's the so called "Christians" who are dragging us back down to monarchy and oligarchy...
we can always go Egypt on them ; )
long live the Wisconsin fighters!!!
will you three just listen to yourselves. you can't be this stupid collectively.
jerkthedrifter. no one is going to act in your selfinterest and no one is pretending to. you have to take care of yourself. gassy, the us is broken beyond repair because our gov't has spent us into bankruptcy. faux hunter, your psychotic drooling is not even worth responding to. you need to be in a cell right next to jared laughner you idiot
I don't expect anyone to take care of me. I do expect for nobody to actively try to fuck me over, though, by doing something like rigging my mortgage so it can never be paid off...then starting foreclosure on my house when I'm late on 1 payment...
Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
you people are always drooling over the founders, or your fake-shift version of them
it's the wealthy Blue Liberal states payng the way for you reds....look it up...
Is that why every one who can is moving out at warp speed from all the "Blue"
socialist Utopian paradise" states. For a nice freedom loving, low tax Red state.
you better hope that isn't true
you fellas will lose all your gov checks
read it and weep
my suggestion to you gassy, is if you're so scared of america, go live in any one of these non greedy and non corrupt middle east countries. you sound like an old soviet newsreel and your rhetoric is getting very stale.
2:51 pm, Feb 28, 2011
Love it or leave it, huh, innocent?
Arguably, the concept of the social contract (which the leaders of the American revolution subscribed to), tends to support the concept of "love it or leave it."
please show where you base such a concept on
You go first, innocentcitizen.
The concept of a social contract is that first society, then government (to use the Lockean approach) are created and maintained by the mutual consent of the people who join it; if you don't accept the society and government, you cannot be a part of it.
Given that the first part of the Declaration of Independence amounts to virtual plagiarism of Locke and that the Preamble to the Constitution is very social contract-y, I think it's reasonable to state that the Founders were believers in the social contract.
Is "love" stronger than "consent?" Yes, but a) "America: Love it or leave it" sounds better than "America: Consent to it or leave it;" and b) love and consent are on the same side of the street, and that side is the opposite side of the one fearing and despising the U.S. are on.
"Greed is Good"
This we know what's good for you attitude of Ferguson sickens me. I think the Americans have done enough taking sides and doing mischief in the Mid-East.
And, it's certainly good that Obama administration is mostly sitting on its hands. Let the Arabs figure out what they want, and how they want to govern themselves. I doubt whoever replaces the cuckoo Gadafi will be any worse.
A plan offered a month after things have transpired Mr Fergueson, is hardly a plan at all.
"The Bush administration put an end to that double-talk by practicing as well as preaching a policy of democratization-using force to establish elected governments in both Afghanistan and Iraq."
That's an outright lie.... Those invasions had strictly nothing to do with promoting democracy.
They had entirely to do with shoring up political points in the "war on terror", as well as a deeper goal to destroy anything that calls into question the dominance of the west.
" First the revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East could turn much more violent, with a death toll running into tens or hundreds of thousands. "
Absolutely incredible. You call tens or hundreds of thousands dead in Iraq "promoting democracy", and now you're saying we should fear a truly democratic, people's movement... because that could equal: what America caused in Iraq and Afghanistan.
If this is what Harvard University brews up, then it's no simple wonder that Arabs mistrust Americans....
8:11 am, Feb 28, 2011
"The Bush administration put an end to that double-talk by practicing as well as preaching a policy of democratization-using force to establish elected governments in both Afghanistan and Iraq."
It's revisionist history of events that are so recent they barely even qualify as history yet. And the result is a couple of democratically elected governments that are almost completely ineffective, and (in Iraq's case) just as corrupt as Saddam's government, and still settling scores from 50 or 100 or 1000 years ago.
But they were democratically elected. Woo...hoo...
Can it not be seen these are more like the Eastern European or Indian revolutions, throwing off of tyrannical forces keeping the economy and culture of these countries down?
8:12 am, Feb 28, 2011
Not really. Both of the revolutionary movements you mentioned started years before actual action and were very organized. In India, Gandhi was the spiritual leader but he also worked out deals with Nehru and Jinha before moving full forward. They had a plan and an objective as to how they wanted this all to end and what they wanted at that end...at least until Jinha decided to cut a side deal with the British at the beginning of WWII. Ditto in Eastern Europe. Walesa started his agitation in 1979, Havel had been working secretly with the West since 1968 an the VOA was an important component in all of that. Havel and Walesa had a plan and a vision of where they wanted things to go. I don't see where all this is going. Already the army in Egypt is cracking down. The problem is that there have been no real opposition in these countries for years. So when the boiling point is reached, you really don't know the players or what the mission is other than a vacuous call for freedom which is fine but what else are they looking at? Havel had a comprehensive plan. Walesa had a plan, Gandhi, et al had a plan. These guys don't.
these dictators were the last remnant of "western colonial" rule in the ME
just as America through out Britain just as India through out Britain
So the ME is throwing out our dictators...
Power to the People!!
Repugs...do Not Tread On Them
Time for America, Britan, France and Russia to sit on the sidelines, drink our pepto bismol and let the 3rd world show us how its done! Oh, it'll b a nice little war in the middle east. They'll need a scapegoat and you know who that will be. Pardon my armchair quarterbacking, but, as a student of history. I know whats coming. $5 gasoline, here we come! Homeland Security, Stay alert. They're not done with us. Party on dudes!
9:17 am, Feb 28, 2011
or perhaps FINALLY a real energy policy that doesn't pander to Big Oil
renewable, domestic sources...
end of the greatest transfer of wealth Out of this country Ever
hey tobacco fell, and No One thought that could happen
2:35 pm, Feb 28, 2011
Natural gas. Natural gas. NATURAL GAS.
We are sitting on a whole lot of natural gas in this country. Cars and trucks run strong and clean on natural gas -- police depts, taxi services, universities and big companies often run their fleets on CNG. Oil companies already have the technology and infrastructure and drilling rights for NG.
Come up with better ways to drill for NG and store it. Put people to work converting vehicles over to CNG. It's harder to dispense, so put people back to work at gas stations pumping CNG.
This could be a really good way to tell the Saudis to suck it.
yeah NG is fine as part of the solution but even that will run out and remains an easy monopoly for corps....also that Fraking is destroying soil and water...we'll be dead if they continue to bypass the clean water act (haliburton exemption)
solar (german is using Our Tech, GERMANY the frigin land of ice and snow)
Solar Solar Solar Wind Wind Wind
Decentralized and Domestic
this shill for the oligarchs and coporate/fascists who works at hoover most likely is paid by the koch bros, the money laundered as a garant
the most deserving of this article from today's The Onion.
The recommended page is: Open-Minded Man Grimly Realizes How Much Life He's Wasted Listening To Bullshit
11:30 am, Feb 28, 2011
I've read the article. Great analogy!
So the only good revolution is an American revolution?
Ferguson is deluding himself. No American president was going to apply the sorts of pressure on Arab autocrats which might have persuaded them to liberalize their regimes. Supporting dissident groups in Eastern Europe was easy as pie--the USSR was America's strategic rival. The Arab autocrats are our allies. Even today the United States, clearly, is praying that discontent doesn't spread to Saudi Arabia. As for Iraq and Afghanistan, care to place bets on what both countries will be like ten years from now? But then what can you expect from someone who seems to think that Iran's sending two destroyers into the Mediterranean has any sort of grand strategic importance?
1:45 pm, Feb 28, 2011
Ferguson is playing the Monday morning quarterback position.
yes and the Saudis are one of the Most Repressive regimes
all the 9-11 hijackers were from ther
we didn't invade them???? I guess it pays to be a Bush friend even if you are an enemy of your own people
2:37 pm, Feb 28, 2011
as i've been pointing out to prozac unblinking america for years... going to war against iraq and afghan after 911 was as if FDR had declared war on koera and thailand after pearl harbor... but you can lead a horse to water; can't make it think. or you can fool ENOUGH of the people ENOUGH of the time...
time for american revolution II. but... this time, instead of george washington vicious indian killer... let's elect the visionaries behind the revolution... keep the danton, not the robespierre... keep the lenin, not the stalin...
US govt has overthrown more democracies by far than any other nation in history... way more than russia who only did that in warsaw pact region. US has backed more than 200 puppet military dictators. US has overthrown democracies in haiti alone 4 times; including once under bush I and again under bush II; installed a vicious mass-murderer who clinton also backed as yet another war pig.
3:22 pm, Feb 28, 2011
how effective has our gov't education system been in indocrinating our youth?
4:23 pm, Feb 28, 2011
It's sad you clearly have not even attempted to educate yourself...but instead choose to diss people who actually understand what they are talking about
you need only go back a few weeks
The Repub Response
(not all, but the wing nuts)
to the recent citizen uprisings in the ME..
How many of them...
and the right wing posters here
...were calling for the US to Prop the Tyrants back UP...
How many here were shrieking that these murderers were our "friends" and we needed to support them...
no matter what they did to people
just like you and me
...fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, children...
You only need to go back a few weeks and you will LEARN the TRUE history of the USA in the Middle East...and the complete LIE the war of Iraqi freedom was/is/and ever shall be..
The Truth is Out There
but none are so blind who will not see...
The idea thatAmerican-style democracy will work in the Middle East is a stupid pipe-dream.
It won't work, period.
The religious, tribal, educational and economic realities there simply will not allow for workable governance by consensus.
The very best they can hope for is some sort of constitutional monarchy thing, with long-term goals of education and econimic levelling for the common people.
Ain't gonna happen, folks.
We may cheer the downfall of an insane man like Gaddifi, but the bloodbath that is going to follow in Libya will make the last few days look like a Sunday afternoon picnic.
It is too bad that American didn't follow some of Ferguson's points, like fostering some sort of tie between the US and the more liberal factions in the Middle East, but that is water under the bridge.
The sad fact is, people are going to die. People who only want to raise their kids, work at their jobs and sleep safe at home at night.
And despite anybody's posturing, that isn't all America's fault.
The relatively peaceful Middle East/ North African revolutions are uncovering the USA/Israelis misrepresentation & alternate views of reality as the lies they are. Meant to scare their populations & provide them with an enemy to justify the massive military budgets and the attack, invade & occupy Middle East, Near East & African nations Hiding their real purpose the protection USAs foreign corporate assets and assure by whatever means the wealth of the nation continues to flow to the west.
In this area rich in natural resources the last thing the USA/EU wants is to end up on the wrong side of the revolution. It is better to sit on the sidelines than lose oil, natural gas, & mineral wealth through interference as happened with Iran & Venezuela. However, if the will of the people rules the chances of nationalization are high. The people of the Middle East are not as illiterate as Ferguson makes them out to be. Many of them have been educated in USA & Europe. They are truly the working poor seeing the profits of their labors flowing to the coffers USA corporations & into the pockets of their leaders, while they live in poverty unable to afford food, housing & clean water. Under their current living conditions who could blame them if they adopt an economic policy using profit from their natural resources to benefit the nation as a whole?
The Middle East / North African revolutions are truly revolutions of the people unlike the USA revolution which was a revolution of younger sons of nobility who wanted the profits of their labors for themselves & their heirs. Their extraordinary oratory skills convinced the illiterate masses to follow first to protest then to rebellion. The masses had no idea that the revolutionary leaders had no intention of sharing power with the people. That the only thing that would change is the leaders would relinquish their titles of nobility.
The greed & lust for power of the USA ruling class & their corporate identities has put the country on the brink of rebellion. The time is coming for the USA population to follow the example of Middle East & rid itself of feudal economic system that keeps the privileged few wealthy & in power replacing it with a policy that would use the nation's wealth to benefit the nation as a whole administered by ordinary people.
Hey Ferguson! Unamerican revolutions? Open your eyes! See any American flags burning?
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