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Bizarro History Repeating

The most famous battle in the long, internecine war on the right between libertarians and traditionalists was fought over Labor Day weekend, 1969 at the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) convention in Saint Louis. The two groups argued semi-peacefully over a number of proposed planks for YAF’s platform–the legalization of marijuana, withdrawal from Vietnam, etc.–but when a libertarian delegate stepped to the podium, declared the right of every individual to resist state violence, and lit his draft card on fire, the convention was ripped apart. The libertarians cried “Sock it to the state!” while the traditionalists chanted “Sock it to the left!”  and mocked the libertarians as “lazy fairies” (get it?).

Many people consider that moment the birth of the modern libertarian movement as a separate entity from the conservative movement. The old alliance between the two groups never completely dissolved, but the rift between them has never fully closed either. When the libertarians struck out on their own over forty years ago, there was no question which group was dominant: the conservatives were more numerous, better funded, and far better represented in the halls of power. Now, despite being united in opposition to the Obama Administration, that rift appears to be widening again, but it’s less clear who is winning this time.

The events of the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) read almost like a bizarro version of the 1969 YAF convention. Instead of the libertarians being driven from the group, it is the traditionalists who sidelined themselves because of the presence of the self-proclaimed gay conservative organization GOProud. Instead of libertarians being attacked by angry pro-war conservatives, the libertarians heckled a Vice President and Secretary of Defense who launched a war of choice. Most notably, the libertarians were a clear plurality (but not a majority) of the attendees who bothered to vote in the straw poll as Ron Paul won with 30% of the vote and former Governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson took third with an additional 6%. In short, the libertarians have taken control of a decades old conservative institution. Read More…

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Is Federalism Good for Fetuses?

By James Banks

This year’s CPAC was probably as notable for the people and groups who didn’t show up, as it is for those who did.  Since Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee and a number of Beltway groups and think tanks were absent, the conference wasn’t necessarily a weathervane for where the conservative movement—depending how one defines it—is heading. But the event was representative of some of the rifts which might emerge during the next few years.

If this event is remembered for anything, it will probably be the controversy over the inclusion of the gay activist group GOProud, which caused a boycott by the American Family Foundation, Concerned Women for America, the Family Research Council, and others. Generally, I’m in the camp that says this was the wrong battle to pick (especially given that the convention was broad enough to include previously banned organizations like the John Birch Society). But leaving the inefficacy of their strategy aside, it is legitimate to ask if social conservatives have cause to be uncomfortable about current trends in the conservative movement.

The answer is a definite yes. The partnership between fiscal and social conservatives goes back to the days of Ronald Reagan (and maybe not long before that, considering that Barry Goldwater was an outspoken opponent of restrictions on abortion), but the partnership has never been an equal one. Republican presidents of the past two decades have attempted to satisfy both constituencies, but while the socially conservative side of the coalition sincerely endorses free enterprise, the fiscally conservative side of the coalition only tolerates the platform planks that call for defining marriage as being between a man and a woman or banning partial birth abortion.

I acknowledge that this dichotomy is a bit problematic. Everyone knows that Jim DeMint is a social conservative dedicated to economic liberty, but he could just as easily be described as an economic libertarian devoted to social conservatism. Even so, at the heart of both convictions, the dichotomy proves more or less accurate: I’d be willing to wager that it is much easier to find a thoroughgoing supporter of economic liberty on the board of the Family Research Council than it is to find an outspoken opponent of abortion-on-demand on George W. Bush’s former council of economic advisors.

Furthermore, while there are many libertarians who are committed to pro-life policies and the Libertarian Party has nominated pro-life candidates before, it is dubious that federalism—libertarianism’s standard solution to the issue—would make much difference. Returning authority on the abortion issue to the states might be a symbolic political victory for the pro-life movement, but as a matter of practical economics, there would be very little change in the number of fetuses aborted. Read More…

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Losing Sight of What Matters in Egypt and Beyond

The neocons are regrettably all too skillful in their use of the big lie — in this case, the maddening whopper that the protesters in Egypt and beyond are carrying out the global democratic revolution proclaimed by George W. Bush.  Increasingly, this lie is premised on the bald-faced lie which the neocons are getting away with shockingly easily, that the opposition movement Iran favors regime change toward a secular regime.

Leon Hadar’s new essay, while thought provoking to be sure, is symptomatic of too many intelligent conservatives taking mindless talk of democracy, not just by the neocons to be sure, too seriously.  Iran may be an ideal case in point — I would hope that the specter of Egypt would move the ayatollahs to make the pragmatic move of leading by example in bringing the loyal opposition in from the cold.  If, as today’s events make clear, heads have to be knocked together to bring this about, so be it.

The specific comparisons to 1848 are certainly interesting, but I’m not at all sure that they’re mutually exclusive to comparisons to 1989 or even 1919.  If we are seeing the birth of an Arab world with nominally democratic governments that have thrown off the yoke of the American empire — and this, not “democracy”, is the real issue here — it may be less 1848 than 1648, in which the foundations of an entirely new and unprecedented order are being laid.  As a Burkean, I’d like to think that there’s something positive to be said for reform over revolution, if revolutionary upheaval is nevertheless necessary to bring it about.  No doubt the Burkean ideal will scarcely ever take place in any of these upheavals, but the new order will surely be somewhere in the mean between that and Hadar’s more pessimistic scenario.

Finally, a related point about Islam and democracy is in order.  The program of the Muslim Brotherhood and related movements seem to be the first sproutings of a genuine organic democracy in the Muslim world, coming along roughly the same timeline as democracy did in the history of Christendom at about 1400 years.  These will not be liberal democracies as we understand them, but we must remember that the first parliamentary systems of Europe, namely the English and the Dutch, began organized along religious sectarian partisan lines.

That this will come about through a genuinely liberatory advent – the liberation of the Arab world from the American empire, throwing off the last lingering legacy of the ideological horror of the 20th century, is surely an extremely good omen.

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A Simple Question for our Mainstream Brethren

MINT-AND-CORN COUNTRY, INDIANA — Do the “nine most terrifying words in the English language“* apply to citizens of other nations whom our government decides to “liberate”?

We certainly were a busy bunch of government-is-the-problem types in the Nineteen Eighties.

Postscript: Apologies (or a great, big “You’re welcome!” depending on what you think of me) for the prolong absence. I promised, as a birthday present to Mr. McCarthy, that I’ll resume with some frequency; I’m working on that.

Post-postscript: Justification for the hagiography: Who knew that Reagan was anti-McWorld?.

*Please forgive the dreadful gummint-love from Obama in the clip.

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Relying On Allied Tyranny

The consistency of American foreign policy is a thing to marvel at. Sure, there have been various ideological and strategic consistencies from Truman to Obama, but even during potentially game-changing crises imperial policy remains steadfast. Thus the official line quietly insists: “Pay no mind to the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators across the Arab world standing up against their U.S.-allied autocrats. Support for tyranny must persist.”

The New York Times:

Even as the Obama administration has ratcheted up the pressure on Egypt, it has reaffirmed its support for other Arab allies facing popular unrest.

The White House released a statement saying that Mr. Obama called President Abdullah Saleh of Yemen on Wednesday to welcome Mr. Saleh’s recent “reform measures” — the Yemeni president promised not to run again in 2013.

And on Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called King Abdullah II of Jordan to say that the United States looked forward to working with his new cabinet — recently announced — and to underline the importance of the relationship between Jordan and the United States.

Don’t be fooled by the diplomatic gestures. When Obama and his officials call the Egyptian government to discuss “a proposal for President Hosni Mubarak to resign immediately and turn over power to a transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman,” he is not exactly plowing towards an assured path to reform. Suleiman has a history of being an effective element of Egypt’s client state status. As Jane Mayer has reported,  “Suleiman has headed the feared Egyptian general intelligence service” as “the C.I.A.’s point man in Egypt for renditions” which occurred “often under brutal circumstances.”

And when Egypt renditioned Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, whose tortured confessions lent credence to the Bush administration’s case for the invasion of Iraq, Suleiman was in charge of his capture and interrogation, and surely had a hand in “lock[ing] him in a tiny cage for eighty hours. Then they took him out, knocked him over, and punched him for fifteen minutes.”

If democratic reforms were truly Obama’s immediate aim he could have done better than Suleiman. Such contempt for freedom and democracy is to be expected though, given the post-war bipartisan consensus on a foreign policy that relies on allied tyranny, and that boldly contends that Americans have more a right to such privileges than other human beings coincidentally existing outside the borders of the shining city on a hill.

The playbook for the rest of the relevant tyrannies under U.S. influence isn’t very much different.

To call up Mr. Saleh of Yemen to congratulate him on his “reform measures” demands an ignorance of recent events there. Since the end of the last Bush term and since Obama’s began, Yemen has gained an elevated status in our Middle East policy and Washington has increased its reliance on Yemen’s cooperation (read: obedience). Naturally – if you know your history – this manifests itself in hundreds of millions of dollars. Chris Boucek of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said a while back that “there’s been a ‘massive uptick’ in the amount of military and security assistance going to Yemen” to the tune of “$60-$70 million” a year, plus direct counterinsurgency training. The primary effect of this on the domestic situation in Yemen has been to significantly roll back human rights in the name of security. It’s hard to imagine the U.S. “investment” in that country will evaporate with Saleh’s supposed 2013 departure.

King Abdullah of Jordan was next on the list for praise from the Secretary of State Clinton. In response to protests, Abdullah swiftly appointed a new prime minister and cabinet. As Robert Danin of the Council on Foreign Relations tells us,

The peaceful change of government in Jordan does not mean that all is well. One of the core demands of the demonstrators–elections to choose a new prime minister–was not met. Moreover, the new prime minister–Marouf al-Bakhit–may not be the right man for the hour. He is an ex-general whose previous term as prime minister from 2005 to 2007 was not marked by promised reforms, but by perceived inaction. Upon announcement of Bakhit’s appointment, opposition leaders criticized the choice of a non-reformist.

With some of the heaviest financial and political support flowing in from Washington, Jordan rivals most regimes in the region for closest U.S. ally (excluding Egypt). Abdullah, like the other autocrats, goes through processes of promising reform, and then doing nothing of the sort. The U.S. will praise him for such promises, and then quietly wink and nudge when he breaks them. Again, what the U.S. wants is stability (read: repression), not true reform.

Much has also been made of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s recent interview in the Wall Street Journal where he conceded the fact that Syrians, along with many others in the region, want reform and that he will have to comply. But Assad doesn’t fall outside the aforementioned status quo either. As Danin again has written,

Assad is no doubt watching very closely as events unfold in Egypt and likely lamenting Mubarak’s hesitance to move quickly and in full force against the domestic unrest. That was the lesson the younger Assad learned from his father, who brutally mowed down the city of Hama with tanks, killing tens of thousands of its inhabitants, when Islamic radicals rose up to challenge the regime in 1982. Assad the elder taught his son to rule with an iron fist and with a tight security apparatus, and to brook no dissent….anything that looks like a popular challenge to the Assad rule will surely be met with a swift and vicious response.

A few stubborn facts are dictating Obama’s policy in the region: (1) a cornerstone of American foreign policy is to only support democracy if it conforms to strategic and economic interests and (2) countries in this region do not fit this criteria; our blind faith support for Israel, our indispensable interest in Near East oil, and an ideological bent on the part of America’s political class to fear and denigrate an entire people are primarily what disqualify the region of being worthy of America’s good graces.

There is actual potential for these various uprisings to affect some real change in the region. But the people themselves will usher it in. It certainly won’t come from America’s overarching influence. Rather, in spite of it.

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Reagan at 100

The need to finally blog about something other than Egypt moves me to acknowledge the gathering out of the TAC vault to acknowledge the Reagan centennial.  Dan came closest to nailing it of anyone in this review for Reason, that he was an enormously complex figure whose complexity we would only come to properly appreciate with time.

In an unapologetic militant anarchist personal memoir of the Reagan years (unfortunately can’t find it online), my friend Keith Preston made an argument that has stuck with me ever since – that Reagan was Hindenburg to the neocons’ Nazis.  Outrageous though this may sound, we should remember that in spite of everything, Hindenburg was an honorable conservative, that the neocons did indeed exploit Reagan’s early onset dementia in Iran-Contra, and that what both figures had in common was that they were the perfect symbol for an anxious country.

The fortunate thing, however, is that we are likely to be spared the degree of tragedy that marred the similar complexities of, say, Pierre Laval.  My impeccably liberal family background also forces me to acknowledge the line of Bill Kauffman, that Reagan was nothing but a Cold War liberal who didn’t want to pay the tax rates associated with the Hollywood lifestyle.

Yet one irony about Reagan that gets far too little attention is that he likely had the most progressive foreign policy of any Cold War President.  This was, to be sure, a double-edged sword.  Whereas support for anti-Communist authoritarians peaked under the liberal idol JFK, it was under Reagan that these regimes largely met their end and were supplanted by democracies right alongside the fall of Communism.

I remember it being said around the time of Reagan’s death that with respect to the then-raging controversy over the Iraq War, if his instincts would have led him toward the neocons on the one hand, one thing that would have absolutely appalled him was how Bush had shattered America’s good name in the world.  One can extend this further to say that however much the present reality would have confused and angered him, Reagan would have no trouble at all recognizing that in the Arab world today, it is the protesters on the side of democracy with the US in the role of the Soviet Union.

This instinctive and unschooled empathy with the cause of democracy, double-edged sword at best and putty in the hands of the neocons at worst, gets to the heart of what makes Reagan stand out even now.  Whatever his failings, and they were no doubt legion, Ronald Reagan was a decent human being who had not spent his whole life preparing to be President, a contrast in sharp relief to the decadent political class of the present day.

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We Are (Almost) All Realists Now

As Brendan O’Neill, occasionally of TAC, explains, the Muslim Brotherhood is very largely a British creation. It retains excellent Foreign Office links to this day; in Egypt as in many other places, we Britons have long and rightly played both sides of the street. But then, we are all realists now. Well, almost all of us are, anyway.

Some of Ahmadinejad’s voters may not like the reserved Jewish, Armenian, Assyrian and Zoroastrian representation, although I do not know that for certain, but neither he nor any other figure of any significance proposes to abolish it. If Hezbollah ever seriously believed in velayat-e faqih as the basis of the state, then it long ago ceased to do so, at least if the exercise of that guardianship was to be confined in practice to Shi’ite or even to Muslim clerics and scholars, and instead more than accepted that Lebanon was Lebanon.

It is by no means unknown for Christians to vote, and even to stand, for Hamas, and they do not really have anywhere else to go now that Fatah’s sell-out of Christian Jerusalem has been exposed. The formal ideology of Hamas would be changed as much as that of Hezbollah was by alliance with The Twelve Tribes of Christian Palestine: Greek Orthodox, Latin Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Melkite Catholic, Ethiopian Orthodox, Maronite Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Syrian Catholic, and Armenian Catholic. Quite how much practical change would really be required is altogether a different question. The same can be said of any equally reality-accepting deal with Israel, were any such deal on offer from the reality-deniers, of whom more anon.

And what of Hamas’s parent, making Hamas British intelligence’s grandchild, the Muslim Brotherhood? Incidents from its prehistory and from its ancient history are picked out and then wildly misrepresented, as are effusions from its louder-mouthed internal dissidents, while features of Mubarak’s Egypt, some of which can also be said of America, of Britain and of numerous other places (for example, the availability of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion), are bizarrely blamed on the outlawed opposition. But representative figures from the commanding heights of the party have made it perfectly clear what the Brothers realistically accept as the future of Egypt. And that, combined with the examples of Iran and Hezbollah, and increasingly the example of Hamas, strongly suggest that the Coptic interest could be included and taken account of in a polity obviously including and taking account of, but just as obviously not dominated by, Al-Ikhwān.

Leaving only the Crazies. Those who continue to defend the removal of the protection of Christian Mesopotamia, which stands on the brink of wholesale destruction as a result. Those who back the Saudi proxies in Lebanon. The utterly uncompromising Islamists who run the NATO, and putatively EU, member-state of Turkey, together with their secular ultranationalist rivals, whose equal hostility towards the ancient indigenous Christians is positively Mubarakesque. Those who, at the behest of those Turks in both categories, of Mubarak, and of the Gulf despots, want to nuke Iran, although they routinely pretend to be concerned at single deaths there. Those who want to subject the Christians in Syria to the same fate as those in Iraq. And the ruling coalition that recalls the old joke about why there could not be an alliance between the Herstigte Nasionale Party and the Conservative Party of South Africa: “The HNP wants to drive the Bantu into the sea, but the CP will not allow Bantu on the beaches”.

So, one fourth of the Egyptian Parliament to be elected on a constituency basis, one fourth on a proportional basis, forty-five per cent (an equal number of men and women) to be nominated by the General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, and five per cent (an equal number of men and women) to be nominated by the Coptic Patriarch. No legislation could be introduced unless sponsored by at least one MP from each of those four categories, nor could it be enacted without the approval of all four of the General Guide, the Patriarch, and the first and second-placed candidates in a direct Presidential election, termed the President and the Vice-President but enjoying exactly equal powers. Why not?

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How Egypt is Revealing What is Wrong in American Discourse

Events in Egypt have revealed something incredible about American political discourse. Most of the time, most Americans – and even most of the media pundits – operate under the assumption that America is a force for good in the world. They glean and grin and comfort themselves in “knowing” that America has a tradition of democracy promotion and the spreading of freedom and free markets. Most Joe-six-packs aren’t sitting around the dinner table discussing America’s most time honored international tradition: supporting fascist dictators all over the world. They’re not discussing it, because they mostly don’t know about it.

But now that revitalized discourse on Egypt is front and center, the newspapers and media pundits and dinner tables have been forced to focus on this dark, sinister underbelly of American foreign policy. Even the flag waving jingoists at Fox News and other networks, where they typically omit any facts from the discussion that might expose America’s dirty hands, are talking openly about it.

What is remarkable about this new slice of honesty in our political discourse is that nobody seems to care. The pundits, the talking heads, who were seemingly ignorant about America’s near constant support of tyranny, simply mention it and accept it as part of the analysis for “what this means for us.” The newspapers gloss over the details where the devil lies, but openly report on the steadfast U.S. support for the Egyptian dictator. Political analysts understand it as business-as-usual, and present it as such. And Joe-six-pack, previously unaware that his internal notions of innate American goodness were a sham, simply nods in a docile, accepting manner.

No outrage. No indignation. No denial. No sign of revelatory unearthing. No visible indication of cognitive dissonance. Just acceptance and a passive nod.

No guilt over having voted for presidents and representatives who actively demonstrate direct support for Mubarak. He manipulated presidential and parliamentary elections to keep himself in power despite the people’s yearning for change. He arrested political dissidents without charge or fair trial, locked up in hidden detention facilities. He had a penchant for torture. He used an arbitrary, four decades-long state of emergency to violate every liberty and privilege Americans take for granted, from freedom of speech to privacy to property rights and economic liberties. Polling has shown that the Egyptian people are ideologically moderate, favor secular democratic reforms, and value individual rights. Mubarak’s ability to maintain his white-knuckled grip on power and abuse his people with impunity rested solely on the billions of dollars of annual aid and consistent political support from the United States Government. And all we get are complacent nods.

(Note that similar cases exist throughout the Middle East, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. But I shall not digress here.)

For conservatives, and especially Tea Partiers, who almost reflexively revert to Constitution-talk when faced with government policy they don’t like, I’m disappointed I haven’t heard “where in the Constitution is the government granted the power to prop up dictators across the globe!?” (Similarly for this group, the deficit certainly hasn’t been helped by our vast cache of green backs dolled out annually.) And for liberals, say, those who voted for Barack Obama, I feel I should have been hearing screams of betrayal and criminality for the Beacon of Hope’s continuation of America’s foundational foreign policy of maintaining despotism, cruelty, and oppression. But no. Just nods.

The crimes of the people we openly and consistently support are our crimes too. But to suggest that Congress or the administration should be held to account for the suffering and captivity of the Egyptian people is foul to most Americans. Amazing, how quick they are to condemn others for every transgression, so long as they’re waving a different flag. And, apparently, so long as they’re not on our payroll.

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The Neocons’ Darling Party Line

I made my premiere this week on RightWeb, with an article on the strange twists and turns of the neocon party line on Egypt I have amply covered throughout on this blog.  The article already seems somewhat dated with all that has happened in just the last few days.  (I’m in DC through next week, so if I blog less frequently I’m also staying with a friend who has al Jazeera!!)

All I can say at this point on the subject of my RightWeb article is that this really is the neocon Hitler-Stalin pact moment, because increasingly the neocons are trying to brazenly have it both ways, running paeans to global democracy alongside vicious screeds against El Baradei and the Muslim Brotherhood.  The craven long-term party line is already taking shape, that if only the neocons were calling the shots a true people’s democracy would be emerging Egypt instead of an Islamofascist satellite of Iran.

As a distant relative of probably the last man alive in the Soviet Union, when he died in 1983, who still believed everything would have been OK if Trotsky had taken over, I know that dog won’t bite.

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

The events in Egypt and across the Middle East are the most stunning popular uprisings in half a century or more. They have the potential to radically transform what has been a consistent policy of injustice towards the region from the world’s sole hegemonic power, and reform respective governments towards more decent, human rights-based democracies. It is remarkable history.

At the same time, while mass consciousness is enraptured by such events, America’s heel is as heavy as ever over the throats of the Afghan people. The noose may be loosening over North Africa and the Middle East, but on the periphery in Afghanistan it is tightening. According to this report from the Afghan Rights Monitor (via Rethink Afghanistan):

Almost everything related to the war surged in 2010: the combined numbers of Afghan and foreign forces surpassed 350,000; security incidents mounted to over 100 per week; more fighters from all warring side were killed; and the number of civilian people killed, wounded and displaced hit record levels.

…From 1 January to 31 December 2010, at least 2,421 civilian Afghans were killed and over 3,270 were injured in conflict-related security incidents across Afghanistan. This means everyday 6-7 noncombatants were killed and 8-9 were wounded in the war.

…In addition to civilian casualties, hundreds of thousands of people were affected in various ways by the intensified armed violence in Afghanistan in 2010. Tens of thousands of people were forced out of their homes or deprived of healthcare and education services and livelihood opportunities due to the continuation of war in their home areas.

The plan to disrupt, dismantle, and destroy al-Qaeda with a coalition of over 350,000 forces, the ever-swelling nature of U.S. military establishments, and immeasurable costs to blood and treasure was defective to begin with, and is continuing to prove so.  As Robert Pape argues in his new book Cutting the Fuse, the numbers (and the logic) reveal that U.S. military occupation and aggression overseas is precisely what intensifies terrorism and insurgency. Our strategy is self-defeating in the long-term.

And despite the flowery optimism on the part of the political elite, people closely involved in the Afghan war privately speak the truth about its prospects (as well as its lengthy continuance). Retired military officer Matthew Hoh recently published an anonymous email from his friend in the Army:

what rational person would still cling to the hope that we can win politically and/or militarily when the deck is so profoundly stacked against us? the enemy, who Phoenix-like rose from almost complete annihilation after early 2002 to the height of their power today – despite the ‘surge’ of 40,000 additional NATO combat troops – has every logical reason to have optimism for ultimate success, as they’ve not simply weathered the storm of the best we have to throw, but actually managed to increase their effectiveness. by every measurable metric, the TB has risen in power six consecutive years, irrespective of how many western troops we added, strategies adopted, or new commanding generals we hired; no detectable alteration in their ascent…meanwhile, the Afghan government at virtually every level that matters has changed nothing of their character and are as corrupt today as they were in 2002 when they started; no detectable alteration.

Generations of Egyptians have been suffering due to the decrees of the U.S. foreign policy elite, empowering thuggish dictators so as to render obedience. This has reverberations throughout the region that go beyond the related suffering of the Palestinians. That these recent uprisings might mean an end to that mainstay is spectacular. But it by no means signals the end is near for America’s blundering efforts abroad. One can only hope.

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