NEW YORK – When graffiti appeared last spring on a wall near Tunisia’s interior ministry reading “Thank you, Facebook,” it was not just praise for a social-media company that had facilitated the country’s uprising. It was also a celebration of the sense of shared experience that defined the Tunisian revolution – and the many other historic protests and revolutions that erupted in 2011.
As we discovered collecting essays for our new book From Cairo to Wall Street: Voices from the Global Spring, one of the defining characteristics of the new age of protest is the dovetailing of the desire and the ability to connect – across neighborhoods, cities, countries, and even continents. In every contributor’s country, a new awareness of shared destinies and of a global community permeated protest movements. Social-media technology was one tool that advanced it; but so was a reconceptualization of the meaning of public space, and the view that a plurality of ideas is superior to dogma – that the act of collaboration is as important as the outcome. Read more.
Statue of General Charles Gordon, the British "martyr" of the Sudanese River Wars. Photo: Brian Herrington Spier.
I hate to beat the same old imperialism horse over and over, but come on, now. Revelations in Bob Woodward’s new book — about Obama’s military strategists’ push for a bigger war commitment in Afghanistan — are hard not to read without thinking about the West’s long colonial history in Asia and Africa. (See WaPo article.) Some of the comments could be taken out of Winston Churchill’s memoirs of his swashbuckling pre-politics days in Africa. Witness, attributed to Petraeus:
You have to recognize also that I don’t think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. It’s a little bit like Iraq, actually. . . . Yes, there has been enormous progress in Iraq. But there are still horrific attacks in Iraq, and you have to stay vigilant. You have to stay after it. This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.
In other words, long-term occupation of foreign lands is necessary for their — and our — advancement? Sounds a little too familiar.
The founding fathers said it: "President George Washington, who, in a letter to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island, declared that the United States, 'gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.'" - from MoJo piece by Matteen Mokalla.
My initial reaction was, like so many Twitterers and Facebookers, “It’s too early.” Obama has not nearly dismantled the GWOT to the degree I want to see, he’s still presiding over two specific wars, he hasn’t taken a position on the Goldstone report or condemned the bombing of Gaza or Israeli nukes, he may send many more troops to Afghanistan. My expectations are high, and there’s too much about American policy that continues to reek of war and imperialism.
But as a day has passed, I’ve grown more and more excited about his award. One person whose opinion I greatly respect prodded us on Twitter:
“It’s the height of cynicism, and the triumph of punditry, to scoff from the sidelines at President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize.”
I don’t think all the negative reactions to the award from the left have been simple, sarcastic scoffing. Many are related to the continuing hugeness of the American war machine, the missile strikes on civilians in Afghanistan, the failure to satisfactorily shut Guantanamo.
Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda wrote an interesting response to Obama’s Ghana speech for foreignpolicy.com. In it, he claims Obama has missed the point. It’s an interesting argument, though I’m not sure it’s justified based on the speech alone. A short excerpt:
The lesson for Obama is that Africa is likely to get better with less meddling in its affairs by the West, not more — whether that meddling is through aid, peacekeeping, or well-written speeches. Africa needs space to make mistakes and learn from them. The solutions for Africa have to be shaped and articulated by Africans, not outsiders. Obama needs to listen to Africans much more, not lecture them using the same old teleprompter.
In August 2007, at the commencement of the Dream for Darfur torch relay, Mia Farrow and an 8 year old Darfurian refugee walk into a sandstorm near the Sudan-Chad border. By the Genocide Intervention Network, used with a Creative Commons license via flickr. (See my comments on this photo at the end of the post!)
Visit the Save Darfur website these days and it’s hard to tell what the coalition thinks of Obama’s approach to Sudan. The news stories the site highlights on the left seem to be chosen to show the president’s inaction; the blog posts that the SDC folks author seem to cautiously praise him. Overall, I’ve sensed frustration with Obama emanating from the SDC camp — despite Obama’s appointment of Scott Gration as special envoy to Sudan, per the coalition’s request to appoint an envoy. It seems like the coalition doesn’t think he’s been bold enough.
I’m getting a daily digest from the expert friend I mentioned in the previous post and picking out some highlights. Here are some of his thoughts about two of the biggest questions I have: How popular is Ahmadinejad, really? And what should Obama be doing in reaction?
Pro-Ahmadienjad poll: There was a pre-election poll carried out by an NGO called “Terror Free Tomorrow” that some of you may have seen mentioned in various articles (they defended their poll a few days ago in the Washington Post). The poll was taken via telephone and purportedly showed Ahmadinejad was twice as popular among the respondents, which is now being cited to show that Ahmadinejad did win the election, and the cries of fraud are unwarranted. I’m including the link to a full debunking of this poll below, but there are 2 major problems with this poll. First, methodologically, the phone survey was of a little over 1,000 people, and just only 57% answered definitely. The rest either said “no comment” or were undecided. That’s a large number of unanswered, and when you weigh that with the percentage that said they did support Ahmadinejad, you get a far less overwhelming endorsement of him. Second, and more importantly, there are political problems with this poll. This poll was conducted around a month before the election, and before the official campaign time began. Unlike American, Iran has no strong political parties, and people will not just vote for someone—say, like Musavi—because he’s a member of the party they identify with. Opinions change and undecided sway much more in Iran than in American. Musavi had been out of the public eye for almost two decades before the official campaigning began, so it’s no wonder he didn’t have more support when this poll was taken. On top of this, his campaign really built steam later in the campaign period, particularly after his June 3rd televised debate with Ahmadinejad when the latter attacked numerous members of the establishment such as Rafsanjani’s family, Musavi’s wife, and others. If you want to read more about this poll, check here.
It is hugely inspiring to see the hundreds of thousands of Iranians taking their destiny into their own hands and heading peacefully to the street to show that they will no longer accept the status quo. It’s not just Tehran. Check out clip of Isfahan protests if you haven’t seen them already:
Yet do we in the United States really understand what Iranians are agitating for? I haven’t seen a whole lot of reportage outlining the differences between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad’s platforms. I get concerned that Americans or others outside Iran will confuse what they want to change in Iran with what Mousavi’s supporters actually want changed. Right wing pressure on Obama to openly support the opposition (which would be staggeringly stupid politically, by the way, though the smart path is far from clear) hints to me that McCain and others are misunderstanding Mousavi’s platform.
I think we need a commission, but not necessarily prosecutions or convictions. My concern is that, with convictions, we’d target a few individuals without acknowledging that the problem was systemic (like with Abu Ghraib). I would very much like to see the masterminds (Bush, Cheney, Gonzalez) convicted. Considering the unlikelihood of this, however, I would prefer a commission–with the power to make broad-ranging inquiries to expose the depth of our government’s misdeeds–over a conviction of a handful of the worst people. The Global War on Terror and what it did to our constitution is much larger than something that convictions of a dozen people could undo… To be clear, I don’t think Obama has done enough, and I hope he doesn’t think we’re going to bury our past this easily.