Egypt: Revolutions Are Always a Messy Affair

by Paul Siciliano


Shock of all shock, I am finally posting on something not involving the George Zimmerman trial (that will be next).   

I consider myself a student of the French Revolution and I have studied the development of democracy and rule of law in nations.  One thing is for sure in these matters, they are never clean or easy (not even in the United States).  That is why I have great interest in what is occurring in Egypt. 

There is this inherent tension with a democratically elected government being deposed by the military in the name of popular will.  You basically have the military behaving in an extra-constitutional manner to save the constitution.  It is all too common a theme.  South America, especially, had been plagued by decades of political instability resulting from democratically elected governments being deposed for being perceived as governing in an inappropriate matter.  In many of those countries, it took the horrors of state-sponsored violence (and in Argentina a failed military adventure) to so discredit the military that they returned to there barracks for good.  An aside, there had been so many military coups in Argentina that the final coup which deposed Isabel Peron was expected (the only question was the timing).

So, what is one to make of what is going on Egypt?  Yes, the Morsi government was governing against the will of most of the people.  Maybe that is true - it depends on how you define the popular will.  But there are procedures in place for the people to vent their disapproval of the governance - elections.  Granted, the institutions, at this time, are not as strong to ensure that the expression of popular will are responded to by the government.  It is all such a complicated mess, which is why I say revolutions are always messy.

I am going to return to Argentina for a moment.  I believe the reason Peronism has endured in Argentina for so long (may we can say had endured since now everyone claims the mantle of Peronism) was because the military never gave it a chance to fail.  I am not arguing that the Egyptian military should have allowed the Morsi government to fail.  But, by not doing so, you have the potential of having a large segment of dissatisfied citizens who will never see political legitimacy in the next regime. 

It is going to take a time for Egypt to come to some sort of democratic order with a respect for basic rights and the rule of law, and there little the United States can do about that.  It's all a mess, but will be interesting to see how it plays out.   

The Road to Damascus

by Paul Siciliano

If it was only so easy!

Syria's President, Bashar Assad, has allegedly crossed the red line that the Obama Administration arbitrarily created by using chemical weapons which have killed possibly 150 individuals.  Apparently, those 150 are more important than the approximately 95,000 that have died in Syria's civil war because it is being used as the justification for the Obama Administration to arm and to train (??) Syrian rebels who are starting to lose against the Assad regime.   For now, talk is only of supplying weapons, but there is talk of a no fly zone especially close to the Jordanian border.  Who knows from there?

I am not in support of arming any rebels in Syria.  We really do not know who we are arming and all it will do will prolong the civil war.  Further, we are inching ourselves closer to a proxy war as the Assad Regime is supported by Iran (including it's proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah) and Russia.

This is not Libya (which I was not in favor of intervention either).  Assad enjoys greater support that Qaddafi, which is re-enforced by the sectarian divisions within Syria.  Syria would be more like Iraq but for more complex and dangerous.   

I understand there is a humanitarian crisis in Syria - it is a civil war.  Ours was the bloodiest war in our history.  But, what national interest is being served if we are able to tip the scales in favor of some group of rebels that we can hope would form a more favorable government.  That's a lot of wishful thinking.   

The greatest interest is for Israel and Jordan, and that is what I suspect explains this slight intervention.  And, it also appears that Assad may win, which is an outcome I guess are not content.  I can only hope that all we do is supply arms and just let the civil war play out. 

It is a cold hard fact - but nation-states need to work these internal issues out on their own and there will be a lot of bumps and bloodshed in the meantime.  Look at the history of Western Civilization.  Nations did not become stable democracies over night.  Not even the United States, which suffered a civil war.  (France's first revolution was in 1789, and it never really became a stable democracy until 1871 after the devastating loss in the Franco-Prussian War.  Germany's first revolution can be traced to 1848, and did not become a stable democracy until 1945 after its devastating loss in World War II.) 

I don't think American citizens and policy makers really view these struggles in the long term as they should be.  They expect a quick resolution, but that is not going to happen.  We just cannot will stable democratic states.   


Are We Finally Ending the "War on Terror"

by Paul Siciliano

Today, President Obama delivered an address at the National Defense University where he laid out the Administration's counter-terrorism policy.  (Text of the script can be read here.)  I was very much impressed with the content of the speech as it finally shows a realist view on our so-called "War on Terror."

The President covered many topics in his speech:  the use of drones, closing GTMO, the eventual repeal of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (2001), and the general approach the United States must take in dealing with potential threats.  On each topic, you can see the President is taking a realist approach balancing our needs for security with our need to stay true to the values that make our country great.  

With respect the use of drones, I never understood the particular hysteria over the use of drones, as compared to other types of military force.  Why should any sort of legal or moral analysis be different if the United States uses a drone to kill an individual overseas, or if the U.S. uses a guided missile or special forces?  The President effectively argued that, at times, the use of drones will be necessary but will be limited and have oversight from another branch of our government.  Obviously, we do not want a President who can just order a drone strike whenever he or she sees a potential threat.  At the same time, however, we cannot bar the use of drones in all circumstances.  Further, it should not matter whether the target in question is an American citizen who has declared war against the United States and is not in the United States (and we cannot get to the individual through more traditional means) or a foreigner engaged in similar circumstances.  

I have no question in my mind that GTMO should be closed and those being detained there should either be brought to the United States to face trial or be shipped to another country willing to take these individuals.  It is a betrayal of our values that we are holding individuals indefinitely without even pretending to bring them to trial.  Who cares if we cannot win at trial because the evidence was tainted through our use of torture?  That is a price we should pay for what we did and to ensure that we do not dismiss our values for some short-term false sense of security.

The part of the speech which impressed me the most was the President's willingness to begin refining and then eventually repealing the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that was passed in the wake of 9/11 and gave the President broad authority to use military force.  The initial purpose of the act was to get those who attacked us on 9/11 - it cannot be open-ended.  As the President acknowledged, the use of terror is nothing new and we can find examples of it throughout our and Western History.  What is new (or different) is technological capabilities and the underlying ideology used to justify terrorist acts.  But, those differences should not change our approach.

If the President does pursue the policy he outlined today, that would be better for the United States and for what we stand.  We may actually see a President cede some executive authority.  What we will definitely see is a more realistic approach to dealing with the terrorist threat the United States is facing.  We can not live in a perpetual state of war, as the President noted (hat trick to James Madison):

So America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us, mindful of James Madison’s warning that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” Neither I, nor any President, can promise the total defeat of terror. We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. What we can do – what we must do – is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend. To define that strategy, we must make decisions based not on fear, but hard-earned wisdom. And that begins with understanding the threat we face.

Well said by our President, even if it is 12 years too late!