As one reads the disturbing headlines and news reports of the events in Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, and the additional upheavals and inherent instability throughout much of the Middle East region, one senses that significant events are unfolding and at a rapid rate – faster than anyone can anticipate or plan for. The world is changing fast!
This gives rise to a number of questions, which over the 4th of July “rest” period, we all need to reflect on and “rethink” our old concepts of the global order and our role in it.
The first question is how we should start thinking about the world we are living in but also the world that our children will inherit? To do this we need a deep and fundamental understanding of the forces at work in the world today, their antecedents, their causes, and their trends and direction, and their meaning for us all.
The more immediate question, naturally is how can the international community absorb, think about, and act to bring a measure of peace and security to the Middle East region? Many in the U.S. and abroad have already said we should “write off the region” and leave it to those on the ground to settle. Others believe that some form of either national or international intervention is the better option to stop the now some 100,000 deaths in Syria, and the spread of killing throughout the region.
Few ask the deeper questions of the costs of either action; what chances of a better outcome would result from either of these approaches? We need to examine the details and consequences of many choices. If we act – with whom, when, and with what force, tools, and what required diplomacy? And what are our goals and are they realistic? Please have sympathy for President Obama as these are not easy decisions – and I assure you, both the public and he do not have total clarity of the on the ground situation, nor do those that are killing on either side. As a Policy Planner, I assure you that more is unknown than is known in many conflicts and crises. Yet the fundamental question remains: does the world stand by when horrific events take place that have wide repercussions? Do we take seriously the “responsibility to protect” that has been mandated by the United Nations?
The other conflict, in the Egypt case, is between support for a democratically elected but increasingly autocratic and radically Islamic government and the alternative of a military dominated, new regime that in the past has had its own autocratic tendencies but promises to return security to the streets, bring prosperity, and eventually civil government? Do we side with the protests on the street or with the government that was elected but has abused its powers? We deal/recognize daily with autocratic/authoritarian governments such as China, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Yet our values as America are to side with democracy and human rights. In our world there are no simple answers to these questions.
The other question that is being asked is what should be the American role in dealing with key global challenges such as the proliferation of nuclear weapons, climate change, global poverty, the troubled global economy, and on our 4th of July our own need for better economic equality, and for growth with fairness. Do we apply these values also to our global responsibilities? Here in our America we are also divided on these historical American traditions and values with a strong conservative sector of our nation preaching against doing anything against poverty – indeed taking away help in such areas as food stamps, housing, education, especially for the poor, and denying climate change and the need to act on it, wanting to invalidate good science, teach false ideas, and keep our vulnerable and less powerful citizens from voting. These elements undermine our own democracy and also our ability to be seen by the world as a leader for justice and peace.
Happy 4th of July and hope to see your thoughts on Rethinking National Security in the coming weeks and months!