Two things come to mind on this post-election morning: how many of the newly elected Republicans are Tea Partiers? Maybe they’ll tell us by the end of the day, but the worried took on John Boehner’s face as he announced that they were just going to have to cooperate with the Democrats can only mean that it’s not the president’s party he’s worried about, but his new troops.
While we wait with baited breath to see how far the Tea Party is going to carry its threats to ‘take back the country’, we can usefully reflect on how things are happening elsewhere. As I wrote yesterday, a former Marxist guerilla was just elected president of the most powerful country in Latin America. This didn’t happen under any kind of martial law: the Worker’s Party has been in office for the last eight years, under Lula da Silva, one of the most respected politicians on the planet.
So what does this mean? It means the United States always wants things to happen their way, right away. The Soviet Union lasted some seventy years, and for most of that time provided the excuse for a never-before-seen military buildup on our part – as our cities went to pot and our education scores went down.
The former Soviet Union – now known, for all practical purposes as Russia – has become an oligarchy with elections, kind of like watered down ice-cream with whipped cream, that cooperates with us against a common enemy: radical Islam.
Does anybody honestly believe there is a fundamental difference between Marxist guerillas and Islamic fundamentalists – other than the whipped cream? Let’s be real: communism is about worker control of the economy so that workers can get a fair shake. Socialism is about democratic control of the economy which is better than corporate state capitalism at giving everybody a fair shake. Islamic fundamentalism, depending on the brand, is first and foremost about evicting a foreign culture from Islamic lands (Al Qaeda); secondly it’s about achieving a fair shake for the Palestinians who have been pushed aside by Israel (Hamas, Hezbollah, with the support of Iran); and covering all that like a lot of whipped cream is the desire of ordinary Muslims for a better life, especially if they are Shi’a Muslims, who revere Ali, who like the Prophet was for the little guys.
Tribal or ethnic pride – as in places like Sri Lanka and Africa – disappears as a cause of conflict when people are moving up in the world. The idea that by bringing development to the world, the United States would ensure peace was not far off the mark: but its methods were.
What happened in Brazil? When you have a military dictatorship, the only thing you can do to get rid of it is take to the woods with a gun. Once the military were ousted, activists like Dilma Rousseff could work for greater equality through politics. Lula Ignacio da Silva first stood for the presidency in 1989, not winning it until 2002. Coincidentally, American involvement in Brazilian politics was considerable up until the election of da Silva, when Brazil achieved real independence from the United States.
Am I suggesting that the Muslim countries could follow the Brazilian path to social-democratic government? Of course not :no two apples are not the same, much less apples and oranges. What I am suggesting is that in our impatience, we want to see the entire world become like us – which we think is the best way to be. (It also suits our corporate-military complex to have an outlet for their products. As I mentioned in a previous blog, Oliver Stone’s recent film South of the Border shows Nestor Kirchner the recently deceased former president of Argentina telling how George W Bush assured him that the way to economic progress was through war.)
But getting back to the Muslim world (over a billion people out of a total of six plus billion), Indonesia passes for democratic, but there is terrorist activity there; Saudi Arabia is fighting Al Qaeda at home and in Yemen, across its southern border; if the Taliban return to power in Afghanistan following a negotiated settlement of the war that is draining our budget, they are likely to prevent girls from going to school again.
On the other hand, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan have modern economies, the former has too many minorities to be successfully governed for any length of time, the second relies on a strong central government under Baath (socialist) rule, while Jordan has been ruled since independence from Britain by an enlightened hereditary monarch with strong ties to the United States and Israel.
So where am I going with this lesson in political geography? I’m saying that countries and polities evolve in their own good time, according to their traditions and history: our interventions don’t make them evolve sooner or ‘better’: all humans want a fair shake from their own govern-ments. However, ‘modernity’ is very frightening to some, especially macho fundamentalists, whether in the U.S. or the Muslim world. At the same time modernity brings awareness of more ‘things’ to more people, who then want development.
The Taliban may succeed for another generation in preventing women from leaving the house, but eventually they too will have to give in to the overwhelming influence of the outside world. Except for America’s right-wing fanatics, everyone in the world wants government-funded health care, even the Taliban, whose one claim to popularity is that they set up free clinics – like the Marxist guerrillas…….
The rest of the world has been moving forward without us for quite some time, (a few commentators are beginning to admit it if you listen closely). There will be more Dilma Rousseff’s, and how they get from guerilla to president should not concern us. Let’s worry, rather, here at home, about the Tea Party’s stated agenda of taking us back to colonial times. Brazil lifts millions out of poverty with family payments dependent only upon children attending school, while we are headed for a regime that wants to close down the Department of Education and do away with Social Security. But perhaps we need not fear returning to the days of American isolationism, because three hundred years after that policy was enunciated, the Western Hemisphere is likely to become one big entity under Latin American rule.