These days, if you want to understand the Big Picture, pay attention to short takes. Friday, Brits demonstrated in huge numbers across the country against austerity. One of their fears is that they could lose the National Health System (one of the numbers at the opening of the London Olympics was an obviously fond salute to this institution created after the Second World War, and which Britons can’t conceive of doing without).
Coincidentally, a report on Libya noted that one of the reasons for the continuing chaos is that the post-Ghaddafi government plans to nationalize the health service. Most people in the U.S. and perhaps also in Europe, assume that the regime we overthrew in Tripoli was not only authoritarian, but benighted. Although it was a dictatorship, it was politically progressive under the aegis of a little green book that emulated Mai Tse Tung’s little red book.
The Syrian regime, like Saddam’s Iraq, and the Mullah’s Iran, also has a national health system. Bashar al Assad’s regime, however ‘dictatorial’ is a politically progressive regime, as was that of Ghaddafi in Libya, under the aegis of a little green book that emulated Mao Tse Tung’s little red book. Is it just a coincidence that these countries have either been devastated by U.S. sponsored attacks or are slated to be?
The end of the Cold War did not mark the end of American hostility toward any even vaguely socialistic regime. The focus on oil obscures Washington’s determination to stamp out regimes that engage in re-distribution. Yet isn’t this what global demonstrations are about?
But there’s more to the current Big Picture. Also on Friday, RT mentioned that the presidents of both Turkey and Iran, who back opposing sides in the conflict in Syria met at a regional meeting, with Turkey agreeing on the need for a ceasefire although it supports the regime.
Turkey’s slight retreat from its hard line against Syrian President Assad reveals a broader situation: the Sunni Arab Middle East is bracketed by two non-Arab nations, Sunni Turkey and Shi’ite Iran, who have long and proud histories, as opposed to their neighbors. (Saudi Arabia is the other major player in the area, but it cannot refer to either a glorious cultural past or home grown military power.)
Is this meaningful in the days of social media and face recognition? I believe it is, because populations are aware of history, and those of the Gulf monarchies that today conspire with the mainly Sunni Syrian opposition to overthrow the only remaining progressive Arab government know that their sands were barren until oil was found. (Some of my readers will argue that Israel is the most progressive government of the region, but more and more people around the world believe its behavior toward the Palestinians, whom it displaced, prevents it from any longer claiming that title.)
I believe that the ideological and the religious tracks in the upheaval of the Muslim world will increasingly converge, the Sunni/Shi’a divide evolving from a strictly religious enmity to a divide between the haves and the have-nots, or as we say today, between the 99% and the 1%.
If you think this is wishful thinking, consider that Egypt’s Sunni President Morsi recently went to Teheran to attend the Non-Aligned Summit, meeting with the Shi’ite host, President Ahmed-inejad, to discuss the Syrian crisis. For decades Americans have been told that there are two opposing forces, Communism and Capitalism, with only the latter being civilized. It is difficult for them to wrap their heads around a blurring of this line. Yet just yesterday, the Colombian rebels who fought the neo-liberal government for five decades met in Oslo for peace talks intended to bring about a more progressive regime in that Latin American country – with a second round of negotiations set to open in Havana. (Yet Obama cannot even contemplate calling off the Cuban blockade.)
For Oslo, capital of the highly successful Nor-wegian welfare state, and Havana, which is no longer a strictly communist economy, to be playing dual roles in Latin America is the equivalent of the Turkey/Iran role in the Middle East. Both of these developments signal profound changes in the big picture, which any future American President should – but probably will not be allowed to – recognize, at least publicly.