David Horsey - August 24, 2011Juxtapositions are often fun. Dramatic sarcasm, all sorts of punch lines. It does help, though, if the pairings are not arbitrary.

So let’s give it a try.

David Horsey, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for SeattlePI.com, considered yesterday the domestic politics of the American role in Libya. And while the article actually is quite interesting, part of his advice for liberals struck me as odd:

… the vision of neo-cons like Paul Wolfowitz was not as wrongheaded as many on the left contend. In the 1990s, Wolfowitz and others in conservative think tanks developed their own domino theory: a move toward democracy in one Arab country would lead to a toppling of dictators in many Arab countries. Yes, trumped up excuses were used to justify the Iraq War in an attempt to start the dominoes falling, but that does not change the reality that the theory has proven to be correct.

The idea of a domino effect is not in itself absurd, that much is true. But Wolfowitz, PNAC, and other neoconservative hawks pushed for a belligerent imperium; the idea that the United States could foment this change through belligerent agitation of the Muslim world is a bit less clear. Indeed, the proposition at least equally risked increasing anti-American sentiments not only in those nations, but also at home and around the world.

We might, then, juxtapose Horsey’s proposition against a certain other notion—that the Arab Spring came about in large part because of economics. In April, the Financial Times opined:

The fundamental dysfunction of Arab countries is that of the rentier state. In oil- and gas-rich countries, natural resources return far more than it costs to extract them. Capturing and controlling this surplus – economic rent – is the chief source of enrichment, hence both the means and the end of power. Meanwhile the tragedy of resource-poor Arab countries is that they create rent artificially when nature has given them none. Monopolies, regulation and bullying all serve to limit access to productive activity, which generates fantastic rewards for a favoured few at the cost of holding back whole nations.

Whatever the source of the rent, the rentier economy is a vicious cycle in which the concentration of economic opportunity and that of political power fuel one another. This is why dignity and livelihood are inseparable in the demands of the excluded Arab majorities that have finally raised their voice. It is also why the political revolutions across the region will succeed only if matched by economic transformations. Even as Egypt and Tunisia grope for political transitions, the economic challenge is urgent.

In January, Annie Lowrey reported, for Slate:

About two-thirds of Egyptians are under the age of 30—and that age cohort makes up a whopping 85 percent to 90 percent of the unemployed. In comparison, youths make up about 40 percent of the unemployed in nearby Jordan. (Jobless youths, particularly jobless young men, tend to pose instability risks in general.) Millions more face underemployment or the prospect of dead-end careers in the civil service. And overall, the country remains poor: About 40 percent of Egyptians live on less than $2 a day, and the nation’s total GDP is about the size of Connecticut’s.

Then, there is a secondary problem: a huge run-up in food costs in recent months. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the worldwide food price index is at an all-time high—surpassing its 2008 peak, when skyrocketing costs caused global rioting and pushed as many as 64 million people into poverty. The price of oils, sugar, and cereals have all recently hit new peaks—and those latter prices are especially troubling for Egypt, as the world’s biggest importer of wheat.

Or Troy Camplin for the Pope Center in February:

The unemployment rate in Egypt is comparable to that in the United States: 9.4 percent. Yet, 87.2 percent of the unemployed are between the ages of 15 and 29, and Marcus Noland, deputy director and senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, points out that unemployment among Egyptian college graduates is ten times higher than for those who did not go to college ….

…. Is it a coincidence that, as Noland also observes, most of Egypt’s anti-government protesters are precisely this demographic? I think not. Among the things an education will do for you is create an expectation that you will get a better job, make a better living, have a better life than if you did not have a college degree. And what if that does not pan out? What if, upon graduation, you find that you cannot get a job in your field, or in anything that requires an education—or that you cannot get a job at all?

Maybe Michael Schuman for Time, just this week:

The rebel soldiers marching into Tripoli may think they’ve won the war, but they’ve only won a battle. Though they may not realize it after months of bitter conflict, taking power will prove to be the easy part. Keeping it is a whole different matter. To ensure the success of the Arab Spring, the new leaders of the Arab world have to resolve serious difficulties – rebuilding political institutions ravaged by decades of authoritarianism, restoring order to societies in disarray and uprooting endemic corruption. But as I pointed out in a recent TIME magazine story, their biggest challenge, in fact, is economic. The future of the Arab Spring could very well depend on its ability to create jobs. Here’s why:

The roots of the Arab Spring are planted in a half-century of poor economic policy. While Asia successfully connected to the world economy, capitalizing on offshoring and outsourcing to create jobs and increase incomes, the Arab world did just the opposite. Governments tended to favor state-heavy economic models, tying up the private sector in knots and cutting off their economies from international trade and finance. Some regimes were outright hostile to the U.S.-led global economic system (Libya and Syria included). With its anti-globalization mindset, the Middle East got left out of the expanding supply chains driving growth in the rest of the developing world. (That’s why iPhones and their parts are made in Japan, China and South Korea, not Egypt, Tunisia or Libya.) Those countries that did manage to get wealthy off oil exports never seriously diversified their economies into anything else. Though there is an occasional bright spot – Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, for example – for the most part the Middle East got stuck behind the rest of the emerging world. In the 1970s, many Arab states enjoyed similar income levels to those in Asia, but ever since, nations like South Korea, Malaysia and China have zipped by.

The frustration over that miserable economic record is manifesting itself on the streets of the Middle East, from Tahrir Square in Cairo to Pearl roundabout in Bahrain. There is a reason why so many young people have marched against their dictatorial rulers – they don’t have much else to do. According to a report by the International Finance Corp. and the Islamic Development Bank, youth unemployment in the Middle East is the highest the world, at 25%. For women, it often tops 30%. What these young people want is real change to bring real improvements in their lives. If they don’t see that change quickly enough, they could turn on the very politicians they’re ushering into power. That raises the possibility that the Arab Spring will degenerate into endless rounds of political instability, as unhappy young people take to the streets again and again demanding faster and faster reform. That’s exactly what we’re seeing take place in Egypt. The Arab Spring could fail on its economic policies.

Are we seeing a pattern, here?

So let us juxtapose:

  • The Bush Doctrine is proven by the Arab Spring.
  • The Arab Spring is largely the result of economic frustrations, including chronic unemployment and rising food prices.

Syllogistically, this would suggest that the neoconservative triumph is coming about because the United States tanked the economy.

That nearly sounds like a conspiracy theory. And herein lies the point of the juxtaposition: Did the neoconservatives coordinate the economic crisis in the United States, which has rippled around the globe, as part of their strategy to agitate for change in the Muslim world?

On its face, the suggestion is absurd.

To the other, is the juxtaposition fair?

If so, we might assert that Horsey has missed the mark in this aspect of his critique.

2 thoughts on “Juxtapositions

  1. I would definitely agree that he missed his mark. At the very least, if we assume that the neocons did in fact want this sort of thing, the fact that it was in fact brought about by economic collapse rather than U.S. policy says more about reality vs. neocon dreams than anything

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