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.

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