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SECURING AMERICA, STRENGTHENING ISRAEL

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America, the Arab Spring and Russia as the “Liberator”

JINSA Report #: 

1,097
June 10, 2011

In honor of Russia's National Day on Sunday, Russia House took out a full-page ad in a Washington newspaper. The first text line reads, "Twenty years ago, Russia completed the process of liberating about two dozen nations, itself included, from communist rule."

Funny, the Poles, Czechs, Estonians and others don't seem to be holding "Liberation Day" ceremonies to thank Russia for their freedom. We - and they - rather recall the bravery of Lech Walesa and Solidarity; the incalculably important support of Lane Kirkland and the AFL-CIO; the moral strength of Natan and Avital Sharansky, Andrei Sakharov and Yelena Bonner and countless Russian dissidents who published forbidden literature, went to prison or exile and didn't return; Ronald Reagan standing at the Berlin Wall; and the night the Wall came down.

The people of Central Europe liberated themselves with the solid support of the West, including the threat to Russia that NATO would support Polish reformers militarily. Russia didn't so much liberate itself as the communist dictatorship crumbled after losing its colonies in the West to the West.

It is an old Soviet habit to rewrite, whitewash and airbrush history. Putin and Medvedev shouldn't get away with it in 2011, particularly as the so-called "Arab Spring" morphs into a long, hot summer.

Trying to make something good out of something scary, President Obama, in his meeting with the Polish prime minister last month, stressed lessons Central Europe (and Russia?) might teach the Arab world about emerging from totalitarianism. But the two are not comparable. The people of Central Europe were relatively well off economically (not relative to the West, but relative to the economic divides in the Arab world), educated and able to present opportunities to their Western neighbors. And having emerged from an ideologically-driven Russian occupation, they were ready for Western political norms and free market economics. Their knowledge that NATO and the West, and specifically the United States, were on their side helped intellectually, socially and politically.

On the other hand, the moral authority of the West is minimal in the Middle East - even before you get to the emotionally charged subject of Western support for Israel.

The Arab Spring is the downfall of dictatorships that were supported by the West, specifically the United States. The demise of the secular nationalists Mubarak, Ben Ali, and Saleh - and even the Western overthrow of one-time secular-nationalist partner Saddam Hussein - make conditions ripe for ideologically and religiously-driven parties.

Western economics are unappealing in countries where rapacious governments and militaries plunder nominally free markets and line their pockets through crony capitalism and compliant government regulators, while burgeoning populations were unable to find jobs. The fact that Western tourism and investment have dried up in Egypt is fine with newly-legalized Salafist and Muslim Brotherhood parties seeking Islamic purity.

NATO is waging war against an Arab leader that did what the West asked, paid reparations for terrorism and gave up his nuclear program (Gaddafi). But it will do nothing about an Arab leader who is murdering his people, supporting terrorism, partnering with Iran and lying about his nuclear capability (Assad). That doesn't do much for NATO's (or America's) standing among the people of the region.

In the meantime, Tunisia has postponed its planned election, Egypt has legalized the Islamist parties, Yemen is in the throes of an al-Qaeda supported civil/tribal war, Bahrain is shaky, Hezbollah controls Lebanon's government, Hamas has returned to the Palestinian government, and Iraq's government and military remain unable to provide security and services to the people even as the U.S. government plans to leave. Iran, which should be an outcast in the Arab world as both Persian and Shiite, looks more like a winner than a loser. Non-Arab, Ottoman former occupier Turkey does as well.

The West and specifically the United States owe the people of Central Europe and the people of the Arab world an honest accounting of history, not Soviet-style revisionism. In fact, we owe it to ourselves to understand both our positive role in the demise of the Soviet Union and our support of the dissidents that suffered under its rule, and what has been at best a mixed relationship with the people of the Arab Middle East.

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