What’s Left: Not an Export



The people’s revolutions across North Africa are not about the United States. They are not even really about Facebook or Twitter when you really look at it, as evidenced by their com­timuing success despite internet shutoffs and relatively low social-media penetration in coun­tries like Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. I refer to these uprisings as “people’s revolutions” because what they are actually about is people.

What we are seeing across North Africa and into parts of the Middle East is a grassroots, bottom-up movement. Despite anything Libyan “Leader and Guide of the Revolution” (yes that is his title) Muammar al-Gaddafi says about foreign intelligence, hallucinogenic drugs or Al Jazeera’s attempts to undermine his regime, this is not about the CIA, MI6 or the media. And this isn’t Brave New World, it definitely isn’t about drugs. This is a revolution of, by and for the people. Gaddafi may be the self-titled Guide of the Revolution, but “the revolution” certainly isn’t this one.

But we are Americans, and like good Americans, we are going to make the news about us. How is Obama handling this? How are American social media sites shaping global politics? (If you don’t believe they are “American,” look at Twitter’s trend reports by city, or Facebook’s us­ership by country numbers.) What is the United States doing? What should the United States be doing? Which brings me to the sticky question of interventionism.

Democracy is something that cannot be given; it is something that must be taken by a people from its government. It is nearly undemocratic to institute a democracy on the behalf of another nation’s people. The very principles of democracy itself insist that power and legitimacy come from the people themselves, not from so-called nation builders acting on behalf of American interests.

The United States, despite arguments made in this week’s “Being Right,” has no responsibility to institute democratic regimes. Regime building is expensive and by the best accounts out of Iraq and Afghanistan, only partially effective. Facing record deficits and equally inadequate austerity plans from both the President and his congressio­nal adversaries, the American people have agreed on exactly one portion of the budget to cut: for­eign aid.While this tiny crumb of our oversized spending pie isn’t exactly the same thing as mili­tary intervention (think water bottles and vacci­nations versus tanks and F-22s), the underlying principle is clear: the American people want our politicians (and taxpayer money) here in the United States.

At a time when nutrition programs to the poorest of the poor children are being cut here in the United States, we have no business to be building states abroad. Let’s build our own first.

The notion that we are in a position to transplant democracy is not only condescending, it also assumes an egregious level of American exceptionalism that isn’t supported by an objective look at the state of the country. The health care bill is far from perfect, and with the rising costs of health care, the debate is far from over. Infrastructure is literally and figuratively crumbling away. On our current path, we can’t afford to run this country. How on earth does anyone expect us to pay for yet another costly intervention on behalf of nebulous, if not nefarious, interests? To pay for the problems we face, we need to export something other than democracy.

For a country (and for some in the GOP, a party) so concerned with national sovereignty, it is remarkable that conservatives advocate overthrowing that same notion for other countries. Oh wait. Libya is a major oil producing nation and a member of OPEC … I guess exceptions can be made.