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Spring Awakening

BY KIRSTEN JACOBSEN | APRIL 25, 2011 7:20 AM

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The concept of political revolution is older than America.

From the Athenian revolution in 508 B.C.E. to Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution of 2011, the world is no stranger to outraged populaces yearning to breathe free. But throughout this year's rash of revolutions, dubbed the "Arab spring" by those who work so tirelessly dubbing things, there has been one overriding sentiment: Some have actually been successful. So far.

While revolutions are not an uncommon event throughout history, technological changes and pure chutzpah on the part of previously voiceless citizens are taking the trend and running with it this year. But how long this can last, and whether or not it's ultimately beneficial to the people is yet to be seen.

"In my more than 30 years of covering foreign news, I have never seen anything quite like what is happening now in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria — and datelines yet to be announced," wrote Harvard international-affairs fellow David Ignatius in Foreign Policy Magazine on April 22. Perhaps the most pressing reality of this "global political awakening," however, is that eventually, the ongoing people's darling that initially enjoyed wide foreign support sours (faster than you can say "Muslim Brotherhood").

Which brings us to Libya. No stranger to overbearing power-holders, Libyans have lived under everything from Italian colonial rule to 41 years of Col. Muammar Qaddafi's erratic and oppressive "presidency." It should be apparent from their history and culture that Libyans' conception of "political freedom" when compared to ours is drastically different.

Still, it is difficult to decide which aspect of the Libyan conflict is most frustrating: That Qaddafi is still in power, that NATO (read: the U.S.) has taken over military operations and is in the throes of indecision over whether to install ground troops, or that the rebels continue to fight a leaderless battle against an immovable presidential entity. Step right up and take a spin; you can't lose, nor can you win.

American opinion on military intervention is equally unsure. An ABC News poll released April 20 found that 56 percent of respondents favor our inclusion in the imbroglio — yet paradoxically, only 42 percent "approve of Obama's handling of the situation," according to the analysis by professional pollster Gary Langer. He notes that Americans are almost equally divided into three camps: Those who oppose our involvement all together, those who feel our military strategy is not involved enough, and those who said they support whatever the news says we're doing in Libya right now.

The slight prevalence of anti-U.S.-involvement sentiments prompted the UI group Young Americans for Liberty to hold a good ol' fashioned protest on the Pentacrest April 22. While I am pro-protest and staunchly against involving American troops in yet another large-scale, unwinnable ground war (there's only so much Middle East for the inhabiting), I did question both how effective and necessary the protest would be. Apparently, the great majority of UI students also wondered, thus rendering it neither.

So is Obama just the left-leaning reincarnation of his war-hungry predecessor, as anti-involvement activists and pundits claim? And now that NATO has taken the reins, is the support of Congress even necessary?

The answer to the latter, it would seem, is no. While Obama has steadfastly promised not to involve American ground troops in Libya's internal strife, amorphous "Western leaders" continue to pressure NATO to commit to forcefully ousting Qaddafi once and for all.

And over the weekend, American drones started patrolling the Libyan countryside (desert-side?), taking no-fly-zone matters into our own robotic hands.

What happens now in Libya — as in the rest of the countries hoping to keep the Arab spring flowing — remains to be seen, but we're certainly living in interesting times. Whether these revolutions go the way of the majority of their historical predecessors or they change the playbook for decades to come, one thing is certain: Americans' geographic knowledge of the Middle East and North Africa has been infinitely improved by these events.


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