Chatting with Laurence O’Donnell about Libya, Obama’s Course & Bill O’Reilly


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Yesterday evening, I had the chance to spend a few minutes with Laurence O’Donnell on MSNBC’s The Last Word discussing Libya, Bill O’Reilly, and the foreign policy bandwidth challenges facing President Obama’s national security team.
After this show which I participated in from San Francisco, I attend the CURE fundraiser for epilepsy research at which former White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod was the keynote speaker.
(He was excellent by the way — some of the investment funds who are hiring Axelrod to come and speak to their board meetings and client retreats should allow him to speak beyond the insider-ish Obama political stuff but about his and his wife’s encounter with epilepsy. Axelrod was amazing and had the packed Four Seasons ballroom near tears when he told the story of the two greatest heroes in his life — his wife and daughter who is plagued by epilepsy. Incredible and important personal story.)
In any case, I chatted with a number of folks at this event about Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iran, the Israel/Palestine standoff and its relevance, the Muslim Brotherhood, youth movements, the price of wheat, Morocco, Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia. We chatted about the really difficult choices that Barack Obama and his team faced — and I found this San Francisco crowd deeply interested in US foreign policy and the tension in the world today. I was able to connect with not just David Axelrod and Gavin Newsom on these foreign policy issues but really dozens of others who were super interested. Thanks to both of these guys for letting me talk their ear off — but thanks also to the folks I met just last night who are doctors, and bankers, and internet gurus, or financial analysts — or just great volunteers trying to help gain some ground on epilepsy — all of whom wanted to talk about the Middle East and Japan.
This kind of general interest in foreign policy chatter has never happened to me at a function on the west coast of the United States — or really outside the Northeast Corridor — unless it was a foreign policy group meeting. I hope this interest around the nation holds.
— Steve Clemons


24 comments on “Chatting with Laurence O’Donnell about Libya, Obama’s Course & Bill O’Reilly

  1. questions says:

    A domestic aside that may never be noticed all the way down here, far from where the action is…. I wish I could post off topic, guilt free, up high!
    Anyway, kos has up a couple of stories of note — major buyers’ remorse in Florida. They fucking HATE the gov and wish they had Alex Sink.
    And, the dems may be helping Boehner get a budget through, as the Tea Party ain’t moving unless there are riders, restrictions and cuts on every domestic program imaginable…..
    So, think back to Obama’s temperament, his willingness to work with the ‘pubs whenever and however it could happen. Could the dems have this much power over Boehner’s choices if Obama had let the dems get as polarized as the Republicans?
    The “professional left” might be pissed at Obama for all sorts of sins, but you know, slapping down the left to cut back on the polarization, allowing bipartisanship wherever possible — this kind of thing makes for easier governance, better party cohesion, and a really good chance thus far for 2012.
    If events don’t nosedive, the Republicans look awful for 2012 on many levels. They have overplayed their hand, over strengthened their radical wing, they have sold out to something as demonizable as the Koch Bros and the CoC…. All bad fucking moves, every one of them.
    It’s back to 11 dimensional chess????
    Or the whims of Lady Fortuna who really could still slap the dems in the face big time.
    But for now, Obama looks like a fuckin’ genius and the Repubs look like, well, Republicans.
    Newt Gingrich
    Sarah Palin
    And the guvs….. Oh, wow. These are the standard-bearers.
    Obama could blow it on the economy, on Libya, of Afghanistan, on nukes, on education, on finance/banksterness.
    He should be fine on gay rights, Latino issues, and might come out ok on some of the stuff above. Kind of depends on events.
    Also, DC school board is going to look into the Michelle Rhee test scandal!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Mr. President, dump this shit before it dumps on you. Michelle Rhee and all she stands for in education reform — it’s all bad. Find a new path, cooperating with teachers in unions. You need teachers. You need unions.
    Teachers are like Congress — everyone loves their own, hates the institution and needs a chance to fall back in love with the best we can do, not the worst. Show some teachers some love, they’ll love you back.
    Highlight some serious dedication to students in majority free lunch schools, show off a few suburban gifted/talented programs, look at what Hopkins does with CTY and see how gratifying teacher autonomy in the classroom is, pilot some serious autonomy somewhere and see what happens when you let dedicated people march to the beat of their own drums.
    You fight in Libya for autonomy, but then chain some of our most dedicated citizens to bullshit curricular demands. Try some local liberation and see what happens.
    Maybe fewer Michelle Rhee sagas and more creative, inspired kids who have room to be what they are where they need to be without being rejected.
    Listen to Lupe Fiasco’s “Kick, Push”, not for the love story, but for the feeling of dedication to a mission in the face of vast social rejection and exile. Make room for people of all ages who come with a mission, a vocation. Even if that vocation is skateboarding when you’re 16 years old. And even if that vocation is teaching when you’re 36 years old. Make space for the passion and see how much more you get out of people.


  2. questions says:

    29 March (US) update on Fukushima:
    Very clear post by reasonable person:
    “From information at the Japanese Atomic Industrial Forum, it appears that they are considering flooding the primary containment at units 1-3. Related to the topic “Water Injection to Containment Vessel” they list 1 and 3 as “To be confirmed”, and unit 2 as “to be decided (Seawater)” Over the past two days they have cut back the rate of water addition to the reactors to slow the rate of water being leaked to the environment. This has caused the temperatures to begin to rise again at all three units. Flooding the drywell up to the level of the reactor vessel would provide an alternate way of removing heat. It would also not be subject to the same leak problems as have been showing up in the reactor’s pressure vessel containment system.”
    “The highly radioactive water in the service trenches is also an issue that needs to be addressed soon, but it is not as high a priority as getting the turbine buildings back. As per various conversations yesterday, it sounds like the most practical approach for that will be to use a staged filtration and demineralization system to remove the majority of the radioactive contaminants and then release the much less toxic result to the ocean – simply for lack of large enough storage areas to allow evaporation of this much water. It’s not a good solution, but better than available alternatives at this point. Perhaps the civil engineers on site will have some other tricks up their sleeve, but that is on the hopeful side of likeliness.
    Given the much larger amount of water at unit 2, it is likely that the folks who pointed to the popped torus as the source were correct. TEPCO eventually stated that there was damage in the bottom of the torus. This would leave the entire contents free to flow out into the reactor building and eventually drain through various paths – cable conduits, pipe runs, etc. until it reached the trench.”
    Worth reading the whole thing.


  3. questions says:

    And one more Mark Thoma…..
    The race to the bottom, international style.
    We cannot keep being in competitive situations both internally and externally.
    Every prisoners dilemma we end up with makes us that much more miserable.
    The bidding wars for capital need to stop, as the efficiencies they garner are not the efficiencies we should want.
    But there’s no way to bind us to agreements, not internally nor externally.
    What a shame. It was a nice century.
    And it was a nice planet for a while there.


  4. Kathleen says:

    So great to see Steve on numerous MSM outlets. Just wish they would pull other experts from the New America Foundation like Flynt Leverett onto their news outlets. Prof Cole from INformed Comment.
    Wish Steve would just whisper about the I/P conflict when it is appropriate which is often when anyone gets close to the real reasons for the anger felt towards Americans.
    The MSM will not go near this issue. Although they will go to the broader goal of the right wing radicals interest to use our military in a pre-emptive attack on Iran.
    Great to hear that Chris Matthews is on special assignment in Israel. Now if he just has the balls to turn the spotlight on the amount of UN resolutions that Israel is in violation of, that the wall has been partially built on internationally recognized Palestinian lands. Go spend some time in the West Bank. Some time in Palestinian refugee camps. Some time travelling on the special roads (apartheid) for illegal settlers vs the Palestinians roads.
    Go on Chris be the first in the MSM to actually focus on the facts


  5. questions says:

    And because Mark Thoma consistently has great links, and lots of them, all in a neat list in a single post (but then he’s the proprietor, so he can do what he wants!), there’s this:
    “Still, record-high profits do not necessarily translate into improvements in the economy


  6. questions says:

    And because there are multiple issues in the world, not just nuke plants, wars, climate change, and more wars, and radiation-contaminated food, and maybe no rice planting in northern Japan, and maybe some serious leaks to the sea, and maybe no fishing for a while (which will help restock the ocean with larger fish that glow in the dark so they can be more easily overfished in 8 half-lives of the cesium isotope we’re all worried about)….
    (h/t Mark Thoma, I think.)
    There’s been much debate about how the US can tolerate such high unemployment for so long — in the 9% range, depending on how you count…..
    It seems to me that this NYT piece holds a part of the puzzle. If unemployment is distributed across families, and if families still have SOMEone working, then most people would likely have some access to something like income, even if it’s indirect.
    To the extent that couples share income, or that extended families share income, or that offspring move back in with parents, an individual’s lack of income does not fully correlate with lack of access to food, clothing, and shelter, and transportation, and utilities.
    If we share the pain, there’s still pain of course, but it’s not starvation.
    And where there is real, genuine misery, well, we’ve been hardened to that over the many years of Republican rule such that homelessness and other such miseries don’t seem to faze us.
    Though people in polls would seem to “want” more spending on social programs, they don’t vote the way they “want.” The vagueness of “wanting” to spend more to help the miserable runs smack into the tendency of many, the sad sad tendency, to vote for Republicans.
    Republicans simply won’t spend more on the miserable, or on services, or on job creation, or on the environment, or on safety, or on anything that smacks of collective well-being at the expense of the taxes of a handful of billionaires.
    Friends don’t let friends even look at Republican names on a ballot.
    Also note that the NYT has a piece up about grocery package sizes. Check out your Tropicana “half gallon” of OJ with all the vitamins and minerals or whatever. Read the volume stamp in small print at the bottom…. Who knew.
    Hidden inflation in commodities. Wonder if the economists who talk about how great it is for the poor now given technological advances (there are “serious” arguments for cutting back aid cuz the poor ain’t never had it so good) — wonder if they now take into account package sizes. The poor ain’t never got so little for so much, at least when it comes to juice, coffee, snacks, and canned veggies.


  7. questions says:

    Not safety problems with solar and wind. Physics problems.
    And why it would surprise you that I’m offering up any “rancid bit of horseshit” at this point in our both posting here….
    Again, it’s not a danger issue. There are physics issues with concentration of energy, with storage of energy, and with transmission of energy.
    If you come across research that contradicts this, let me know. I would guess that technological advances will pop up to make renewables more workable, but it’s my current understanding that we’re simply not there yet.
    We have a nearly insatiable desire for energy, and we have to slake it somehow.
    As for death and mayhem and poisoned environment issues, please read about the cut and fill method of coal mining — they lop off tops of mountains and dump them into valleys where there are streams. The streams are poisoned and the people who depend on the water are poisoned too. Talk about no-man’s lands….
    Coal mining is nasty on the miners’ lifespans. Coal burning is nasty for everyone. The slow pace of change of the climate goes unnoticed because that’s how things are. We’re like the frogs in the water on the dashboard. We don’t notice the warming til we’re dead. At which point it’ll be a bit late.
    As for “safe” nuclear power, I don’t really know. I have a lot of suspicions regarding both corporate power incentives and governmental power incentives when it comes to high risk high cost of failure projects. Indeed, humans in general aren’t so good at these kinds of things.
    But just as there are costs of not going into Libya that have to be weighed against the costs of going in, so the costs of not doing nuclear power have to be weighed against the costs of nuclear plants.
    Without a background in nuclear engineering, I’m not really in great shape to weigh in detail. I’ve learned and re-learned all sorts of things during the on-going Fukushima fiasco. I’ve learned that there are actually many people who predict doom early on in processes and they are often ignored despite their prescience. We need to pay more attention to the designers and engineers who get it right early on.
    I’ve learned that political and economic incentives serve us quite badly with utility concerns.
    I’ve learned that 40 year old boiling water plants probably need a whole lot more stringent regulation. And that the BWR plants in the US are actually different from the BWR plants at Fukushima. There have been retrofits here.
    I’ve learned that it would be good to be able to seize and shut down plants that deserve this rough treatment. Yes, indeed, eminent domain, takeover, shut down. By the government. That’s a lot of political power for a government to have. But nuclear plants have a lot of power to do damage.
    We have, then, engineering solutions for many problems already lined up. Probably there are more and better ways to deal with risk analysis, as well.
    We have a range of political problems that need attending to. Incentives have to be reset so that industry and government are countervailing forces, and not at all on the same (industry) side. We probably need councils of engineers and some other groups to help with the watch dogging of the industry.
    And we have the looming possibility that climate change will turn a whole bunch of the earth into no man’s land as the seas rise, the growing seasons are disrupted, the storms get wilder, the deserts shift, the poor die off, the billionaires enslave the rest of us…. Or whatever dystopian future sounds juicy enough.
    We have huge problems with energy generation and transmission. And huge problems with storage as well.
    Any solar power generated in a sunny place during the day has to be stored and then transmitted to dark, dank, northern places, day and night. The storage of energy is not so easy — do you keep water boiling in some southern massive “pot” and then send the hot water north in pipes? Do you “fill” batteries? Where/how is the day stored for night?
    Wind has the same issues. You turn turbines to move something to heat something to turn the heat into electromagnets or whatever it is that makes heat become electricity (told you I have no engineering background!) And where do you store the heat or the electricity?
    Wind and sun are not 24/7 and everywhere. Coal and gas and nuclear are. Because generation can be 24/7, storage is less of an issue, and the transmission system is up already.
    These problems are basic, vast, and need, near as I can tell, far more money, research, and political will all coming together than we have for now.
    It can’t be dismissed by some off hand insults about what I buy into or not.
    And if you find relatively rational material that contradicts this, feel free to toss in links. It’s an on-going interest of mine. But thus far, I do not think that we can get enough generation and transmission and storage out of solar and wind to make up the nuclear difference.
    (Again, note, I’m not an engineer. Details may well be wrong, though I think the general thrust is on the mark.)


  8. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “And still plenty of problems with solar and wind”
    Yeah, by God, one of those spinning blades might come loose and inihilate a carload of passerbys.
    And good lord, ya don’t wanna step through a solar panel, that could cause ya to need stitches!!!
    Tell you the truth, questions, I’m sick and tired of these nuclear sluts repeating the mantra that “all sources of energy have their dangers”.
    And it suprises me seeing you offer up that particularly rancid bit of horseshit.
    Yes, they do ALL have their “dangers”. But a solar plant, or a wind farm, does not have the potential to render real estate uninhabitable, and kill hundreds of thousands with a single accident.
    Wind farms can be placed wherever there is a breeze. Solar panels, wherever there is sunlight. Please outline the “dangers” of having these facilities and systems operating near populated urban centers.
    Tell me, questions, wherte is a “safe” place to operate an outdated Mark 1 reactor? Or to store “spent” fuel rods in numbers that far surpass the intended capacity of their cooling pools?
    In the last eight years I have watched the wind farms around Tehachapi expand exponentiallly. I find it hard to believe that so many new companies are forming up and jumping in next to the big boys like GE if these wind farms are not productive and profitable. And I can only remember ONE death directly attributed to the wind farms. A worker, of course, injured fatally while servicing a turbine. And if some sort of calamity should occur tomorrow, and wipe these turbines off the face of the earth, it would cause a short power shortage, until the rest of the grid took up the slack.
    PERIOD. No death and mayhem. No panic. No “no-man’s land”. No poisoned environment. No airborne genetic destroyers. No rush to the pharmacies for protective remedies. No global ramifications.
    Apples and oranges.


  9. questions says:

    A few updates for Monday 28 March
    Tokyo Electric Power Co. has detected isolated, low concentrations of plutonium in the soil at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. The density of plutonium is equivalent to the fallout that reached Japan from nuclear weapons testing during the Cold War, the company said.
    TEPCO conducted analysis of plutonium contained in the soil collected on March 21 and 22 at five locations at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Plutonium 238, 239 and 240 were detected, however just two of the samples may be the direct result of the recent incident, considering the ratio of the plutonium isotopes.


  10. questions says:

    Sorry, “string” of electrons…..


  11. questions says:

    It’s not about “harnessing” anything at all.
    It’s about the fact that we demand electricity. The energy that becomes the sting of electrons in a wire that flow into your hairdryer and back out the other side has to come from somewhere.
    Where will you get the energy to convert to strings of flowing electrons?
    Wherever that energy comes from, someone dies, something gets destroyed, some place becomes a no-go zone.
    So we pick our disasters.
    We will have disasters.
    Which ones would you pick? Honestly. I’m asking in good faith because I don’t know what’s worse or better. But I like warmth in the winter, cool in the summer, cold drinks and frozen food, and I plug my computer in. I do use electricity. It has to come from somewhere.


  12. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Yeah,like it hasn’t occurred before, eh? Its only the Ring Of Fire. How dare Mother Nature throw us another lesson about ignoring history!
    See, the thing is, questions, if you claim to have safely “harnessed” nuclear energy, then you are making the claim that you have “harnessed” Mother Nature. Next time you are traveling along the San Andreas, I suggest you note the huge jutting rock formations that have been forcefully shoved from within the earth’s crust by plate movement, both gradually and abrubtly through seismic activity. We will NEVER be able to construct systems or structures that are a match for the power of major geological events. It is one thing to build a garage and gamble that your Porsche might get totaled, or build a high rise and gamble the lives of hundreds. It is quite another to gamble the lives of millions on the same roll of the dice.
    Intriguing watching the collective sigh of “ho hum” that ensues when an agency like the NRC makes the comment that “the reactors have stabilized”. Even the Japanese have NO CLUE what is happening to the cores, what the extent of the damage is, or what direction this unfolding disaster may take. The NRC’s public statement was dsisingenuous to the extrem. A lie, actually, They made a statement that can ONLY be considered a pandering concession to the industry, seeking to downplay the magnitude of unfolding events. And what of the EPA, whose monitors have a high percentage of inaccuracies and failures??? It takes a disaster to uncover incompetencies and shortfalls, as usual.
    And I DO learn from history. And history tells us NO ONE will be fired, adjustments and improvements WILL NOT be instituted, and these nuclear sluts will merely point fingers, lie, and scapegoat if the whores in DC decide to politically grandstand with some pro-industry biased “commission”, “investigation”, or series of “hearings”. And meanwhile, the clock ticks inexorably towards the next inevitable and major seismic event on the West Coast.
    How Steve can rub elbows with these scumbags is beyond me.


  13. questions says:

    I think the 14 or 15 meter (45 or so feet) high tsunami that overtopped the wall probably counts as highly unlikely. It did, of course, happen, and it was sort of predicted, sort of. But it was predicted in a way that is easy to ignore.
    Think about how we do anything regarding safety or prevention. We’ll take some measures, for sure. Most people now buckle their seatbelts, but not all. We don’t exercise and eat well, we don’t deal with high blood pressure, there are segments of the population who think type II diabetes is normal and so they just expect it instead of preventing it. We don’t do all sorts of very basic, simple preventive things because even those are too costly.
    So you’re sitting around a table with a bunch of other people and you’re in a social situation, a money relation, a job-preservation relation, and all of the normal responses are going to be there.
    Out of this structure, what are the chances we can get decent risk analysis, decent preventive measures, a good picture of the costs and benefits of prevention?
    The whole incentive system is mis-structured, and it honestly doesn’t take whoring or corporate malfeasance or wickedness even. It’s normal. And as always, the normalness of the response is far scarier than the wickedness would be.
    We can stop wickedness or deal with it or understand it far more easily than we can cope with the bad outcomes that come from normal behavior.
    There will likely be some corruption floating around. There will also be a lot of normal people who made normal decisions based on the same kinds of cost/benefit analyses that we all make.
    Only the costs of their normal behavior will be far higher than the costs of my, say, having my cell phone right next to my brain for an hour a day.
    What a mess to untangle.


  14. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “e must have some way to get people to stop ignoring extremely unlikely events that come to pass at extreme costs”
    The problem with your comment is that what occured was not “unlikely”. In fact, it was inevitable. We have the same “whens”, not “ifs”, here in the western United States. And the nuclear sluts would have you ignore the facts, placing profits and personal gain above the value of human life. Anyone observing the events of the last two weeks can hardly judge the EPA and the NRC to be “regulatory agencies” acting in the best interests of the american taxpayer. In fact, they have become enablers and advocacy arms of the nuclear industry.


  15. Don Bacon says:

    There are serious financial, political and social domestic forces in the U.S. which might make it difficult to respond to any scenario. The Empire is in a downward spiral, thank god. We have seen the beginnings with the U.S. promises to pull out of Libya soon and the apparent move to make significant reductions in Afghanistan.
    There is also the obsolete U.S. reliance on the military to affect events. The U.S. leverage in the Middle East is becoming less and less; the Fifth Fleet is powerless against the Arab Spring just as the Sixth Fleet in Asia is powerless against the rise of China. The old rules don’t apply any longer.
    As for Libya, the chances of it turning bad, against U.S. interests, are considerable. Revolutions often make matters worse, history has proven.


  16. JohnH says:

    I agree that, “there is a risk of accelerating events, with a crisis unfolding in many countries
    simultaneously, creating a completely uncontrollable situation with all kinds of unforeseeable side effects.”
    This could easily be precipitated by Israel or the “international community” behaving in ways that are all too familiar–bombing a wedding party or funeral procession, etc. Or Israel starting one of its regular pogroms against its neighbors.
    The outrage of ordinary Arabs would compound feelings already unleashed and lead to chaos in several countries culminating in the toppling of American allied princely despots.
    Given the “international community’s” unquenchable thirst for pointless, futile intervention, there a high probability for one of those ill-defined interventions to overreach and spin out of control. Raymond Davis have become the poster child for that in Pakistan, where antipathy towards the US has reached new levels, even among the elites. Libya offers incredible possibilities for sabotage of oil pipelines and infrastructure as do several other countries.
    As I’ve said before, the “international community” is prone to be proactive rather than purposeful, preferring to be macho rather than circumspect.


  17. Paul Norheim says:

    I said: “Those who oppose the intervention of western powers into the events in the ME better be
    prepared for possible scenarios.”
    This of course also applies to those here who support the intervention in Libya for humanitarian
    reasons or out of fear that the revolution is losing momentum. We are currently in the fortunate
    situation at this forum that we may disagree on issues without being hostile to those we disagree
    with, and without the discussions degenerating into the same ad hominem spiced back and forth
    over the same issues over and over ad nausam. We should seize this opportunity.


  18. Paul Norheim says:

    A just published article in the New York Times is a sign of where the discussions are heading – in line
    with some of the factors I mentioned in a comment above:
    “Having intervened in Libya to prevent a wholesale slaughter in Benghazi, some analysts asked, how
    could the administration not do the same in Syria?
    Though no one is yet talking about a no-fly zone over Syria, Obama administration officials
    acknowledge the parallels to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. Some analysts predicted the administration
    will be cautious in pressing Mr. Assad, not because of any allegiance to him but out of a fear of what
    could follow him


  19. Don Bacon says:

    Sheet — the war’s about over. Got the big dogs in there.
    Vice Admiral Gortney, Mar 25:
    You can also see on this slide which countries have been added to the mix each day. Yesterday we added Norway, and today we added Qatar. Indeed, Qatari fighter pilots already flew their first mission this morning, accompanying French aircraft patrolling the no-fly zone, and we look forward to having pilots from the United Arab Emirates on the flight schedule in the coming days.


  20. Don Bacon says:

    People want to be free, and they particularly want to be free from western colonialism and western support of tyrants. They don’t want to be in a country that has suffered for years from both — Somalia.
    Libya’s no different.
    LIBYA’S rebels have thanked France for its role in the Western-led military blitz against the Gaddafi regime but said “outside forces” could now leave the country, in a letter published overnight.
    “In the middle of the night, your planes destroyed tanks that were set to crush Benghazi. … The Libyan people see you as liberators. Its recognition will be eternal,” wrote rebel leader Mahmoud Jibril in the letter addressed to President Nicolas Sarkozy, published by the French daily Le Figaro.
    However, Mr Jibril said: “We do not want outside forces. We won’t need them. We will win the first battle thanks to you. We will win the next battle through our own means.”
    “The Libyan people, as well as neighbouring friends, notably our Tunisian and Egyptian brothers, see in the help you have brought a great gesture towards the Arab world,” Mr Jibril wrote. (end)
    That above news report hasn’t shown up in the US MSM yet — it may never. Kind of puts a damper on Obama’s upcoming speech, but it’ll be a good speech anyhow. It always is. Perhaps he’ll talk about no red or blue countries, only purple ones. /s


  21. Warren Metzler says:

    The comments of Paul and questions here, and many other comments by others before, give me the impression that the “Arab Spring” is being completely misunderstood. I suggest this movement is about people in that region finally wanting the freedom to be the person you internally want to be; a freedom we in the West have had for a long time and take for granted. If you read a book like the Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz, and read about Egyptian political history, you can begin to see that Arab society has for centuries, if not for their entire history, had tremendous philosophical and cultural chains, and not just political chains.
    It is not part of Arab culture that you chart your own course, to the exclusion of your own family; for example, in many such countries you can be killed for suggesting to another person they might consider Christianity. Honor killing, a euphemism if there ever was one, only occurs in such tribal societies. Where else in but a culturally imprisoned society would an intelligent man think that a cure for his wife’s potential roving eye would be excising her clitoris, so she can no longer have pleasurable sexual experiences; the so-called female circumcision?
    The average man in the street in Arab countries is saying, “enough is enough, time for me to be free to be my own person”. This is why all these revolutions are leaderless. Yet certain groups, such as the educated youth in Egypt and Yemen can provide the initial administrative framework. But it is the average person that is providing much of the manpower, and a goodly percentage of the maimed and killed.
    So there are no groups of countries in this thing. There is just people wanted to be free. And it is spreading like wildfire, because it is an idea whose time has come. And nothing can stop an idea whose time has come, as the Roman Catholics discovered to their great discomfort in the early 1500’s, and the racists of the US discovered in the 1960′ and 70’s.
    The US was built on a desire for such freedoms, which was really what our revolution was all about. So all our politicians have this in their DNA, even if most have long ago excised it from their conscious minds. Which I believe in the basis for the Obama switch at the last minute in the Libya nfz.
    Nothing can stop this. The US can play a facilitating role, but CANNOT play a spoiling role, regardless of how hard it tries. Hopefully a side result is the death of the pernicious idea that the US has some police role in the world. And the death of that other monstrosity that there is such a thing as a “security issue”.


  22. questions says:

    h/t Mark Thoma, this piece may help with the various distinctions Paul is trying to draw here:
    From the brief abstract at the top:
    “The mass movement for democracy that has led to the exile of Ben Ali in Tunisia paved the way to a new awakening and raised many hopes in North Africa and the Middle East. This column reports on recent research on the historical experiences of countries that democratised during the


  23. Paul Norheim says:

    Steve, I fully agree that the focus on Libya to some degree represents a “distraction” from other
    scenarios in the region, and have said so here too in the past weeks.
    It is perhaps useful to distinguish between, say four different groups of countries within the “Arab
    Spring” – or “tsunami” as you phrase it:
    1) The potential “failed states” – countries like Yemen and Libya, that due to their tribal structure, lack
    of democratic institutions, and potential or actual militant Islamism, may – in a worst case scenario –
    end up in a similar state as Somalia.
    2) The geopolitically important countries within the Iran-Israel axis – especially Syria (and by
    implication also Lebanon), but also Jordan and Bahrain.
    3) The oil rich “petrol stations” run by monarchs on the Arabian peninsula.
    4) The republics in North Africa; Egypt and Tunisia.
    There are of course some countries (like Bahrain, even Saudi Arabia) that overlap, in the sense that they
    can be classified both as “petrol stations” and relevant for the Iran-Israel axis, but but I think the
    distinction is still meaningful. It would be foolish to lump all of ME into the Arab Spring group without
    further distinctions. On the other hand, although all these countries are different cases, there are
    certain common features and factors that apply to several countries.
    The dangers are twofold:
    On one hand, events in countries like Syria or Saudi Arabia may pose enormous challenges in
    themselves, due to the geopolitical consequences or energy concerns or both.
    On the other hand, there is a risk of accelerating events, with a crisis unfolding in many countries
    simultaneously, creating a completely uncontrollable situation with all kinds of unforeseeable side
    And although the “failed state” risk is significant, one could argue that events in Libya will have far less
    impact regardless of the outcome, than similar events in countries on the “Israel-Iran axis” or in the oil
    rich monarchies.


  24. DakotabornKansan says:

    As the father of a child with a severe neuromuscular disease, my heart goes out to the Axelrods, as well as all the many other parents whose children suffer debilitating diseases.
    But especially so, for poor parents who today face many more obstacles that complicate the numerous struggles already associated with caring for a child with a disability.
    I wonder who speaks for these parents and disabled children facing the impact of spending cuts and the clamor for fiscal austerity.
    It was a struggle for me as a single, middle class parent.


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