“Libya doesn’t matter as much as finding jobs for the young protesters in Egypt. The violence in Libya swept the far more consequential Egyptian revolution out of the news. There are times, as in the case of Libya, when gunfire obscures more important news. What happens in Libya stays there. What happens in Egypt affects the entire region”. This is the core of Joe Klein‘s reasoning (TIME, March 28, 2011). “The revolution in Egypt isn’t over. It has barely begun. What happens three months from now when life hasn’t changed in any way for the hundreds of thousands of young people who took to the streets in Cairo?”.
Such Klein doctrine supports the unorthodox belief we tried to enunciate in the ‘Daily Babel’ at the beginning of the Tunisian (and Islamic) insurrection: that the Moslem youth’s crave for democracy, free elections, human rights, parliamentary rites is a fable the West invented; that wealth inequality is the central and deadly problem; that the demise of dictators does not create jobs nor announces any attack to social injustice. Joe Klein is right in singling Egypt out, so the attention of his readers will concentrate better. But of course Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Sudan and, why not, the whole of Maghreb (Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco), not to say a word of other, much larger Islamic countries, share the same giant problem of poverty of the proletarians.
In grappling the question whether the U.S. can do something serious to alleviate overbearing destitution, Klein strongly denounces “the prospect of spending billions on (yet another) military campaign in an Islamic country, which would have far less lasting impact than spending those same billions on a well-planned development program for the countries in the region with the largest influence and population, starting with Egypt”.
Klein should have added that America will firmly resist diverting billions from warfare and war chest. The addiction to arms (which began in Frontier times and inflamed in the Democratic presidencies of Wilson, F.D.Roosevelt, Kennedy and Johnson) is the Nemesis of such a great nation, better, civilization. Weapons are enormously expensive, and the malady of bellicism compels to perpetually spend for more powerful arms even when no war menaces, or when available weaponry is more than adequate for overkill. So the development programs that many invoke will never be adequate without substantial American contributions.
On the other hand, how could Washington fund civilian projects in the Mediterranean, when she lacks the money to heal, for example, the wounds of Detroit, Toledo and other decayed or moribund areas of Old Manufacturing America? Military supremacy is depriving the United States of the capability for effective leadership on a planetary scale. Apart from waging war, America is pennyless. Her people should hate, rather than be proud of, the easy victories, territorial acquisitions, even Manifest Destiny, of the 19th century. They infected Americans with the national obsession -arms, armies, fleets.
Back to Klein: “Is there anything that can be done, and quickly, to put young people in Tahrir Square, and elsewhere in the region, to work? The Obama Administration is constrained by a lack of foreign aid money and the lugubrious reality of economic reform”. Here comes the Klein proposal: “a Middle East Infrastructure Bank -pushed hard by the U.S. and funded by the lush sovereign wealth funds run by oil-rich countries in the region, as well as China and Europe- to move quickly toward paving roads and building housing, followed by larger projects like power plants. The cost to the U.S. might be about the same as two weeks of the Afghan war for the next ten years. But something must be done and soon, lest Tahrir Square fill again, six months from now, with protesters who are far less peaceful – and their radicalism catch fire across the Middle East”.
To paving roads and building housing it should be added, in my opinion, pumping water from extremely deep aquifers, so to irrigate arid land. Before going so dry North Africa used to be the granary of imperial Rome. At normal energy prices, such pumping would be prohibitively expensive. But if abundant sun and wind power is developed, and with no or low costs for transporting power, such deep pumping may be affordable locally. The right thing is the oil-rich Arab countries investing in gigantic projects in Arab lands. But Arab solidarity is historically weak.
If America wants to stay prominent, also to compete with China and others, she cannot escape contributing not only with arm-twisting and friendly advice, but with a lot of money. It can only come from huge cuts on monstruous Pentagon budgets.