Monday, May 24, 2010

Bill Clinton (Unintentionally) Explains to Us How Obama Administration Ideology in the West Makes the World Worse

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By Barry Rubin

Bill Clinton, former U.S. president, spoke at Yale University and said some interesting things. There is a positive side to his remarks about international affairs—especially in terms of good intentions (a very American characteristic)—but he also revealed some of the very dangerous thinking that’s making the world worse, not better.

The globe, he said, is now “too unstable ... too unequal and ... completely unsustainable.”

I’m tempted to point out that there have been plenty of times, actually far more of the time, when the world was even more unstable and unequal. But let that go.

What’s Clinton’s solution?

“A non-zero sum game is when both parties can win….If you want it to change, you have to find a way for everyone to win.”

This is noble and very rational. It is also, in some respects, insane. No, not everyone can “win” because each individual, group, and nation defines for itself what winning means. And there are contradictions, which lead to what we call conflict and war.

On one level, what Clinton is saying is that America has to get everyone to redefine their own thinking and think like “us.” This is one of the oldest American conceptions around the world, one which liberals traditionally liked to ridicule. (One famous example was making fun of a Republican senator who said during China's pre-Communist era that this country would progress ever upward until it reached the level of Kansas City.)

And after all, if we are so “multicultural” why can’t we understand that people in, say, Bosnia or on the island of Ireland, or in Pakistan, or a hundred other places have totally different beliefs and goals?

On another level, Clinton is implying that prosperity will solve everyone’s problems, that if you stuff enough material goods into the craws of all they will be happy. That’s another concept that liberals have historically ridiculed and identified with conservatives.

And of course there is another problem because for purposes of environmentalism and to fight man-made global warming (whether or not this is a real threat), the Obama Administration and other Western governments are proposing policies that would slow down development. That’s why countries like India and China are so opposed to these plans.

Clinton also reveals his (and the dominant) underlying philosophy when he states:

“The Haitians are rather like the Palestinians. They are only poor in their own back yard and they deserve a better deal and a chance to build a better future for their children and I think we can give it to them.” The students applauded.

Well, they do have one important thing in common: in both cases, these people are dominated by a bad and corrupt leadership. Yet there is an all-important difference: the Haitians live in a traditional dictatorship, one that has no particular ideology but is just engaged in stealing money to protect its privileges.

With the Palestinians there is a second level, too: they overwhelmingly support their rulers and have an ideology seeking total victory. In short, the Haitians are, to a larger extent, hapless victims, the Palestinians are, in general of course, indeed shaping their own fate by supporting a radical movement and political behavior that makes solution of their problems impossible.

Yet Clinton’s views are even more ironic. After all, if all these people are mere victims who can only get their “better deal” and “better future” if “we…give it to them” isn’t this a view equivalent to nineteenth-century imperialist thinking? Yeah, let’s go in and get rid of the bad guys and build a new system for them. Um, isn’t that what George W. Bush tried to do in Iraq? You didn’t like it and it’s debatable how well that worked.

What Clinton is saying, when the rhetoric is stripped away, is this:

The world's people are suffering because they aren't as smart as we are in seeing how easily everything can be wonderful. But their problems can be easily fixed if we just solve them by passing out the riches and teaching them to be like us. Why should they cling to their guns, religion, and customs? People are only interested in material well-being, after all, so would be quite eager to follow this path and will really love the United States for saving them. Oh, by the way, they can't build any smelly factories or exploit natural resources too much in having all the benefits of modern life in an industrialized, urbanized, secularized, pragmatic, democratic society.

You see, if you really examine what these people on the left are saying they share the same basic premises they profess to hate: materialism, patronizing imperialism, a sense of cultural and intellectual superiority over the rest of the world, a refusal to recognize differences among nations and peoples, and at the same time putting additional obstacles in the way of the poor.

And now for the best part! Clinton didn’t just undermine, he totally destroyed, his own argument without realizing it, nor did his audience presumably see this flaw.

In discussing the Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, Clinton noted he’d received a college degree in America before becoming a terrorist. So here’s what Clinton made of this paradox: “It shows you that when you tear down all the walls, and you can break through all the barriers of information, that the same things that empower you to get access to more information more quickly than ever before could empower you to build bombs.”

No, it isn’t just information. Mere information doesn’t make people into terrorists. The terrorists didn't fly planes into the World Trade Center because they knew how to fly planes or because the world is "unstable." They did so because they were revolutionary Islamists or because they wanted a world in which everyone would win.

They want total victory. They don't want some half-way world of compromise. And they have an idea of "a better deal" and "a better future" for their children quite different from that held by Clinton or his audience of high-minded, well-intentioned people.

Let me explain it in words that Clinton might understand:


Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; The West and the Middle East (four volumes); and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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