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Blog Archive – January, 2007

That Democracy Problem… Again

January 15, 2007

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

With our thoughts turning to Martin Luther King's legacy today, I can't help wonder where King would stand on the need for popular protest in 2007.

As far as US foreign policy goes, surely this is a time for massive protests to demand change. Can we really leave it to our politicians to make a radical change in line with new public knowledge and sentiment about Iraq and other adventures?

The recent election wasn't enough, it seems. If this democracy works at all, we have to find other ways to implement it. The majority view on Iraq seems to be that American occupation of Iraq must end.

Many say that the election in November of more Democratic Party candidates to Congress and the Senate was the people's way to telling their leaders what they wanted, namely 'The occupation had to end and the troops had to come home'. With a majority in both the Senate and the House, in charge of key committees, our Democratic reps now have their chance. "Cut off war funds. Find a political solution. Let Iraqis rule themselves." In theory the Democrats could insist on a new policy.

To support a new direction we were handed a well-articulated formula--The Iraq Study Group Report. Compiled by a bi-partisan committee of experts and politicians, it spelled out necessary steps to address the deep problems the US finds itself in over Iraq. If you read the report, you may have felt as surprised as I was at its intelligent approach. The recommendations seemed reasonable and doable. Bring Iraq's neighbors into the dialogue, it advocated; get the Israelis and Palestinians sitting down to hammer out a real solution, it stressed; find bipartisan Iraqi leaders to bridge differences among themselves, it demanded; set a clear date for US troop withdrawal, it advised. The report appeared to have the stamp of a wiser Bush (the elder) as well as very experienced leaders, including members of the US military.

For two weeks, our press debated some of the report's main points. Then discussion came to a halt. With that, my own hopes for an intelligent new foreign policy and some respite for all the Middle East peoples evaporated. The much-lauded report was, in the end, a mere 'show' of democracy. The 'experts' debating its merits were not the same men who held the cards. They could only offer us an appearance of democracy.

Last week, the reality was exposed. The press had leaked most of the details well before the White House, announced America's new Iraq policy. There would be more troops. Israel would not engage with the Palestinians. And the US would not seek assistance though dialogue with Syria and Iran. There would be mo timetable. Democrats responded with anger and mild threats.

The entire nation dutifully tuned in on Jan 10th to hear the US head of state read his pplan for Iraq. It was as if that high level list of recommendations had been a myth. It seemed the election of dozens of anti-war legislators never happened. What was the basis for Bush's policy proposal? Who really had crafted it? And does the president expect he can implement it without Congress's approval?

This seemingly foolish, doomed plan did not garner the same degree of debate in the media that the Study Group's proposals did. Has the opposition in Congress melted away? Are the Democrats in a huddle quietly devising their strategy to thwart the plan? Or is Congress--and therefore our democracy--actually impotent on an issue of this magnitude?

What alternative recourse does a democracy have, especially if the newly elected opponents of continued engagement in Iraq will not be able to stop this plan? Martin Luther King Jr. was able to join his civil rights agenda and mobilize his forces with those of the opposition to the Vietnam war. There are many parallels between the quagmire in Iraq and the failure in Vietnam.

Can the protests be repeated today, without King?

[ That Democracy Problem… Again ]


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“We are nothing on this earth if we do not first and foremost serve a cause, the cause of the people, the cause of freedom and justice. I want you to know that even when the doctors had lost all hope, I was still thinking, in a fog granted, but thinking nonetheless, of the Algerian people, of the people of the Third World, and if I managed to hold on, it was because of them.”

Frantz Fanon, 1963

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