Views contributed by my brilliant colleague and social geographer, David Rutherford, and endorsed by me! Right on, Brother! WMB
Sixty percent of the people across the Arab world are under 30 years of age, and they have terrible prospects for the future, largely as a result of the autocratic regimes that have failed to concern themselves adequately with improving conditions in their countries. I just heard that one in ten people in Libya are affiliated with the secret police, working to maintain the status quo which has had enough oil money to marginally improve the lives of the people of the country while lining their own pockets and ruthlessly suppress any dissent.
As flawed as democracy is in the U.S. and the West-- and I believe it is deeply flawed and that we need to make significant improvements-- the principles of free speech, liberty, democracy, and others that this country and the West developed over the last 250 years or so are worth promoting globally. Of course, those principles are not going to look the same everywhere, and we must be more sensitive and careful than we have been in many cases in the past, but nevertheless, the West seems justified to me in working to advance those principles.
Perhaps more importantly in the Libya case, intervention does seem to have prevented, or at least curtailed, a bloodbath. Certainly, the world has no shortage of autocrats who oppress the people in their countries (not necessarily "their" people as many are prone to claim since citizenship in a state does not equate to the oftentimes more enduring identities of ethnicity, language, religion, etc.). But intervention in all such cases is impossible, and there need to be criteria for when to intervene and not. In this Libya case, the criteria seem reasonably well met - support in the region, multilateral support in the West, UN support, a limited U.S. role. There are huge potential complications. Qaddafi could very well hunker down and remain intransigent for an indefinite time, and who knows who the rebels are and what they want, so creative solutions will need to be developed by this international effort.
It is really too harsh to imply that the lack of improvement in the lives of the people of the Arab world is exclusively the result of autocratic regimes. Responsibility also rests with the trickle-down, global, so-called free market, economic system that has been foisted on less developed countries by the West. This system works to maintain the wealth of the West as it brings, at best, modest improvement in the less developed countries while, in many cases, disrupting local systems of exchange and social interaction and leaves the LDCs less stable and more dependent on the West. Removing autocratic rulers is important, but better development models also need to be implemented, models that place improvement in the LDCs as the central focus and do not leave such improvement as a hoped for spinoff benefit.
David Rutherford, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Geography
Executive Director Mississippi Geographic Alliance