Sadly the early hope for an Arab Spring that would fuel the populous to societies with greater freedoms, including the right to free elections, freedom of speech, freedom of religionand equal rights for women, which would ultimately lead the region to job growth and economic prosperity, now appears to have failed the people and the region. The civil wars that have broken out between those struggling for democratic freedoms and the other extremist forces have resulted in tragically violent and bloody wars. The recent anti-American activities that began in Libya spread to other North African countries, the Middle East, and beyond with anti-American demonstrations in full and violent display. It is hard to believe that our change in approach to foreign policy in the past four years has had a positive influence on the perception of America across the globe. In fact it would appear to be the opposite.
In addition to the tragic loss of life, the other tragedy here is that the extremists in this country are trying to win back the power that was lost during the Arab Spring uprisings and further confirmed at ballot boxes. The few fledging, newly elected democratic governments appear to not have the ability or have chosen not to stand up to these extremists. These newly elected governments, I believe, are looking to see if America, yes America, the country being vilified by the extremists, will be there to help them in their time of need. Some here in the US argue this is exactly the time when America needs to step up. This is truly a challenge as Americans, who are battle weary from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will find it difficult to find the will to support governments in countries where our ambassadors are being killed, embassies are being destroyed and our flag is being burned. It makes foreign aid to these countries very difficult to stomach or defend.
As I watch the news feed from the region I find it hard not to be more emphatic about the importance of energy independence. Why would we be willing to give up the opportunity for jobs here at home and control over our own destiny for those who so bitterly hate us they would delight in our death and would see the world as far better off if America is wiped off the face of the earth? This leads to yet another set of tragedies that will have far reaching consequences on the region in terms of the economic setbacks that could emanate from this mess. The US budget deficit prevents further aid to these countries that are now teetering and, in fact, we might actually see a reduction notwithstanding the uprisings. The ill will created by these uprisings makes such aid all the more difficult. Even before these uprisings the path to economic prosperity created in the region by the Arab Spring would likely have proven to be a long and difficult climb. The wave of demonstrations only serve to either retard the progress or all together change the direction of the promise for economic opportunities brought on by the Arab Spring. This upsurge of violence now blanketing the region will only serve to widen the gap between the opportunity for job growth and improved prosperity in the Middle East/North Africa vs. the US and other regions of the world.
As the US financial condition continues to improve and economic activity increases (as will job growth), we in the US will experience improved prosperity. One can only hope that this prosperity serves as a reminder to those Arab regimes that do not create opportunities for their people that they may be toppled internally, without a hint of US military intervention.
As always, all comments and questions are welcome.
Denise M. Farkas, CFA