The rhyme of history

The rhyme of history

A year packed with conflict, crisis and discontent draws to a close in a befitting way: Iran’s First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi bluntly warned the West on Dec. 28, saying that if sanctions were extended to Iran’s oil exports, “even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Strait of Hormuz.” The reply came hastily from the U.S. Fifth Fleet, which said it will not “tolerate” a disruption in oil flow. Crude oil prices jumped, with investors noting that around one-third of all seaborne oil is shipped through the Strait of Hormuz.

The fleet in question is based in Bahrain, the Persian Gulf country in which tens of thousands have been demonstrating against the regime since early 2011. Taking to the streets day after day, they defy not only bullets that have taken dozens of lives but also a deafening silence in the West, whose leaders seem very eager to bring democracy to Libya and Syria. Come to think of it, the King of Saudi Arabia, who sent troops to Bahrain to protect the regime, has urged Syria to stop “the killing machine” in his August statement.

Despite all hypocrisy, 2011 was definitely the year of the Arab Spring. We witnessed history as millions overthrew Western-backed dictators first in Tunisia and then in Egypt. A third one, Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh, is expected to fly to the U.S. for “medical treatment” soon. One hopes he won’t come back. 

Developments in Libya, however, brought “Western military intervention” into the Arab Spring picture, staining independent grassroots action. 

Today, while Syria and Iran face the threat of military assault, U.S. troops leaving Iraq seem to have left a ticking time-bomb of sectarian and ethnic strife behind – the arrest warrant put on Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi by Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki could be just the opening salvo. We should add to this the increasing polarization in Turkey regarding the Kurdish problem – yesterday’s deadly aerial assault starkly displayed what the insistence on finding a “military solution” to the problem could bring.
Nearby, nuclear-armed Pakistan looks increasingly fragile: a people trapped between rising Islamist militancy, a power-hungry military and a corrupt class of politicians – all in the face of the ongoing occupation in Afghanistan.

The closest precedent to all this turmoil I could think of is the Balkans before the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914. What happened afterward is history.
Far away, we have a 20-something heir to the throne in North Korea, as observers predict instability in the Korean peninsula. Meanwhile, worker and farmer protests in China are escalating, denting the image and self-confidence of this “new superpower.”

What intrigues me most is how the eurozone crisis is changing Europe. British Prime Minister David Cameron’s veto of an EU-wide treaty change was the manifestation of a profound shift, as Chancellor Angela Merkel is on her way to become the most powerful German in Europe since you-know-who. “Not only is Germany the strongest economy in Europe; it is also now writing the rules of economic governance,” Walden Bello explained in a recent counterpunch column. 

We welcome 2012, hopeful despite all the odds, a year in which I hope politicians and generals take another look at their history books. As Mark Twain once said, history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

I wish a happy, fulfilling and prosperous new year to all our readers.