For part 1 of my thoughts on the Egyptian revolution, go here.
4. China shot its own people; Egypt has not. Much of the analysis has focused on possible parallels with Iran 1979. But another more recent parallel, especially relevant to this website, is Tiananmen Square 1989. In their moment of crisis, the Chinese turned their guns on themselves, and the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) will be forever stained by the blood of its own citizens en masse. This strikes me as major moment in the evolution of dictatorships. All dictatorships suffer from legitimacy problems, of course, but none want to openly rely on naked force. Militaries are usually the hidden albeit central prop in dictatorships, but they don’t actually want to do the dirty work themselves. That is for the paramilitary thugs and secret police. No officer wants to think the primary enemy of the a state’s military is its own people, not some foreign enemy. Their dignitary and right to rule is based on the whole idea that thy are defending the people, not massacring them; in fact this is the myth of 1952 Free Officers coup in Egypt itself. Hence the call by a dictator in dire straits to shoot the citizenry is a rubicon for any army that cannot be uncrossed. In 1989, the eastern European militaries balked; in China, the PLA did not. My sense is that the social costs to the PLA were lower though, because China is so big. The CCP purposefully brought in rural PLA units for whom Beijing was like another planet. But in small countries like Poland 1989 or Egypt today, army repression in the capital would immediately be felt and transmitted everywhere. So hear, hear to the Egyptian military (I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence). For all its corruption, despotism, and insulation, it still did the right thing when the chips were down. Did anyone imagine even a month ago that we’d be speaking of the moral superiority of the Egyptian military to the PLA?
5. Beyond this evident parallel to Beijing 1989, this is whole things isn’t really that relevant out here. The news media coverage has been thin. The current El Nina cold snap in Northeast Asia has gotten more press time regionally than that Egypt. Not surprisingly the Chinese haven’t discussed Egypt much, but I am disappointed the the Korean and Japanese press seems so disinterested. Initial Korean media coverage focused on the possible loss of ME export markets (groan). From this I would draw two conclusions. First, for all the talk about a flat world, cultural hurdles still matter a lot. The parties caught up in the war on terror (the West, Israel, the Arab/Muslim ME) are riveted by this, but East Asian’s just aren’t, sadly. My experience in East Asia is that locals don’t really care much about the developing world. It’s far away, the languages and religions seem unintelligible, and the societies look backward, especially to East Asians obsessed with development. East Asians worry a lot about the US, and some about Europe, but there is tremendous ignorance of places like Latin America or Africa. Second, I think this disinterest is as much political as it is cultural. Newly wealthy places like Korea or China demonstrate their earned, rightful place in the OECD through an almost purposeful disdain for the third world. Koreans love to demonstrate how worldly they are by spending a year in the US or West; I’ve never met a student or teacher who thought a year a in developing country would be vastly more interesting. (It is.) So Barnett’s ‘new core’ flaunts its new status by forgetting its roots in the third world: disinterest as a mark of superiority.
6. A comment about the commentary: Frank Rich is right that far too few people have any idea what to say on Egypt because so much of the commentary is really about the US (or Israel). This Amero-centrism is why so many are saying the US should do this or that: the working assumption is that that US guides the world and can easily direct events. This is no longer true, so the mountain of US, rather than Egypt, -focused commentary creates unrealistic expectations that we can direct this thing.
Rich also makes the excellent observation that if Americans could actually watch al Jazeera, they might actually learn something about Egypt itself. Instead the mainstream commentary has revealed the embarrassingly nativist ignorance of much of the punditocracy on anything beyond US borders. In general I was very pleased to see how well academics requited themselves in the blogosphere on this; I think especially Walt, Mead, Cole and the Duck of Minerva have been super.
But if you read the op-ed pages, you got recycled banality and the usual suspects: Friedman gave you his typical, ‘this-is-a-defining-moment-in-the-ME’ schtick; Bush neocons desperate for rehabilitation strove to take credit and somehow blame Obama for…what exactly?; Palin blithered; Parker told us that the big story was really about the US media and Cohen that it was about Israel; Colbert King forgot the rest of the world exists; and Beck, well, you already know – just watch the loopy video from part 1. Score yet another point for blogging.
Without the informed blogging voices of people who actually know something about Egypt and revolutions, you really wouldn’t learn much about the events at all. You’d have just gotten an endless series of stories from a royalist, uncosmopolitan press in which Washington was the real story, because that’s all the pundits know how to talk about. Douthat, for example – and whom I think is a pretty good writer usually – clearly had nothing to say, so he just gave up and wrote about Obama yet again under the guise of Egypt. How easy; this is how the press for a nation of untraveled monolinguists infatuated with their own power evolves. Its all about us. By contrast, here is an example of a non-expert, trained in traditional Washington self-obsession, who nonetheless tried.
The Japan Security Watch (JSW) blog of the New Pacific Institute has taken to cross-posting some of my stuff. JSW is a good review of Japan, and a nice a compliment to my over-focus on Korea and China. They do on a lot on the nuts-and-bolts of hardware and deployment. Mil-Tech junkies on Asia will love it. JSW and I are working on some cooperation in the future. I want to thank them and commend readers to take a look at their good website.
BusanHaps, the big expat newspaper for Busan, SK, has also reposted some of my stuff. I want to thank them too and commend their site. Busan readers almost certainly know it already, but non-local readers will find it a good window on the way expats live here.
Finally, I want to point out that a published version of my remarks on North Korean shelling of Yeonpyeong Island is now available here (RINSA 15) from the Korean National Defense University (KNDU). If you really want to get into the details of SK defense against N, KNDU is the place to go. I want to thank them for soliciting me and thank readers for all the helpful comments that went into the final product.