Egypt Exports Democracy with Hint of Irony

By Sarah Levy

Two weeks ago, Obama released his budget for 2012, which, as usual, included an absurd amount of money for the Pentagon. Although some still found a way to complain about the proposal’s cuts to our “defense” spending, in reality that “cut” was only compared to the presumed yearly percent increase. Meaning we’re still going to be spending more on war this year than we did the last.
Not that this is anything new, but it seems exceptionally appropriate in light of recent events to pause and ask the question, just what is the purpose of all that spending again?

Because I could have sworn the rationale for invading Iraq-like most of our historic humanitarian occupation endeavors-was for democracy. And so the last thing we could do right now is pull out due to the undemocratic chaos that would surely ensue if the people were left to their own devices to determine their own future. Just think what happened in Egypt!

I mean, just the thought of Mubarak stepping down brought-an extraordinary level of organization, cooperation, and human creativity and expression? Just think what could happen if we decided to not spend $118 billion next year on Democracy in Iraq! People might organize their own free clinics and come up with ways to reduce trash throughout the country!

But at least if we’re committing this much money to going after the ruthless, brutal, dictator Saddam, we must feel the same about other, even more widely despised dictators nearby, like Mubarak and Qaddafi… Right?
Yet when we were given the opportunity to side with democracy, and even potentially aid the people in their struggle against Mubarak (by cutting off our flow of money and weapons into the Mubarak regime that were being used against protesters) we passed it up, choosing only to side with the people after there was pretty much no other option. And although recently Obama has publicly denounced Qaddafi, since taking office he’s effectively been supporting the regime by keeping off the trade embargo that Bush lifted in 2004, allowing Libya’s oil to freely flow to Western countries.

Luckily however, even if U.S. politicians are confused by the complex ideas of “people’s representation” and “people’s power,” U.S. citizens are not. In a twist of fate, Egypt ended up exporting democracy back to the U.S. as tens of thousands of Wisconsinites took-and are still taking-to the streets in the form of ongoing mass protests against a proposal to slash unions’ collective bargaining rights.

Visible in signs such as “Walk Like an Egyptian,” and a plentitude of references to “Hosni Walker,” U.S. citizens have been inspired by revolts shaking the world, as well as motivated by the lesson of what mass protest can do. (In a further, tangential illustration of the international game of inspiration/solidarity ping-pong, food was sent to protesters in Madison not only from Egypt, but from at least 14 other countries and all 50 states.)

All this is relevant because what is going on right now in Madison can be seen as a microcosm of U.S. budgetary decisions-and their consequences. It’s just that instead of unblinkingly spending obscene amounts to kill people in far off nations, Walker’s first move upon being elected was to give $140 million in tax breaks to businesses such as Wal-Mart and the Tea Party-founding Koch brothers. Both Walker and Obama then went on to cry, “Budget crisis!” to justify drastic cuts on working people and students, for the supposed good of the nation.

In the same way that Walker’s vision of economic equilibrium is marked by cuts to public employees’ wages, state Medicaid, public transit, and underserved communities’ access to the internet, Obama’s 2012 budget cuts basic services such as home heating assistance that currently helps 8.9 million households, money for community block grants that help grassroots organizations serve the needs of impoverished communities, and education-aid programs like Pell Grants and Head Start.

In other words, things that could actually help make a country stable and secure.

When funding the Pentagon for stability, and invading Iraq in the name of democracy not only hinder the safety of Americans by giving good reason for the world to hate us, but also increase the likeliness of U.S. citizens -many of whom are already struggling to pay their bills while balancing two or more jobs-freezing to death in their own homes, something about that balance sheet is a bit wonky.

Current events are showing us that democracy is a common ideal. The people of Egypt, the Middle East, and other less-reported-on sub-Saharan African countries want it; the people here want it; it’s just the powers that claim they are so Democracy-gung-ho that they’ll sponsor a war for it, that might not actually like it all that much once it makes the leap from rhetoric to reality.

But as the protests in Madison are showing us, the people won’t take this sitting down.