Solving (or Not) a Problem Like the Middle East

When George W. Bush delivered his State of the Union address in 2005, a number of Republican members of Congress showed up with a finger colored purple, in solidarity with the Iraqi voters who were required to dip their fingers in ink upon leaving the polls. Iraq had held an election, the purple digits testified, and therefore invading two years prior had been a swell idea, the transition to democracy was on its way, and everything would turn out great.

The triumphalism turned out to be a bit premature; thousands of Americans were still to die there, not to mention hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and the country is riven by religious strife and violence to this day. 

As if we needed any reminder that an election does not a democracy make, Egypt's government now appears to be disintegrating, just a year after it held its first post-Mubarak election. Without strong civic institutions and no tradition of resolving disputes at the ballot box, the extended transition from dictatorship to democracy can be just as tumultuous as overthrowing the dictator was in the first place. The hundreds of thousands gathered in Tahrir Square are not content to wait for Mohamed Morsi's term as president to expire and vote him out; they want to get rid of him now. Meanwhile, the Egyptian military has deliveredan ultimatum: either Morsi and his opponents work out an agreement, or the military will remove Morsi, dissolve Parliament, and suspend the country's constitution.

It's unclear how this immediate crisis will end, but it seems likely that Egypt faces many politically unsettled years ahead. A decade ago, George W. Bush believed that he could remove Saddam Hussein, and democratic change and respect for human rights would wash over the Middle East like a soothing rain. The people of one country after another did eventually rise up to cast off their dictators (most neither needing nor wanting the United States' guidance in order to do so), but what ensued was more of a hurricane of disorder. No one should have been naïve enough to believe it would have been otherwise.


So They Say

“While our husbands … have to react and respond to crises on a minute-to-minute basis, we get to work on what we’re passionate about.”

Michelle Obama, talking about being a first lady

Daily Meme: Mitt's Bad Internal Polling

  • Washington Post reporter Dan Balz's e-book on the 2012 campaign drops in August. The Huffington Post has a sneek peek, with this juicy detail: "Over the Christmas break of 2010, Mitt Romney and his family took an internal poll on whether he should run for president once more. Twelve family members cast ballots. Ten said no. One of the 10 was Mitt Romney himself."
  • ... which isn't new news—The New York Times reported this last August, revealing that Tagg and Ann were the only family members on Team Mitt.
  • And, as the most supportingest of Romney sons put it last December, “He wanted to be president less than anyone I’ve met in my life. He had no desire to . . . run."
  • But this brief blip of trivia masquerading as news does afford us the opportunity to collect the marginalia of the post-election Romney clan in one place ... and realize how the beige sadness of it all would make a helluva Franzen novel.
  • Earlier in June, Romney traded in his Mustang for a "grandfather-mobile."
  • His other grandfatherly post-campaign duties include buying too much at Costco and pumping gas.
  • Days before that, Ann told CNN that people still come up to her and say “‘Nobody died, but I feel like somebody died,’ that was their reaction when they would see me. And a lot of the time people burst into tears when they would see me—just happened yesterday again.”
  • Ann is also working on a cookbook, complete with Mitt's favorite meatloaf recipe. We challenge the book to be as memorable as Carol Paul's entry into the candidate cookbook canon.
  • Last Thanksgiving, the family ordered in from Boston Market.
  • For fun, Mitt and Ann have gone to see vampire movies and boxing matches, where he introduces himself thusly: “I ran for president and lost.”
  • Oh, post-election Romney. Alas, time washes away ... most electoral losses.Remember Al Gore?

What We're Writing

  • UNITE HERE, the hotel workers union of the U.S. and Canada, has finally reached a deal with Hyatt that will allow the company’s workers to unionize. Harold Meyerson writes that, among other things, the agreement ends the rift between the labor movement and U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker.
  • David Dayen looks at the loophole banks are using to foreclose homes that shouldn't be in the crosshairs.

What We're Reading

Poll of the Day

Texas Representative Wendy Davis doubled her in-state name recognition from 34 percent to 68 percent by filibustering an anti-abortion bill, but she remains a likely 14 percent behind current Republican Governor Rick Perry if the two were to face off in a gubernatorial race, according to new data released by Public Policy Polling. Davis is the most well-liked politician in the state, with an approval rating of 39 percent and a disapproval rating of just 29 percent, compared with Perry’s 45-50 ratio. That said, Perry’s recently increased standing among Republicans leaves him in firm control of the state.

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