Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Comparing Your Superpowers

With the violence unleashed by Libyan strongman Moammar Qaddafi against citizens protesting his reign worsening significantly in the past few days, western powers have grown more critical in speaking out against the regime's tactics but have stopped short of calling for its outright ouster (as, in my opinion, they should). They've been much criticized for not taking a stronger stand, both in the Arab press and elsewhere. In my view this is fair criticism - we shouldn't cheer the concepts of democracy and human rights in the abstract and then fear ruffling a few authoritarian feathers when the time comes to stand up for them in practice.

But for all the accusations of timidity and hypocrisy being leveled at the U.S. and the E.U., they're still infinitely better than the other emerging superpower on the block, China. Witness the comments of Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu, urging Libyan authorities to "restore social stability and normalcy as soon as possible and spare no effort to protect the safety of Chinese people, organizations and assets in Libya." Apparently widespread brutality and oppression aren't a problem from the point of view of the Chinese, only a continuation of the kind of messiness that might imperil Chinese interests in the country. We shouldn't be surprised, given that in ordering his armed forces to open fire on unarmed protesters with heavy weaponry Qaddafi appears to be taking a page straight out of the Tiananmen Square popular uprising suppression playbook, but it always helps to be reminded that as imperfect as the U.S. is, and as checkered a past as it has as a foreign interloper in the Middle East, it's still vastly preferable to the other alternatives as far as potential global hegemons go. At least we make a pretense of caring about things like human rights rather than just our own narrow interests.

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