Liberalism in Jordan

by Nathan Shapiro

Viewing the Arab nations’ struggle in the post-colonial era, and seeing them in constant conflict with modernity, is distressing to those familiar with history, for this land was the hearth of human civilization.

A vast majority of Arabs live in illiberal societies.  These societies lack the guaranteed human rights, civil rights, and access to services fundamental to the success of Europe, North America, and much of East Asia excluding China.  Some Arab nations have powerful governments with a clear structure that provides the country with the rule of law, even if the rulers are oppressive.  Yet some Arab countries even lack the governmental framework necessary to provide the rule of law, resulting in chaos and all too often, violence.

One Arab country has stood apart from its neighbors.  The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is the most liberal Arab country.  While it is an imperfect liberalism, Jordanians enjoy more freedoms and basic rights than their Arab counterparts.

It is important not to give Jordan too much credit.  Jordan’s King Abdullah II puts on a good show for the Western world.  With his easy smile, he wears suits, not the traditional desert garments other Arab royals wear.  He has been a guest on the “Daily Show with Jon Stewart” multiple times, and is famous for his love of Star Trek.  While still a prince, he made an appearance on an episode of a “Star Trek: Voyager” episode.  It is easy to be taken in by the seemingly westernized king.  It is easy to assume that such a king would be an enlightened ruler and be a liberalizing force for good in his country.  To some extent this assumption is accurate, for Jordan is the most liberal of the Arab countries.  Yet this is a low bar and Jordan has a long way to go before achieving true liberalism.  Freedom House ranked Jordan as “not free,”  political rights and civil liberties are highly restricted, and the press is not free.  Jordan is not a democracy.   Instead it is a near absolute monarchy with a powerful executive branch and weak legislative branch.

Despite these strikes against it, Jordan is a model, albeit an imperfect model, for liberalization in the Arab world.  The World Bank classifies Jordan as an “upper-middle income” country.  For a country with essentially no natural resources like Jordan, this is a major achievement and is a sign of a strong and well-functioning civil society.  Unlike the oil-rich Arab nations, Jordan has had to develop a viable economy.  The World Bank has praised the government’s efforts in education.

Jordan has developed what the World Bank describes as a “knowledge-based economy” with a solid research and development infrastructure.  Women enjoy a high level of  “gender parity” in Jordan, something unusual for the region.  Jordan has been especially successful in the medical field.  The Kingdom has a large medical tourism industry that generates over $1 billion per year in revenue.

A strong civil society and an educated middle class are needed to begin the process of liberalization.  While dictators, King Abdullah II and his father King Hussein deserve credit for planting the seeds of liberalism.


It’s Not Democracy You Want…It’s Liberalism

by Nathan Shapiro

In the United States there is a near universal belief that democracy is the optimal form of government.  Among a population often disgruntled with government, people cling to the word “democracy” as a source of liberty, freedom, and prosperity.  In truth democracy does nothing to secure liberty, freedom or prosperity.

Democracy describes the process by which the government is chosen, not the way the government is run.  The American diplomat Richard Holbrook understood this well.  Speaking about Bosnia he said “Suppose the election was declared free and fair,” he would go on to ask the question [what if those elected were] “racists, fascists, separatists, who are publicly opposed to [peace and reintegration]. That is the dilemma.”

We live in an era where democracy is trendy and democratization is rampant.  Yet liberty, freedom, and prosperity are all too rare.  Take the case of India, a country home to millions of slaves.  While slavery is technically illegal in India, local elected government officials routinely protect the institution of slavery.  Yet India is constantly praised for being “the world’s largest democracy.”  It is true.  India is a democracy.  All it takes to be a democracy is for a country to hold elections.  What India is not, is a liberal democracy.

The scenario Holbrook imagined was an autocratic democracy.  This concept is unimaginable to most Americans because what we think of as democracy is American democracy, which is liberal democracy.  In the classical sense of the term, the United States has a rich liberal tradition that continues to this day.  I would argue that having a liberal government is more important than having a democratic government.  The word “liberal” comes from the old French word liberté, which referred to man’s freedom.

Dictatorships are by definition thought of as illiberal, but this should not be the case.  It is possible for a liberal dictatorship, or a liberal autocracy to exist.  Imagine for a moment that the universally beloved Fred Rogers, better known as Mister Rogers, somehow became the absolute dictator of a country.  There would be no elections but the country would be one big happy “neighborhood” because the ruler truly loved all his people and wanted what was best for them.  Mister Rogers would not deny anybody his or her freedom; the only thing they would lack was the right to vote.

Fareed Zakaria has used Hong Kong as a real-life example of a liberal autocracy.  The people of Hong Kong thrived under British rule, and enjoyed economic and civil liberties.  However, the people of Hong Kong were ruled by the British half a world away.

I am not advocating liberal autocracy in the United States or anywhere in the world.  It is best for the people to have a say in how their government is run.  Yet democracy is just part of the equation.  As Fareed Zakaria has pointed out, historically liberalism leads to democracy, not the other way around.  Hence, our focuses should not be on the democratization of the world, rather the liberalization of the world.  When liberalism is achieved, democracy will follow.

Failure to Fund Drug Interdiction

by Nathan Shapiro

Public debate regarding the issue of illegal drugs and the best way to combat drug addiction is often focused on local drug dealers and the drug users.  Local law enforcement is crucial to protecting communities from drug dealers, and social services are essential in helping people suffering from drug addiction.  However, these efforts do nothing to prevent the drugs from entering our communities.  The only way to truly prevent illegal drug use is to prevent the drugs from landing on US soil, but inadequate funding has hampered promising attempts to accomplish this.

Effective efforts are being made to interdict vessels carrying large amounts of cocaine, and an interagency task force, known as Joint Interagency Task Force South (JITFS), has been established for just that purpose.  The Coast Guard, which operates under the Department of Homeland Security, plays what is perhaps the most significant role in carrying out the task force’s mission.  The Coast Guard uses the intelligence gathered by the task force to find and capture drug smugglers at sea.  To accomplish this, the Coast Guard has agreements with 45 nations.  These agreements allow the Coast Guard to interdict vessels within the national waters of many countries throughout the globe.

While the JITFS has been effective, challenges remain.  Drug smugglers have come up with new ways of eluding detection, most notably the use of primitive submarines to smuggle drugs.  The Department of Homeland Security maintains that a “layered approach” is required to combat smugglers, which involves the collaboration of varying government agencies and foreign countries.  The JITFS is the epitome of a layered approach, as it includes agencies such as the Department of State, Defense, and Homeland Security, in addition to the cooperation and resources of other countries.

The creation of the JITFS is only one step in the struggle to keep drugs from being smuggled into the country.  Its intelligence can often detect the whereabouts of drug smuggling vessels.  However, the Coast Guard lacks the resources to interdict all of these vessels.  According to Coast Guard Rear Admiral Charles Michel, the former the commander of JITFS, only one quarter of drug shipments identified by the task force are interdicted.

Unfortunately, the JITFS is faced with a problem familiar to many government agencies, the problem of insufficient funds.  It is now the responsibility of all agencies involved with the JITFS to lobby lawmakers on behalf of the task force.  The more agencies that lobby Congress, the harder it will be for Congress to ignore the problem.  In addition, different agencies will reach different Congressional committees, which will force the issue of drug smuggling to be viewed as more than simply a matter for law enforcement.  In order to obtain more funding for drug interdiction, it is important that the State Department stress the strains that drug smuggling is having on Latin American countries like Honduras and Colombia.  Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security should raise the possibility that submarines made for carrying drugs could also carry weapons of mass destruction.  Also, with end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Department of Defense can shift its attention to drug interdiction.  In addition, the United States Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control must be an active JITFS and work to secure necessary funding.

Inadequate funding for JITFS has severely limited its potential capability.  There is no doubt that the federal government is spending money on drug prevention.  The problem is that the funds are being misallocated.   For FY 2012, President Obama requested $26.2 billion to “reduce drug use and its consequences in the United States,” less than 15% of which was allocated for drug interdiction, as opposed to 36% for law enforcement.   This would be like the government having a smallpox prevention budget and spending 15% of the budget on vaccines and 36% on Band-Aids.   We have a successful vaccine against drug smuggling.  Let’s fully utilize it.

An Historic Hate: The GOP’s Loathing of President Obama

by Nathan Shapiro

Speaking about President Obama’s agenda in 2010, the Republican House leader John Boehner told a crowd, “We’re going to do everything — and I mean everything we can do — to kill it, stop it, slow it down, whatever we can.”  This has been the Republican’s general attitude towards Obama for his entire presidency.  It is this context that makes what Hubert Humphrey said to a fellow liberal so enlightening.  “I don’t know who your president is, Joe, but my president is Dwight Eisenhower, and if I can be helpful to my president in a manner consistent with my conscience, I will be.”

Not since eleven states seceded from the Union because they did not like the new president has a major party had less respect for the presidency and the institution of the presidency.   Respect for the presidency has been at its height since Franklin Roosevelt, and Humphrey’s statement reflects that sentiment.

Yet something is different about the Obama presidency.  His ideological advisories don’t just disagree with him, they fail to recognize him has the legitimate leader of the United States.  If Obama makes a proposal, the Republicans are automatically against it.  In President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address he proposed new tort reform laws.  This has been a cause pushed by Republicans for years but despised by Democrats.  However, since the proposal came from Barack Obama’s lips, the GOP would not consider pursuing tort reform.  One cannot help but wonder what would happen if Obama announced one day that he was pro-life.  Would all Republicans become pro-choice?  At this point I would not put it past them.

The missing Conversation Regarding the Death of Trayvon Martin

by Nathan Shapiro

The national response to the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the reaction to George Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict has largely focused on the factor race played in Martin’s death.  The racial component of Martin’s death is a worthwhile discussion and the extent to which race played a role in Martin’s death should continue to be investigated.  Yet, the racial component is not the most critical aspect of this case.  The fact is that Martin was not killed by racism, he was killed by a gun.  No matter how bigoted Zimmerman was, he would not have killed Martin if he had not been carrying a gun.  Zimmerman should not have been carrying a gun.  Public outrage should be centered on the fact that Zimmerman, a civilian was allowed to carry a handgun.

Save Lives Now: Why the Obama Administration Should Stop Delaying the Implementation of the Law Requiring Rear View Cameras in All Vehicles

by Nathan Shapiro

Each year an average of 17,000 people are injured and 228 people are killed from being run over by backing up vehicles according to the Washington Post.  This number could be dramatically reduced with the installation of rearview cameras vehicles.  This is why the Federal government has planned to require automakers to install rear view cameras on all vehicles.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration is giving into pressure from the automakers and has delayed the implementation of the law until 2015.  The administration is wrong to be giving in to pressure from the automakers.  The government has a responsibility to make sure that vehicles are as safe as possible; this is why there are laws requiring seatbelts and airbags.

What makes this situation all the more important is that that a disproportionate number of the victims are children, often run over by their parents in their driveway.  Whether it is a small child on a tricycle or a child chasing after a ball, rear view cameras de-blind a vast area of a vehicles blind spot.  It is time for the Obama administration to end the delays and start saving lives sooner rather than later.

Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito Join Select Group of Shamed Justices

by Nathan Shapiro

The United States Supreme Court has a spotty history.  There have been times when the justices turned their backs on civil rights and human rights.  Today, men such as Chief Justice Roger Taney and Chief Justice Morrison Waite are remembered for decisions that in contemporary times seem abhorrent to a vast majority of Americans.  Taney wrote the Dred Scott decision, which said that no black person could be an American citizen.  Waite wrote the opinion for Elk v. Wilkins in 1884, which said that an Indian born in the United States was not a citizen.  On Wednesday, with their dissenting votes to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act, Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Chief Justice Roberts joined Taney and Morrison on a list of justices who are remembered for their backward thinking.  They either chose to ignore or were simply blind to the reality that marriage equality is now accepted as a basic civil right.