There are three ascending superpowers in the world today: Google, Facebook, and Twitter. Every other real government is either just breadcrumbs or about to become power pretenders. Weapons can be used once against some people but words can be used often with as many people as possible. The three Internet juggernauts facilitate the latter, which makes them the new superpowers.
Most politicians see Google as a search engine when in fact it’s the space where life takes place. They see Blogs, Twitter and Facebook as messengers when in fact they are shapers of life itself.
We are in the midst of a new post-Internet, anti-Richelieu revolution where centralized decision-making will become obsolete and where the public will rule, not every four years, but daily.
The first phase has already started because elected officials march to the tune of weekly public polls. The second phase is starting to take shape because organizations like the UN, another pretender, are attempting to interfere in the national politics of their member governments. The third phase is when governments lose control to globalized opinion shapers. China may have one billion people and an arsenal of nuclear weapons it can use only once on few people but Facebook has one billion all connected, all well educated, and all looking for liberty, fairness, and advantages over centralized decision-making.
With that in mind, I want to examine this process which is about to take place in a centralized fashion.
An article this morning attributed to Elise Labott, a CNN foreign affairs reporter, cites the US administration reluctance to call Assad a “war criminal” or label his deadly crackdown against Syrian civilians, which has caused over 10,000 deaths, the disappearance of some 65,000 civilians and the detention of over 200,000 many of them experiencing extreme torture, as “crimes against humanity”.
Ms. Labott refers in her CNN piece to a testimony made by Secretary Clinton to a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee in which she made the following statement:
“Based on definitions of war criminal and crimes against humanity, there would be an argument to be made that he would fit into that category. People have been putting forth the argument. But I also think that from long experience that can complicate a resolution of a difficult, complex situation because it limits options to persuade leaders perhaps to step down from power.”
In other words, if Assad agrees to quit voluntarily, then we are willing to give him a pass the same way others, like al-Bachir of Sudan, Idi Amin of Uganda, and Assad‘s uncle Rifaat were given a pass under different circumstances by different players.
There is something morally wrong when governments influencing a political outcome in a certain geography take it upon themselves to play jury, prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges, and policemen against the wishes of their victims with no regard to the lasting effect their decisions have on perceptions. This is so problematic to the Facebook crowds that I doubt if anyone at the White House or the US State stopped to consider the effect this will have on galvanizing further the need to decentralize this kind of decisions by decentralizing governments and stripping them from these kind of powers. This may sound like an ideological statement but it is really a sobering statement if you consider the power of the Internet.
Policy makers, when taking these expeditious and badly concocted political decisions, rely on many factors affecting the tight space they are operating under. Given that some of the narrowness of those spaces are of their own making (Unwillingness to arm Syria’s Free Syrian Army the way they armed the Libyans is just one), there is a certain convenience in western diplomacy, where success is celebrated above all, to wrap things up and pat oneself on the back for a successful outcome. Those cocktail parties do really have an impact on the psyche of short-circuiting history.
But here are some arguments that must be considered.
It is true that politicians rely on short memories to effectively spread the “let bygones be bygones” but in today’s connected world, it is a major mistake to assume that past attempts at giving free passes to major political criminals can be applied in today’s world with impunity. Matters that worked in the 90’s will not work today and if Secretary Clinton wants to write her memoirs on a snapshot of a printed book against a stream of counter-statements on Twitter and Facebook, she would not be doing herself a service because Google is where one goes when one wants information, not to a book on a library shelf. Look how much harm her statement that “Assad is a reformer” has caused her; enough to publicly defend herself. In the 90’s this would have been printed on page 26 of the Washington Post and forgotten the next day.
Incidentally, that Senate hearing statement by Secretary Clinton has circulated the earth 10 times within minutes of her declaration. Giving a free pass to major criminals in today’s world is a mistake many will come to regret few years from now.
Furthermore, there are other issues to consider from the fallout from such policies. Russia will use this expediency to its advantages by shifting the blame on Syria’s miseries against the west. Assad may have killed, Russia will argue, but look who is protecting him today.
Another more compelling reason is the signal such decisions send to a region already basking in violence with more tyranny per square mile than any other place on the planet. This carousel of rotating violence will perpetually keep the region unstable with another dictator around the corner willing to take the risks thinking he can always strike a deal in the worst case scenarios and retire to the Bahamas when in fact decisions like the one Secretary Clinton is about to make or has already made will become the reason why governments are losing control to the Internet-savvy activists.
Saudi Arabia is about to explode as a result of a new women’s movement seeking a fair and equitable treatment. Batons were used on March 19 to quell that demonstration in the heartland of al-Saud’s power structure. This is another example of power shifting away from centralized decision-making in places like the CIA eagerly pursuing its mission of convenience and adaptability in favor of liberty and equity promoted heavily by Facebook and Twitter activists but remain ignored by centralized governments.
Let’s stop violence permanently in the Middle East by merging with the ideas promoted by the Facebook and the Twitter crowds rather than confront them as in the past. Let’s leave the issue whether Assad needs to be granted international protection to those with gravitas and not to the pretenders.