Tear Gas in Tunis
With the continuing turmoil in Tunisia—and other Arab governments looking on nervously—Tunisian novelist Kamel Riahi provides an inside look at the protests in the New York Times. A night spent dodging police batons, bullets and tear gas. Huddled with his wife and baby, standing guard with a kitchen knife—then an ax, having flashbacks to his time in "violent Algeria." Speaking of the government, he writes: "A civilized nation is announcing its independence from keeping the peace." The next morning Riahi and his neighbors roam the streets searching for bread and milk that is nowhere to be found. The author says even though he agrees that dissolving the ruling party will send "the country into choas, I think we have no choice by to try." Then: "an overwhelming happiness" at the realization he'll "be able to write freely."
Regarding other nations in turmoil, Times correspondent Anthony Shadid reports that Turkey has emerged as the winner in the Middle East after Hezbollah left Lebanon's government over the UN tribunal investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. While "American diplomacy has become the butt of jokes" in the region, and "Saudi Arabia has all but given up," Shadid writes, Turkey "has proved the most dynamic, projecting an increasingly assertive and independent foreign policy in an Arab world bereft of any country that matches its stature." In the Wall Street Journal, Fouad Ajami blames "the ebb of American power" in the area on (no surprise here) President Obama for casting "his lot" with "the Mideast's troubled autocrats"—what he calls realpolitik. Ajami praises Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent criticism in Qatar of Arab governments' ways and hopes it signals a return to the George W. Bush administration's "open ideological assault against"—for one—"Iranian theocracy."
But we can all rest easy because the damage caused by the WikiLeaks release of classified documents was "limited" (only straining relations with Yemen and Pakistan), according to U.S. officials speaking in private (in this case, that means their words carry more weight). Which leads Marcy Wheeler to accuse the Obama administration of having "oversold" the fallout in order "to bolster legal efforts to shut down" the leaky site. As usual, Glenn Greenwald goes further: "The case against WikiLeaks is absolutely this decade's version of the Saddam/WMD campaign." And Kevin Drum calls American diplomats' preference for keeping their observations private "perfectly reasonable," but points out that the documents were "not really all that revelatory."