I haven’t seen any TV in a week, and have kept up with developments in Cairo via newspaper headlines and newscasts. Admittedly, this presented for me a “story among other news stories” kind of perspective on the matter.

Then, I finally got a chance to listen to the DemocracyNow! live podcasts from Cairo (through yesterday), and followed that with Maddow/Engel/Williams MSNBC “live” reporting from Wed. night. I listened as I drove through the night. It was mesmerizing!

I do not remember being so emotionally moved by any event in recent history. I have been aware of just how repressive the Mubarak Regime has been throughout the years. I long ago identified Mubarak as a convenient tool of our cynically considered foreign policy, another in a long list of strategically placed dictators in the mold of the Pahlavis, Saddam, the Sauds, etc., who would (will) eventually implode with potentially disastrous results. (i.e. see Iran, and the reactionary rise of an anti-Western theocracy to replace “our guy.”) And so I was dumbfounded at the absolute courage exhibited by such massive numbers of Egyptians, all coming together to express their defiant refusal to tolerate the abuse of their government any longer, all while expressing a legitimate understanding of – and hope for! – a nuanced and reasoned democracy.

I especially recall one interview with a man in the Square who, in excellent English heavy with accent, told of his fears about what might happen in the days ahead. The fear was palpable in his voice, but when asked about the possibility that this might – just might! – lead to the overthrow of Mubarak and a democratically elected government, he nearly burst into tears. “Oh!” he exclaimed. “To get the vote? To choose our own government? In Egypt? That would be paradise!”

My heart was full. I couldn’t help smiling broadly, even as tears welled in my eyes.

And I grew remarkably angry as the thugs showed up to wreak violence upon the throngs of peaceful protestors. As Maddow so forcefully pointed out in her opening commentary, Mubarak had telegraphed that this would happen, leaving little doubt that this was orchestrated as his response to the demands that he step aside peacefully. With his control of the media and therefore the message heard by common Egyptians, Mubarak was showing a remarkable ability to clamp a death-grip on his countrymen – presumably with no other purpose than to drag as many with him into the grave that most assuredly awaits such a despot who chooses hubris over humility; chooses personal power over the hopeful aspirations of millions for self-determination; and who would prefer the destruction of society itself over calling it a day and retiring in exile in a luxurious circumstance that far exceeds anything he otherwise deserves.

In all of this I was reminded of The Bridge at Andau, the book authored by James Michener. It is an account of the Hungarian Revolt in 1956, told in personal stories shared about the experience by many of the participants who rose up against the Soviet-backed government and the incredibly diabolical AVO (secret police) that held abject control over the people of Hungary. The thousands of students (most were young people in their twenties and thirties) who rose up against this repressive regime had two principles that drove them:

1.) They felt they had nothing left to lose. Death was seemingly deemed to be a preferable circumstance than a life lived under the constant fear of a visit from the AVO for the most mundane “crimes against the State”; and

2.) They held a reasoned belief that if they would only fight long enough and with enough ferocity, the Western Powers would be compelled to come to their aid. Surely, the U.S. and other champions of Democracy would not let their courageous and admittedly quixotic assault on this repressive and horribly immoral  government go down without an attempt to intervene on their behalf. They KNEW they had the moral high ground, and they had such faith in the righteous power of the Western democracies that they were certain that these other countries would not simply stand by and watch them be murdered in the streets and be chased and captured and tortured and slaughtered by the State. Surely, they could count on these beneficent democracies to intervene and help finish what they started.

History shows that these students were probably right on the first principle. But they could not have been more mistaken about the second. The whole revolt was eventually squashed by a massive military response from the Soviets themselves that was as brutally realized as any such exercise in history. The peoples of Hungary were slaughtered in the streets. Many were subsequently hunted down like vermin destined for extermination – but only after the most horrific acts of torture and terror could be exacted upon them. And the Western Powers turned a blind eye to it all.

I was a young man – a child, really – when I first read this account by Michener in the mid-sixties. It had a remarkable impact on me. Never again was I able to assume the beneficence of my country in all matters related to our foreign policy. In Budapest, I saw how we had been tested in regards to the extent to which we would honor our commitment to Liberty and Democracy and even to humanity itself. And I saw we had pulled up horrifyingly short in all categories that mattered, choosing instead to accept such oppression of a populace as falling within the purview of a legitimate “sovereign government.” Governments were inherently legitimate, regardless of their provenance. Even the Western Democracies honored this conceit, letting people (and any notion of “democracy”) be damned, if necessary.

In subsequent years, we have seen the U.S. and other nations double-down on assigning legitimacy to governments, regardless of how ruthless they are in the treatment of their peoples or the manner by which they were installed into power over others. Indeed, think tanks and university degree programs in “diplomacy” have sprung up to devise the best strategic approaches to adopt in actually installing governments of our own choosing and providing them the means to rule authoritatively – not in the furtherance of democracy – but rather to leverage the power of one nation over another country or region. Imperialistic “Spheres of Influence” are the coin of the diplomatic realm, not the promotion of self-determination that serves as the fundamental basis for governance outlined in our own Declaration of Independence.

Realpolitick is the name of the game, and we have the CIA and the State Department in place as required to advance this mad pursuit of seeking “political advantage” in choosing what governments shall reign over others throughout the world. In squelching democracy in other nations in favor of more “stable” governments, we are forever destined to ultimate failure when the basic human thirst for self-determination becomes so powerfully felt that people rise up and rebel, come what may.

We now see the people gathering by the hundreds of thousands in Cairo in search of a new beginning. And we hear the State Department and the think tank experts and the other talking heads all expressing fear over where it all may lead. They are right to be concerned. But it isn’t the inexorable move toward democracy that serves as the basis of their fear. No, it is instead the fear of the consequences they must now confront for having been complicit in denying them democracy all these years in favor of a “friendlier, more ‘stable'” despotic regime. Paybacks are a bitch, and these “strategic thinkers” are all too well aware of what is owed to them in exchange for their efforts on behalf of Mubarak and the rest of their favored “stable governments.”

Take your medicine, Hillary and Barack. Quit trying to inherit the winds that now blow across the Middle East, for they can only refresh those peoples who are there on the ground looking to fill their sails and set off into a future of their own choosing.

Whatever consequences we must face following our years-long pursuit of our own “national interests” at the expense of the peoples of the Middle East are unavoidable. At best, we can do nothing but take a lesson about the destined failure of strategic policies that seek to oppress human nature. And in the end, we would do well to take a sobering lesson that leads us to once again recognize certain inviolate realities, such as:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

I greatly admire the courage shown by the people of Egypt in confronting such powerful forces allayed against them. And I appreciate the fear they most surely feel as they cannot begin to know what tomorrow will bring. But I will not pretend to force upon these Egyptian patriots any notion that I – nor my President or Secretary of State! – possess answers to their present dilemma that precludes the need for them to act upon and realize pursuit of their own self-determination in their own choice of governance.

Godspeed, people of Egypt! Soldarnosz!

(Cross-posted at Dagblog.com)