With today’s video I tie together the past month or so of production, and explain why it is that I’m so interested in North Africa. Arab democracy, human rights, human progress, all of that is lovely. But today I focus on a much more simple, dollars and cents issue: Every month the Atlantic economy is mired in war and destruction in North Africa, is a month where the Pacific Economy surpasses it. The disaster in Libya is contributing to economic stagnation in Europe and the Eastern United States. There are very self interested reasons to promote peace.
I really enjoy the way that this one connects the North Africa region together, and then connects it to the implications for the world as a whole. I don’t think enough media does that. Let me know what you think!
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. Over the past month or so, I have been talking about a series of North African countries. All told, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya only amount to under 60 million people, but they represent an extraordinary opportunity for the region, for the world, and even for the United States. Today we will be talking about why North Africa is more important than you think.
At the end of my video on Algeria, I talked about the real possibility that that country could adopt the Democratic reforms of its smaller neighbor Tunisia. If that happens we could see a true peaceful revolution spreading across North Africa. Morocco has its own set of problems that will get their own video some day. Western Sahara and the long frozen conflict with Algeria are both tricky issues. But with growing democracy and prosperity in the region those issues should get easier to solve.
The incentives for peace are high. Tunisia is a lone democracy with a failing economy, because the richest countries in the region want it to fail, and it’s neighbors are in turmoil. If Algeria’s transition continues to succeed, we are looking at a different situation. Morocco should want to get on board with 52 million folks striving towards prosperity and democracy.
Morocco has been sputtering towards constitutional monarchy since the Arab Spring anyway, and it’s already begun the job of successfully integrating its economy with Europe’s. If Morocco can resolve its issues with a more democratic Algeria, we are now talking about a block of almost 90 million people across three countries, in some very strategic territory.
Now I can’t pretend to know what more democratic governments would want in these three countries. But I have some ideas of what they could accomplish. A customs union of some sort would bring greater prosperity. The opening of the border between Morocco and Algeria alone should bring extraordinary benefits for commerce and tourism. Folks could drive from Germany to Tunisia if they wanted. The political prospects are even more intriguing.
Some folks will loudly tell you that these countries are not Arabic, but they are members of the Arab League and having three democracies in that talking shop would matter. Libya has been an open wound since the US NATO invasion 8 years ago. The medieval stupidity bloc of the Arab League, led by Saudi Arabia, has been able to keep Libya in disarray for almost a decade now. A prosperous Democratic bloc directly to the east of Libya could end the chaos quickly. The threat that Algeria’s transition poses to the old disorder may in fact be exactly why Saudi Arabia’s pet Libyan General, Khalifa Haftar, attacked the UN backed government in Tripoli in April.
Saudi Arabia sees a real threat here, and they should. Their monarchy’s whole existence is based on the claim that their region can’t handle modern, Democratic government. The Saudis are desperate to install an authoritarian fire break in Libya, to keep peace and democracy from spreading. Saudi Arabia has been desperately fighting the Arab Spring since 2011, and in North Africa it looks like they may finally be losing.
Beyond Libya there are the 100 million people of Egypt. The combined efforts of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States will probably keep Egypt’s dictator going for a while, but Sudan is already slipping towards democracy. Their multi-decade dictator Omar al Bashir is in jail. Saudi Arabia is spending billions trying to keep the military government in power, but the protesters aren’t having it. DO NYTIMES FOR THIS STUFF Sudan’s neighbor Ethiopia is already going through a near miraculous transition towards peace and human rights.
Now all of that sounds very nice, but I can see why it wouldn’t appeal to some European and American policymakers. The Euros just want to stop migrants and might be happy for weaker countries in North Africa that can be more easily bribed to do that. The US really likes Israel, and might see a more prosperous and functional Muslim North Africa as a threat to our client. These concerns miss the forest for the trees. There are some very real, very self interested reasons for the US and Europe to help these countries out.
For most of human history the big show has been in Asia. In industry, culture, religion and wealth, it was India and China that were the big hubs. Europe was just some soggy peninsula up to the north somewhere. Starting 500 years ago, and really picking up about 300 years ago, something very weird happened. Western Europeans figured out there were a couple continents to their West, and they built a new and unprecedented center of wealth and power on the backs of African slaves and American natives. For the past two centuries or so, the world’s major players have been found in the Atlantic world rather than the Pacific one.
Well that’s changing now. Asia has been staging a massive comeback for like 4 decades, and it’s probably not ever going to stop. The old Atlantic economy is beginning to become the back water it once was. The US is shifting its focus to the Pacific, and so is the rest of the world. The Atlantic economy, the Eastern United States, and Europe especially are stagnating. It doesn’t have to be that way. Africa’s numerous countries all have incredible potential. But to keep the Atlantic wealth engine running, everybody’s got to be firing on all cylinders. All pathways have got to be open. We should be fostering economic growth, not sponsoring Saudi Arabia’s vandalism.
With its 2011 invasion of Libya NATO threw a massive spanner into the works. North Africa has had a lost decade. The disruption spreading from Libya has also been a big part of Europe’s lost decade. Forever war on Saudi Arabia’s behalf may be making some US defence contractors rich, but it’s making half the world dramatically poorer than it needs to be. This is bad for every US business that isn’t based on killing people.
This stupidity is throwing the world out of balance, and giving the Pacific economy a free decade to leap ahead of the Atlantic economy. The US benefits from Pacific economic growth of course, but it would benefit more from balanced growth. These African countries are essential to that.
Some of you may have wondered why I have dedicated so much time to these North African countries recently. They can seem marginal. But in truth, they are central to US and European aspirations in the 21st century.
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