A Tale of Three Crises

Promoted from the diaries by streiff. Promotion does not imply endorsement.

Three countries.  Three continents.  Three crises.  Yet they all share one thing in common: a populace ready for change and a tired and recalcitrant ruling class determined to hold onto power.  I am talking about Iran, Algeria and Venezuela and looking at their commonalities are important to understanding the dynamics in these individual countries and where it leads.

The first is their names which reflect their ideological regimes currently in power.  They all refer to themselves as “republics” with modifiers.  In Iran, it is an Islamic Republic, in Algeria it is “People’s Democratic Republic,” and in Venezuela it is “Bolivarian Republic.”  The Iranian Republic claims it was born of the 1979 “revolution.”  In reality, that “revolution” was basically five months of rioting, the decision by the shah to leave the country and mullahs flowing in to fill the power vacuum.  The so-called revolution happened so quickly, no heroes were to be found.

Over in Algeria, they view their republic as the defeat of the French which, at the time, was a powerful NATO force.  The “liberators” that seized power actually played a minimal role in fighting.  In fact, their “liberation” was a change in attitude by the French, not the Algerian “freedom fighters.”  In essence, France walked away from Algeria.  As for Venezuela, Simon Bolivar is likely rolling over in his grave seeing his name attached to what exists in that country today.

Second, all three are highly dependent upon the petroleum industry for government revenue.  As a result, there are no taxes in this country to speak of.  As a result, the population is just an extra, but sometimes bothersome entity.

Third, all are considered Non-Aligned Countries and all three have hosted summits from such countries.  As such, they maintain a Cold War mentality opposed to the United States and sympathetic to the “Soviet bloc.”  In all, Western countries, especially the United States, is an evil.  Although we are the “Great Satan” to Iran, they nevertheless send their kids here to be educated and their ill to Western Europe.  They launder their money through European and Canadian banks.  The Algerian ruling elite love to beat up on France, yet many of their leaders have vacation homes there and they sell oil to France well below the international market rate.  And in Venezuela, while they decry “Yankee imperialism,” their economy has strong ties to the United States.

All three countries have a class of people whose job is to give the illusion of a popular base.  In Iran, it is the “living martyrs,” “families of martyrs,” and “Ansar Hezbollah.”  Their “mobilization of the dispossessed,” which number about 400,000, is their backbone.  In Algeria, it is the Mujahadin who formed in the 1990’s while in Venezuela it is the “Bolivarian” paramilitary formed by Hugo Chavez and inherited by Maduro which he uses to great and sometimes deadly effect.

Fifth, in all three countries, the military holds the balance of power.  In Iran thus far, the military has refused to switch sides and join the protesting masses.  But there are hopeful signs that they may be reluctant to violently crush a true popular uprising.  The Algerian military has close ties to businesses and has somewhat distanced itself from the ruling elite.  Even still, they have forced some concessions on the rulers who recently withdrew the candidacy of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.  And in Venezuela, the top military leaders refuse to take sides allowing Maduro to strengthen his paramilitary and allow them to run amok.

Sixth, and probably most importantly, all three regimes have failed to adequately develop the necessary institutions so important to a republic to arbitrate conflicts and the clash of ideas inevitable in any human society.  Hence, their current conflicts are defined as the military against the people in the streets.

Whether we are talking about the former Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Juan Peron in Argentina, or Nasser in Egypt, these six qualities evolve in any short-term political/social system.  In terms of historical dimensions, their time span is relatively brief.  Everything is intense.

And as history has proven time and again, their eventual fall is equally intense.  These are all regimes primed for a disastrous and disgraceful fall from power.  In the interim, there may be huge humanitarian crises, as in Venezuela.  In Iran, there are some shortages of basic food stocks and they have already cut back their oil exports to many countries to meet domestic demand.  And in Algeria, they have now experienced a five-year period of decreased oil revenues.  Many Algerian leaders have warned that the political fighting will adversely affect their economy that will hurt the people, not the leaders and politicians, by the end of 2019.

This is the natural course of historical events when a country calls itself a “republic,” but is such in name only.  They eventually learn the hard way.