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Revolutions ahoy?

By HARLAN ULLMAN, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   Feb. 1, 2012 at 6:29 AM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 (UPI) -- Alas poor Marx, Engels and Lenin. After being entirely discredited and disproved by the collapse of the Soviet Union and its communist ideology and repudiated by China's embrace of market capitalism, perhaps they weren't necessarily wrong. Instead, perhaps they were simply a century too early in their revolutionary aspirations!

Their thesis was empowered by the same forces envisioned by someone rarely associated with this communist trio, Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. "When government becomes destructive, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and establish a new one." This is what has happened in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt and is threatening to occur in Syria and Bahrain.

Revolutions in some form will break out in predictable as well as unexpected places. Readers will draw their own conclusions about the revolutionary probabilities especially in one of the contenders -- the United States and equally interesting parallels with Russia. First, consider Nigeria and Pakistan.

Islamist insurgencies have been percolating in northern Nigeria for at least a decade. Indeed, this column has been wrong in predicting the spread of these insurgencies in the past.

But times are changing. Oil rich, corrupt and mismanaged, all the conditions of destructive governance are in place. Should al-Qaida and other extremist groups move their center of interest from Yemen and the desolate Horn of Africa to Nigeria to exploit this opportunity, then the chances of real revolution become frighteningly high.

Since its creation 65 years ago, Pakistan has been ruled by 3 1/2 families in what is a modern version of a feudal state. The army, the Bhutto-Zardaris and the Sharifs are the three families and the Chaudrys the half. The chief judge, by the way, is a Chaudry and is actively engaged in hounding President Asif Zardari from office.

Pakistan is trapped in growing insurgencies exacerbated by decades of war in Afghanistan and a continuing downward economic spiral intensified by two years of catastrophic floods whose damage won't be repaired soon.

It is also in a love-hate relationship with the United States with the emphasis on the latter. Eighty-five percent of Pakistanis strongly dislike America and its policies.

The ticking time bomb is some 70 million-80 million youth, 20 and under, with no jobs, no prospects and largely Madrassa-derived educations. The trends therefore are toward radicalization. But Pakistanis in general have shared a penchant for passivity despite politics that have been life and death, assassinations a tragic way of life and extremist Islamist suicide bombers the latest threat.

With indirect senate elections in March for about one-third of its membership and for the whole National Assembly later this year, the ruling Pakistan People's Party stands a good chance of retaining its control of government. The wild card is former cricket star Imran Khan, a rising force though probably who won't prevail at this stage. PPP will have the opportunity to rectify many of the ills debilitating Pakistan. Should Nawaz Sharif and his Muslim Party win, the jury will be out over its competence given two disastrous earlier terms as prime minister. The point is that whoever wins, if conditions in Pakistan aren't reversed, Pakistan's future stability is far from assured.

The main events are what happen in Russia and the United States. In Russia, as in America, the disparities between rich and poor have foreclosed opportunity for the middle class. The spoils of power have been distributed leaving the cupboard bare. Discontent waxes. While protests in Moscow have been relatively tiny in contrast to Cairo's Tahrir Square, these are very significant symbolically.

Russia Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is almost certain to become president a third time in March. That election will be far messier than Putin wants. If Putin and his team ignore the growing resentment of his public and middle class, Marx and Lenin will be smiling from their graves. Revolution isn't imminent. Should it come, it won't be as it was in 1907 or 1917. That doesn't mean destructive government won't have impact in forcing change.

Any chance of revolution in the United States will be dismissed as nonsense. That doesn't mean even the prospect of major change is unthinkable.

The Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street and the Wisconsin recall vote for its governor are early and unmistakable warnings and symptoms of public fury over its government and its inability to govern. Public contempt for Congress has reached unprecedented levels. And the unhappy and ignored reality is that U.S. standards of living and expectations for the future will and must decline, possibly dramatically propelled by broken government and a financial and economic crisis that remains unresolved and possibly unresolveable under current circumstance.

What lies ahead for America isn't 1775, 1789 or the Paris Commune. Violence won't be the mechanism for change. However, as long as government remains broken and destructive, political change is inevitable. Marx, Engels and Lenin wouldn't approve. Jefferson would.

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(Harlan Ullman is chairman of the Killowen Group, which advises leaders of government and business, and senior adviser at Washington's Atlantic Council.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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