National governments and their intellectual front men believe that nothing unites a population like a war. Actually, that's not quite true. What happens is that during war, national governments strike fear into their domestic opponents and silence them through intimidation. The appearance of unity is wholly illusory.
If you truly want to unite a population, here is a key: drive the dictator out of the country. The fleeing of a despot always leads to unparalleled and authentic celebration, because the people perceive a newfound freedom. In the street celebrations, dancing, enthusiasm, and optimism, we gain a glimpse of what freedom is all about. It is about removing the boot from the neck.
This is precisely what we see in Yemen today, as President Ali Abdullah Saleh was escorted out of the country by henchmen hired by his protector state of Saudi Arabia. There he is undergoing medical treatment for wounds suffered in a successful hit on his presidential compound. There is no way that this guy can come back and rule his country again.
This deeply ignorant thug, who grabbed and held power in the same way they did in the old days of the Soviet thugocracy — murder, mayhem, slavish loyalty to powerful sponsors — has been a persistent violator of human rights since 1978. All these years he held power through sheer brutality and lies, though the people themselves never believed a word of it.
This year's uprising throughout the Arab world swept through Yemen as in many other countries, and Saleh held on through violence, bloodshed, and by promising reforms, elections, and departure — though he failed to carry out any of his promises.
His departure leaves the vice president in charge, but he is seriously weakened because in Yemen, as in so many other Arab states, the people have a new sense of their own empowerment. Aided by technology and motivated by Enlightenment-style ideals, the people are telling thugs of all types to take a hike.
The Yemen case is the closest we've come to seeing an effective use of direct, defensive force by the people against a national-government leader. Of course it is always better for the tyrant to leave once popular consent is withdrawn. This preserves the peace. But if regimes refuse to relent and begin "a long train of abuses" against the rights and liberties of the people, the people have every right to fight back, as Thomas Jefferson argued in the Declaration of Independence. (The prudence of such action is always a separate question, of course.)
What a tragedy, then, that it is Jefferson's own country that ends up being the main imposer and backer of tyrants in the Arab world. Saleh has been an on-again-off-again US puppet, just like Saddam Hussein and Colonel Gaddafi — permitted to rule on the condition that US foreign-policy priorities are wholly embraced, and that US enemies are jailed, tortured, and killed.
In this case, Saleh was an ally in the "war on terror" — which is something of a joke given that terrorism means nothing if not the willingness to inflict massive violence on the innocent. That pretty much sums up his 33 years in power.
But the United States doesn't see it that way, and already the US federal government is working to shore up the power of Saleh's temporary replacement. And why? In order to prevent the great bugaboo: the ascendence of — ominous music, please — al Qaeda.
When will our elites grant the obvious? These uprisings, despite the involvement of the CIA, are not about Islamic fundamentalism. They are, for most people, about freedom, opportunity, and the desperate desire to embrace the modern world and stop being used as pawns by an alien superpower.
To know this, you need only look at the pictures and see the joy. This is the joy that the prospect of freedom inspires.