In fulfilling my PLA duties today, I’ve been commenting on a lot of blogs about the Middle East. So, I thought I would write a full blog post about my thoughts on the situation.
What began in Tunisia (or maybe even in Iran with the ‘Green Revolution’) continues to move across North Africa and the Middle East. Bahrain, Morocco, Libya, Egypt… all have been home to popular uprising. Egypt was successful in their efforts. The scene in Tahrir Square has been etched in to the minds of all those in the Middle East that want freedom, a blueprint that has led many protesters to refer to their own ‘Tahrir Squares’.
Media has played a huge role in facilitating the sense of outrage in the region, catalyzing the shared experience of Middle Eastern citizenry in to action that has stunned the embedded autocracy. Some have responded to this action largely peacefully (Tunisia and Egypt), while others are currently firing upon their own populations and bombing them from the air (Libya). A man in Egypt named his newborn child ‘Facebook’ for goodness sake. In the Egyptian Revolution we see the fulfillment of the ‘Green Revolution’. As success begat success, we’ve seen a domino effect in the region; one country empowered by the success of another to throw off the yoke, as it were. The epidemic has even spread beyond the Middle East, with numerous people in sub-Saharan African countries planning their own ‘Days of Rage’.
My RSS feed has been stuffed with the latest updates and commentary from the ground, most of it coming via Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish. On that blog, and the rest of the blogosphere, an interesting dynamic has appeared. Spreading democracy was a central tenet of the Bush foreign policy, and one of the main parts of neoconservative ideology. This preference for democracy across the world has come in to conflict with the distrust and fear of Islam by the very same people. That is the reason you have people ostensibly for democratization supporting propping up the Mubarak regime, because they are frightened about the possibility the Muslim extremists could take power (we’ll leave the issue of what happens to Israel to another day). How these people will reconcile their Islamophobia with their democratic ‘Manifest Destiny’ will be interesting to watch.
To be clear, what is occurring now in the Middle East is a once in a lifetime event. Unfortunately, the United States has put itself in a tricky position with respect to the situation. For much of the past 40 years, the U.S. has supported (or at least not deposed) the very regimes that are now under attack, due to the Cold War, oil, Israel, or other realpolitik reasons. As a result, the U.S. can’t do much during the current events. Supporting the regimes would put the U.S. on the wrong side of democratization and likely on the wrong side of history. Supporting the protesters overtly would strengthen the regimes by giving credence to their claims that the uprisings are of foreign creation. What to do? Not pick a side. Obama, while given a hard time for his foreign policy with respect to Egypt, is doing an excellent job in the region, working backchannels, etc.
Looking towards the future, the new Middle East that will eventually exist once the dust settles will be inherently different than the one we’re used to. It will likely be more anti-American and anti-Israel. It will also hopefully be more democratic and representative of the citizenry. The U.S. will have to deal with this new Middle East, which may include weakening ties with Israel, and supporting more development in North Africa. Finding some alternative fuel sources, as Tom Friedman points out, wouldn’t hurt either. What do you do when democracies (which you support in principle) disagree with you? Western democracies these will not be. It’s a difficult question, one which I certainly don’t have the answer to, but I invite you to weigh in in the comments.