It was just eight years ago that George Bush was proclaiming the need for a "freedom agenda" for the Middle East. Now granted, this was mostly Bush's way of trying to tie a ribbon around the turd that was the Iraq War, but it was his clear premise that democracy in the Arab world and in south Asia would be a boon to all including the U.S. and -- one would surmise -- Israel. The Democrats and many other foreign policy realists were criticized during those days by the neo-cons for being insufficiently enthusiastic about democracy for people in the Middle East, were accused in fact of a kind of racist world view for not embracing "Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy" as a mantra for a new golden age.
Now, of course, there has actually been a series of successful uprisings against dictators throughout the Middle East that have occurred not because of American arms, but as a result of a genuine, organic, indigenous process. And these rebellions had the bad taste to arise not during the Bush years, but during the Obama presidency. As a result, our friends on the right are not so keen. This Romney quote from the Chait article to which I linked captures this sentiment with Mitt's priceless incoherence:
The Arab Spring is not appropriately named. It has become a development of more concern and it occurred in part because of the reluctance on the part of various dictators to provide more freedom to their citizens. President [George W.] Bush urged [deposed Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak to move toward a more democratic posture, but President Obama abandoned the freedom agenda and we are seeing today a whirlwind of tumult in the Middle East in part because these nations did not embrace the reforms that could have changed the course of their history, in a more peaceful manner.
It seems that those on the right have moved beyond ambivalence and are now nostalgic for the days of Mubarak and have fallen out of love with the idea of popular democracy in the Middle East.
The reality is that democracy -- or movement in its direction -- was never going to be a panacea in places as troubled as Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and -- when the day blessedly arrives that Bashir Assad is killed, preferably by a wilding mob -- Syria. There is little reason to believe that such countries are in a position to easily transition to places where the rule of law, respect for minority rights, and flourishing civil societies are found. More likely we will see places where periodic elections are held, but the deeper aspects of democratic life will struggle to emerge.
Nonetheless, it seems to me that the United States should support these nascent democracies, however unpredictable their trajectories. We should not, however, expect that the path before them, or us, is going to be a smooth one.