Day By Day

Monday, January 31, 2011

What a Difference A Few Years Makes

Just a few years ago Democrats were all foreign policy "realists" avidly denouncing those naive "neo-cons" who insisted on regime change in the Middle East. Stability, they argued, should be the primary goal of U. S. policy in the region and they phoo-phooed Bush administration arguments that support for repressive regimes only bred anti-Americanism, the primary example being Al Qaeda.

Well, now there is a Democrat in the White House and a second wave of democratic turmoil is sweeping through the Arab world and, mirable dictu, Democrats are lining up to say the very thing that, just a few years ago, they denounced Republicans for saying. Writing in Slate Anne Applebaum argues:

Politicians like stability. Bankers like stability. But the "stability" we have so long embraced in the Arab world wasn't really stability. It was repression. The benign dictators we have supported, or anyway tolerated—the Zine al-Abidine Ben Alis, the Hosni Mubaraks, the various kings and princes—have stayed in power by preventing economic development, clamping down on free speech, keeping tight control of education, and above all by stamping down hard on anything resembling civil society. Every year, more books are translated into Greek—a language spoken by 11 million people—than into Arabic, a language spoken by more than 220 million. Independent organizations of all kinds, from political parties and private businesses to women's groups and academic societies have been watched, harassed, or banned altogether.

The result: Egypt, like many Arab societies, has a wealthy and well-armed elite at the top and a fanatical and well-organized Islamic fundamentalist movement at the bottom. In between lies a large and unorganized body of people who have never participated in politics, whose business activities have been limited by corruption and nepotism, and whose access to the outside world has been hampered by stupid laws and suspicious bureaucrats.
So suddenly democracy promotion is a good thing and should become the guiding principle of American Middle East policy. What a difference a few years have made!

I guess somebody owes Paul Wolfowitz or even Dubya an apology. But don't hold your breath.

Read it here.

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