January 27, 2011

READER GREGG MARQUARDT WRITES: “Has anyone suggested that the uprisings we are witnessing in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen are due to the seeds of democracy that Bush planted in Iraq? The left’s reaction to that would be entertaining!”

Unfortunately — and I certainly hope I’m wrong — this may turn out to be a populist Islamist explosion of the sort that better followthrough on the original neocon plans for middle east democracy (then bashed by Kissinger et al. as unrealistic) might have forestalled. Had we pushed the overthrow of tyrannical Arab regimes post-Iraq (as some unsuccessfully urged) there might have been a wave of truly democratic revolutions, with Iraq explicitly the model, leading to Egypt as the “prize.” We are now seeing, at least potentially, such a wave, but the U.S. has been propping up Mubarak — thanks, Joe! — the Saudis, and other despots since we lost our pro-democracy mojo in 2005 after the Cedar Revolution, for reasons that are still not entirely clear. That means the risk that power will coalesce around the only organized groups on the ground — the Islamists — is much greater now than it would have been then, and we are likely to be less favorably perceived. It’s possible, of course, that things will still go well — don’t write off people’s enthusiasm for freedom — but circumstances aren’t as congenial as they might have been.

UPDATE: An excellent point from Stephen Clark:

Unfortunately, Mubarak’s response by cutting off internet communications is likely to hobble the non-Islamist forces in comparison with the better organized Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood has a leadership structure and cadres developed over the decades. Spontaneous democratic forces tend to have no inherent leadership and have of late come to rely heavily on social networking and other web-based communications to function and mobilize. Fragmentation resulting from communication blackouts may render ineffective any numerical superiority non-Islamist forces enjoy to the advantage of numerically inferior but better armed and organized groups like the Brotherhood.

Our government should give some thought to actions that lead to reopening communications over there.

Indeed.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Marian Booker writes: “Egypt off the internet – Does this make you nervous about Obama wanting to have the power to unplug the internet in the US, ‘just in case’?” Well, not any more than I was before. . . .

MORE: Conor Friedersdorf — who was enjoying puberty back then, or something close — thinks this discussion of 2005 is wrong. Well, my blogging then that Iraq wasn’t lost, when his current patron Andrew Sullivan had flipped to saying that it was all over, turned out to be correct, didn’t it? But nothing in the post above suggests that pushing for democracy in 2005 was a guaranteed success, only that we were in a better position then than we are now. For one thing, we had better leadership, and more moral credibility. Also, no Joe Biden issues.