I think revolution in Iran was possible, and that vigorous support from us would have greatly increased the odds for success (indeed, I think we could and should do it now). If that had happened, the whole world would have changed dramatically. Terrorists, from al Qaida to Hezbollah–Sunnis and Shi’ites–would have been gravely, perhaps fatally, weakened. The appeal of radical Islam would have diminished, and therefore the Muslim Brotherhood would have been less likely to topple Mubarak.
I also think that the anti-radical forces in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere could have been more effective with American political, economic and technological support. Condoleezza Rice gave a couple of excellent speeches along these lines, but action was pathetic. Hillary also gave a few speeches, often pretending that we really were supporting pro-democracy groups (but she couldn’t talk about it, you know). There was no there there.
So nothing was set in stone. We could have acted, but we didn’t, and when we did, our actions were either misguided or inadequate. Syria is a fine case in point. It may well be that, had we acted promptly to support the defectors from Assad’s army–the breakaway “Free Syrian Army”–along with the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, the Baathist regime would have fallen, and we would have been in a strong position in Damascus. Instead, Obama dithered, permitting the jihadis to organize themselves, infiltrate the FSA, and strengthen the iron fists of Iran and Russia.
Could we not have done better? Maybe not, but we didn’t try, not because of misguided romanticism about Arabs, and not only because of a refusal to see Islamic radicalism as the terrible force it is. It’s much worse than that, in fact. In Syria, as elsewhere, a large war is being waged, and the United States is the ultimate target. It’s not just the jihadis, Russians and ayatollahs. It includes the Chinese, the Venezuelans, the Qataris, a large chunk of the Saudis, along with Bolivians, Ecuadorians and Nicaraguans. Most of our pundits and policy makers never acknowledge this global conflict, and the Obama administration is slashing our military and paramilitary capabilities instead of designing and conducting a winning strategy.
There is no escape from this war. Our enemies believe they are winning, and will not back off. As Mead rightly insists, we should try to learn from history, and we’d do well to start by acknowledging that there are real enemies out there, that we have to protect ourselves, and that support for democratic revolution is one very effective weapon against them.