The best is the enemy of the good, Gen. George S. Patton, Jr. liked to say. The best option for the Muslim states of the Middle East and Western and Central Asia is liberal democracy. That, I have argued for years, is unattainable. For years, the second-best option was a dictatorship friendly to American interests. That option collapsed with the Tunisia uprising a year ago, when it became clear that the dictatorships could not even reward subservience with nutritional security (as I wrote last Feb. 2 under the title, “Food and Failed Arab States“). Sixty years of Nasserite dictatorship left Egypt with 45% illiteracy, unemployed and unemployable youth, and 50% dependency on food imports.
Now the options in Egypt appear to be stable rule by the Muslim Brotherhood, or disintegration. Which benefits American interests more?
The options in Syria are similar: continuing civil war between Muslim Brotherhood-led Sunnis and the Alawite Assad regime. Which do we prefer — a stable ally of Iran, or chaos?
The options in Iraq may come down to a pro-Iranian Shi’ite dictatorship, or a permanent multi-sided ethnic and sectarian civil war. I forecast this outcome (“General Petraeus’ Thirty Years War”) after the United States funded and armed the Sunni Awakening. Again, which is better for the United States: a stable Iranian ally, or perpetual civil war? Outside of the Salafist theme park known as Saudi Arabia, where oil revenues sustain a caricature of traditional society, and a couple of other oil states, that is the question to be asked from North Africa to Afghanistan.