Routing America's Iran Policy Past the Arab Street

In other words, WikiLeaks tells us little beyond what many already surmised -- that a nuclear Iran disturbs some of our fair-weather Arab friends, but not their publics.

Does that leave U.S. interests and the goal of democratic change in the Middle East in conflict?

No -- unless we take the simplistic view that, because we want a more liberal, humane Middle East, we need to defer to whatever point of view emerges from its streets.

This is something we can’t always do even with our closest friends. Can we expect to do it when we have little in common with societies that are illiberal and angry -- and kept that way by their governments?

To think that we can is to make the same mistake the Bush administration did in Iraq and the Palestinian Authority, to name two examples, by prioritizing means (elections, constitutions, referenda) over ends (civil society, political and religious pluralism).

Pluralism and civil society must precede democracy, not the other way round. A pluralistic, civil society is less likely to hate America, loathe our military presence, or be brainwashed into obsessing about Israel. Yet the U.S. can’t suspend its vital interests until this evolution occurs. Nor can the U.S. make their attainment conditional on the endorsement of the Arab street.