Regular Via Meadia readers know that the Arab Spring has been a lot messier than the starry-eyed press portrayals that accompanied its advent. From repression of minorities, to marginalization of liberals, to disempowerment of women, to an alarming rise in the political power of Islamists and anti-semites, the revolutions sweeping the Arab world have not proved to be the promised portent of freedom, democracy and world peace. In most cases, the jury is still out–as Henry Kissinger reminds us in The Washington Post:
The Arab Spring is widely presented as a regional, youth-led revolution on behalf of liberal democratic principles. Yet Libya is not ruled by such forces; it hardly continues as a state. Neither is Egypt, whose electoral majority (possibly permanent) is overwhelmingly Islamist. Nor do democrats seem to predominate in the Syrian opposition. The Arab League consensus on Syria is not shaped by countries previously distinguished by the practice or advocacy of democracy. Rather, it largely reflects the millennium-old conflict between Shiite and Sunni and an attempt to reclaim Sunni dominance from a Shiite minority. It is also precisely why so many minority groups, such as Druzes, Kurds and Christians, are uneasy about regime change in Syria.
The confluence of many disparate grievances avowing general slogans is not yet a democratic outcome… The more fragmented a society grows, the greater the temptation to foster unity by appeals to a vision of a merged nationalism and Islamism targeting Western values.
The people of each of the countries involved are slowly figuring out how to chart their new course, and we in the US will not always be enamored of their choices. In the end, as Kissinger rightly notes, “The revolution will have to be judged by its destination, not its origin; its outcome, not its proclamations.” That is a sobering but necessary insight for any future US foreign policy in the region.
It would be a lovely world if America’s foreign policy problems were dissolved in waves of good feeling as democrats everywhere threw off their chains and embraced American ideas and values as their own. For the time being, however, we probably should make foreign policy on the assumption that this won’t be happening anytime soon.