"Oh, it's a long, long while from May to December/But the days grow short when you reach September/ When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame/ One hasn't got time for the waiting game." -- Maxwell Anderson, September Song, 1938
In his speech on the Middle East Thursday, President Obama greeted the arrival of spring in the Arab world with enthusiasm. His prescriptions for achieving Arab-Israeli peace, however, leave the Palestinians once again stalled between seasons.[I] Although the President characterized the transformations sweeping the region as a "story of self-determination" and lauded the courage of Arab citizens who had "taken their future into their own hands," he took a dim view of efforts to pursue international recognition of Palestinian statehood this fall. According to Obama, "Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state." Instead of taking their future into their own hands, Obama suggested, Palestinians should continue down the path of negotiation with the Netanyahu government, however futile talks might seem.
What Obama seems unwilling to acknowledge is that the protest movements across the region and the drive for Palestinian statehood have more in common than just the anxiety they are producing in Israel. They are also premised on a similar impulse. No less than the Tunisians, Egyptians, Bahrainis, Libyans, Syrians, and Yemenis who have revolted against autocratic regimes, what the 4 million Palestinians living under Israeli occupation are seeking is the freedom to govern themselves. For them, independence means more than a seat at the Unuted Nations General Aassembly (UNGA). It means being able to decide where in their country they will live, work, and worship. It means knowing that their government is able to keep them safe. And it means having a say in how their country's resources are used and distributed.
Twenty-four years ago, U.S. President Ronald Reagan gave a stirring speech in Berlin on the cusp of the end of the cold war. At the Brandenburg Gate near the Berlin Wall, long the symbol of the Iron Curtain caste by communism, President Reagan beseeched the leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, to "tear down this wall." Not that Gorbachev needed any prodding because he had already realized the inevitability of the collapse of the Soviet system. But with international encouragement and tangible support, Gorbachev engaged in the process of glasnost and perestroika, an opening up and restructuring of the Soviet Union. He was one of those singular leaders who first recognized and then seized the moment, and his legacy in engendering transformational change is safe and secure in the history books, even though the change he wrought eventually meant his own fall from power from the democratic processes he launched.
With perhaps less drama-and less gravitas-President Barack Obama, in his speech on May 19 laying out his vision of US policy at another potential turning point in history, in effect has asked Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to do the same thing. Commenting on countries that have experienced some level of an Arab spring in the region, when he came to Syria he said that Assad now has a choice: He can "lead the transition [toward democracy] or get out of the way."
LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images
The United States may not be able to propose solutions for all the Middle East, but it can prescribe the course of events unfolding in some Arab Spring countries. Case in point: Bahrain.
After thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators took to the streets in the small Gulf kingdom earlier this year, the Bahraini government's response was brutal and systematic: shoot civilian protesters, detain and torture them, and erase all evidence. On the frontline, treating hundreds of these wounded civilians, doctors gained firsthand knowledge of these abuses.
As part of a Physicians for Human Rights investigation in Bahrain last month, Dr. Nizam Peerwani and I conducted in-depth interviews with 47 medical workers, patients, and other eyewitnesses to human rights violations. We corroborated these testimonies by conducting physical examinations of beaten and tortured protesters and by examining their medical records and X-rays. We also investigated four suspicious deaths in custody.
Europe and America have shared a settled conviction over the last decades: It is that Israel, out of its own necessity, must seek to conserve a Jewish majority within Israel. And that with time, and a growing Palestinian population, Israel will at some point have to acquiesce to a Palestinian state in order to maintain that Jewish majority: that is, only by giving Palestinians their own state and thereby shedding a part of the Palestinians it controls, can Israel's Jewish majority be preserved.
This simple proposition has given us the security-first doctrine: Meeting Israel's self-definition of its own security needs -- it is presumed -- stands as the unique and sufficient principle, allowing Israel to transition with confidence to the two-state solution.
But Israel has not done this -- despite many opportunities over the last 19 years -- and does not seem any more disposed to "give" a Palestinian state now. Seldom is it asked why, if the logic is indeed so compelling, have two states not emerged?
What is the definition of an American ally? On an ideological level, an ally is a country that shares America's values, reflects its founding spirit, and resonates with its people's beliefs. Tactically, an ally stands with the United States through multiple conflicts and promotes its global vision. From its location at one strategic crossroads, an ally enhances American intelligence and defense capabilities, and provides ports and training for U.S. forces. Its army is formidable and unequivocally loyal to its democratic government. An ally helps secure America's borders and assists in saving American lives on and off the battlefield. And an ally stimulates the U.S. economy through trade, technological innovation, and job creation.
Few countries fit this description, but Israel is certainly one of them. As U.S. President Barack Obama told a White House gathering, "The United States has no better friend in the world than Israel," a statement reflecting the positions of Democrats and Republicans alike. The importance of the U.S.-Israel alliance has been upheld by successive American administrations and consistently endorsed by lawmakers and military leaders. It should be unimpeachable. But for some it is not.
We don't know when Gaddafi will finally fall or accept a ceasefire that could pave the way for his exit. But we can be confident that, whatever the Colonel's fate, he'll leave Libya in an unholy mess. Cities have been pummeled by artillery bombardments and refugees cluster on the Tunisian and Egyptian borders. The tribal political settlement that underpinned Gaddafi's rule has broken down. The rebels have armed thousands of ill-disciplined young men who may not lay down their arms willingly.
In these circumstances, there will be no easy transition to peace. In Egypt, where the revolution was comparatively straightforward, the fall of Mubarak has been followed by ongoing unrest and religious violence. There may well be an even bloodier period of score-settling in Libya, possibly comparable to the wave of Albanian attacks on Serbs after NATO forced Slobodan Milosevic out of Kosovo in 1999.
It's almost certain that some sort of international peacekeeping force will be required to stabilize the situation. At the London conference on Libya at the end of March, Hillary Clinton and her colleagues asked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to start stabilization planning. What options does he have?
During his 42 years in power, Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi's unpredictable behavior has become the stuff of legend. But on one issue Qaddafi was remarkably consistent: He was unrelentingly obsessed with purchasing a massive arsenal of weapons from whoever was offering them. As a result, much of Libya resembles one vast arms bazaar -- a museum of curiosities for arms inspectors, and a gallery of horror for those concerned about the safety of civilians. With the collapse of Qaddafi's control in eastern Libya, vast amounts of weapons and munitions are now up for grabs, often to whoever gets there first.
I have been traveling around eastern Libya for most of the past six weeks, since the first days of the regime's collapse, trying to establish a record of the ongoing human rights abuses in the country. Human Rights Watch has been investigating the large-scale killings of protesters by Qaddafi's forces in February, as well as the more recent possible forced disappearance of hundreds of people into the custody of Qaddafi's fighters at the front. Reporting from eastern Libya has been a roller-coaster ride: I have witnessed the euphoria of the uprising's early days, as Libyans celebrated their newfound freedom, to the despair of just a few weeks ago as Qaddafi's forces were once again at the gates of Benghazi. For many in eastern Libya now coming to grips with the limitations of their own untrained and unskilled rebels, the future remains uncertain. For these people, there is no middle ground -- either the rebellion succeeds, or they face certain death if Qaddafi regains control of the East.
MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images
In the shadow of the extraordinary events under way in the Middle East, Djibouti's presidential vote was always going to struggle for attention. Indeed, the plight of this tiny country, sandwiched between Somalia and Yemen, remains almost completely ignored. But as the primary seaport to 85 million landlocked Ethiopians, the center of anti-piracy efforts in the Horn of Africa, and a reliable Western ally in the war on terror, Djibouti is a strategically vital country in an unstable neighborhood.
And with Nigeria's potentially tumultuous national vote coming this week, the relative quiet of the Djiboutian electoral process, which culminated with a ballot on April 8, might be considered a pleasant surprise compared with the electoral chaos of Africa's largest democracy. Djibouti boasts fewer than a million inhabitants -- voters in one district of the Nigerian city of Lagos outnumber its entire electoral roll.
SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images
Two months ago, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad famously told the Wall Street Journal that he had nothing to fear from the wave of popular protests convulsing the Arab world because his government reflects "the beliefs of the people." While his boast was surely disingenuous, his confidence appeared quite genuine. Notwithstanding the recent spate of mass demonstrations and violent government reprisals in Syria that have left more than 100 people dead, Assad's ability to weather this storm should not be underestimated.
If grievances alone could bring down governments, Assad would be in a world of trouble. Most Syrians suffer from the same economic hardships that have fueled popular uprisings in other Arab countries (high unemployment, rising cost of living, rampant corruption, and so on) while their political and civil liberties have been violated in greater measure. Adding insult to injury for Syria's large Sunni Muslim majority, the ruling elite is dominated by Alawites, an Islamic sect comprising roughly 12 percent of the population.
ANWAR AMRO/AFP/Getty Images
The way the United States and its allies have intervened in Libya has placed them on a dangerously slippery slope. Air power alone has not protected Libyan civilians, the declared objective in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorized the military intervention. Nor have the rebels proved capable of making significant advances against Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces. To effectively enforce the Security Council resolution, the coalition would need to put combat air controllers, advisors, and trainers on the ground -- steps it appears unwilling to take. Where does that leave the coalition when it comes to developing a coherent war strategy? Mostly empty-handed.
I've learned a thing or two about using force to attain strategic aims in my 37 years in the U.S. Army. I've had command positions in three interventions -- Haiti, Bosnia, and Iraq. My last was as a senior commanding general in Iraq in charge of accelerating the growth of the Iraqi security forces during the surge period in 2007 and 2008.
This week, in response to the highly publicized murder of a Jewish family in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, a group of 27 U.S. senators signed a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to press Palestinian leaders to end "incitement directed against Jews and Israel within the Palestinian media, mosques, and schools." According to the letter, the grisly killings in Itamar (for which no suspects, Palestinian or otherwise, have been identified), "is a sobering reminder that words matter, and that Palestinian incitement against Jews and Israel can lead to violence and terror."
As evidence for the allegation of pervasive anti-Jewish incitement in Palestinian society, the letter cites a recent, official ceremony honoring Delal Mughrabi, a perpetrator of the 1978 coastal road massacre in Israel, as well as a payment of financial compensation made by the Palestinian Authority to the family of a deceased terror suspect.
Such actions are deserving of condemnation. But if it is indeed the case that "words matter" -and if the elimination of violent and dehumanizing rhetoric is, as the letter says, "critical to establishing the conditions [for] a secure and lasting peace"-then what can explain the senators' silence on the veritable carnival of hate and racist incitement against Arabs and Palestinians that has lately engulfed Israeli society?
The Palestinian leadership seems to have given up on negotiations with the Netanyahu government and is obviously moving towards seeking recognition for a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, possibly in September this year. Most pundits believe that they will muster a substantial majority in the UN General Assembly.
Israel's foreign ministry has now informed the members of the Security Council as well as a number of European countries that it will react to this Palestinian move with a series of unilateral steps. There are indications that these might include the annexation of some major settlement blocs in the West Bank.
What on earth is this move supposed to achieve? Is it intended to frighten the Palestinians, the UN, or the EU? Does the foreign minister expect the international community to meekly accept Israel's annexation and immediately to stop the process of recognizing the Palestinian state?
In September 2007, U.S. soldiers raided a desert encampment outside the town of Sinjar in northwest Iraq, looking for insurgents. Amid the tents, they made a remarkable discovery: a trove of personnel files -- more than 700 in all -- detailing the origins of the foreign fighters al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) had brought into the country to fight against coalition forces.
The Sinjar records -- which we analyzed extensively in a series of reports for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center -- revealed that at least 111 Libyans entered Iraq between August 2006 and August 2007. That was about 18 percent of AQI's incoming fighters during that period, a contribution second only to Saudi Arabia's (41 percent) and the highest number of fighters per capita than any other country noted in the records.
While US and international attention is focused largely elsewhere in the region, especially Libya, the violent crackdown against protestors in the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain may well pose a bigger threat to the entire region's stability. The Bahrain situation is exposing long simmering tensions and rivalries between Saudi Arabia and Iran and carries the danger that it will trigger the next regional war. Such a scenario would likely draw in the United States at a time when its relationships with key allies in the region, especially Saudi Arabia, are under strain. Urgent action is therefore needed to de-escalate the situation in Bahrain and create the trust necessary for the government and opposition to start a much delayed national dialogue that charts the future of the country.
Worryingly, a senior unidentified Saudi official has described the mission of Saudi and other GCC troops to support the Bahraini security forces as "open-ended." A three month state of emergency has led to a campaign of house raids and arrests that have included the leaders of the main opposition parties, as well as human rights activists and other dissidents. There are also mounting concerns that these combined security forces are using disproportionate force and committing serious violations of international law and humanitarian law. The space for dialogue seems to be rapidly closing.
In the days ahead, we are likely to see a deepening of the culture of resistance in Bahrain. In particular, calls for dialogue to establish a constitutional monarchy may be swept away by more radical groups and the combative youth that increasingly supports them. Further radicalization of Bahrainis seems inevitable the longer the current impasse lasts, carrying with it the real danger that the country will be mired in a full blown civil war.
As the United States and its European allies launch attacks against the regime of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddhafi, it seems almost poignant that this third military intervention in a Muslim country in the last decade began nearly eight years to the day that the United States invaded Iraq. It is a fitting reminder that even as 50,000 soldiers remain in Iraq, and American soldiers continue to be killed and maimed there, the lessons of that disastrous decision to go to war remain largely unlearned by many in the foreign policy community.
At the outset it's important to acknowledge the key differences in the manner in which these interventions have been undertaken and the differing levels of international and regional legitimacy that they possess. But it is the similarities that are more disquieting. The U.S. has yet again become involved in a military effort of indeterminate length, justified through a questionable definition of national interest and with little forethought to the long-term consequences of utilizing military force. It seems the costs and consequences of Iraq have simply not been fully appreciated by policymakers and pundits. A full accounting is therefore in order.
Thursday's U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorizes international intervention into Libya to protect civilians, is the first time the world has pursued humanitarian intervention in the 21st century. The resolution calls for "all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country," and indeed, British and French diplomats said this morning that they are now fueling jets to enforce a no fly zone. Speaking in a televised address this afternoon, U.S. President Barack Obama also explained his position largely in humanitarian terms: If the world failed to intervene, he said, "The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun. Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow."
That's one reading of the events unfolding in Washington, London, and Paris. But there's also a more cynical view: that the intervention, centered on the enforcement of a no fly zone, is too little too late. And that's if you agree that the United States and its allies should be involved in the first place. Foreign involvement could play into Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi's hands, other analysts worry, giving him an excuse to strike harder against the now Western-backed rebels.
PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images
When the famed author Paul Bowles first caught a glimpse of Morocco, he quickly became convinced it was a "magic place."
The Moroccan government long ago embraced this fantasy, selling itself as a bastion of calm in a troubled region, the Arab world's model of reform. And American policymakers bought it. In sentiments repeated regularly by her successors, Madeleine Albright called the North African kingdom a "leader in democratic reform" -- boasting that "other countries are moving in the right direction, but Morocco is showing the way."
If Morocco's political system was our model all this time, then perhaps our standards were too low. Having the least-worst record of democratization in the region should never have been enough. Every time the U.S. government lavished praise on Morocco, we sent a message to all Arab citizens: This was the most they should ever hope for.
Two-thousand Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) troops, most of them from Saudi Arabia, entered Bahrain on Monday -- ostensibly to provide security to government installations "threatened" by protestors. In fact, such a show of force, with more troops on the way, is an attempt by the Saudi-led GCC to stiffen the resolve of the ruling house in Bahrain to put down the democracy protests if need be with force. The violence unleashed by the Bahraini army and police against peaceful protestors on Tuesday was the direct outcome of the Saudi/GCC military intervention.
Various interpretations have been put forward as to the reasons behind the Saudi-led military intervention. These include pre-empting the emergence of a pro-Iranian, Shia-dominated government in Bahrain and tilting the balance in favor of the hard-line faction among the al-Khalifa and against the more moderate faction allegedly led by the crown prince.
One thousand "lightly armed" Saudi troops and an unspecified number of troops from the United Arab Emirates entered Bahrain on the morning of March 14, in a bid to end the country's monthlong political crisis. They are reportedly heading for the town of Riffa, the stronghold of the ruling Khalifa family. The troops' task, apparently, is to protect the oil installations and basic infrastructure from the demonstrators.
The Arab intervention marks a dramatic escalation of Bahrain's political crisis, which has pitted the country's disgruntled Shiite majority against the Sunni ruling family -- and has also been exacerbated by quarrels between hard-liners and liberals within the Khalifa clan. The clashes between protesters and government forces worsened over the weekend, when the security services beat back demonstrators trying to block the highway to the capital of Manama's Financial Harbor. The protesters' disruption of the harbor, which was reportedly purchased by the conservative Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa for one dinar, was an important symbolic gesture by the opposition.
JAMES LAWLER DUGGAN/AFP/Getty Images
As any U.S. Marine can tell you, America's first overseas military intervention occurred in what is now Libya. The United States eventually carried the day, won release of its hostages, and the ruler of Tripoli ultimately gave up piracy and hostage-taking. But the operation could hardly be called a glorious success. Interventions can have costs. After the fledgling U.S. naval squadron blockaded Tripoli harbor in 1803, the frigate Philadelphia was captured. Eventually, Stephen Decatur famously scuttled the ship but one would have to observe that this was not an unvarnished victory. Nor was the fact that the U.S. had to ransom its hostages. Finally in 1805, William Eaton led his force of eight Marines and 500 mercenaries across the desert to "the shores of Tripoli" to carry out regime change, but they only got as far as Derna, east of Benghazi. Although a bit short of their destination, they still were able to persuade the Pasha to sue for peace.
If there is any lesson to be learned from this curious episode, it might be that foreign interventions can be messy. No wonder Thomas Jefferson and John Adams argued about the utility of military force in dealing with overseas problems. 181 years later in 1986, President Ronald Reagan -- provoked by Muammar al-Qadhafi's nefarious (indeed murderous) activities in Europe and elsewhere -- ordered an air attack on Tripoli and Benghazi. Two years later, Libyan agents (who may not have been acting alone) brought down Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people. Today, once again, we are debating the merits of intervening in Libya.
Let's face it: Hosni Mubarak was a strategic asset to the United States. He ensured access to the Suez Canal, upheld the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, and kept the Islamists down. He also presided over a foul regime that abused its citizens and violated every principle that Americans hold dear. The fact that the United States supported this now-discredited government for three decades is not lost on Egyptians. And it shouldn't be lost on Washington, either, as it attempts to forge a new relationship with Cairo.
Washington has a long wish list for the new Egypt. Despite its baggage-laden history with the country, the United States wants Egypt to be democratic, economically successful, and a reliable ally. It wants Cairo to regain its luster as a regional leader so that it may bring its considerable diplomatic weight to bear as an interlocutor on Arab-Israeli affairs and a counterweight to Iran's regional ambitions. The United States also wants Egypt to serve as a model for political reform, inspiring countries throughout the Arab world toward a more just political order. This ambitious vision is unlikely to be fully realized, but if Egyptians achieve only a portion of their revolutionary aspirations, the Middle East will be a better place.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Israelis, like most Jews, worry for a living. The dark side of Jewish history and the security challenges of their national life compel them to. And these days there's plenty to worry about. Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and turbulent changes in the Arab world unleashed by the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia are shifting the power balance against Israel. Indeed, its position in the neighborhood -- in part as a consequence of its own policies -- is growing increasingly precarious.
But Israel, and particularly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is also worried about something else: How will their close ally in Washington, particularly President Barack Obama, react to this tumultuous Arab Spring. Will he race to coddle and court the new Arab democrats, doing so at Israel's expense? Is a big American peace initiative coming, one designed to pre-empt further radicalization in the region that will require big concessions from Israel?
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
More than 12 people were killed by security forces in a single day. Activists and journalists were harassed and arrested. A curfew was put in place and neither satellite television stations nor trucks carrying water and food were allowed near the protestors. One would think this occurred in Cairo or in Sana'a, but would be mistaken. This is Iraq.
After the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, many approving pundits in the West portrayed Iraq as a country that had been freed and which was now a "fledgling" democracy. Eight years later, that proposition is being put to a real test. Protests against permeating political corruption and unbearable living conditions began on February 3 and reached their highest point so far on February 25, a "Day of Anger."
With the rumblings of fresh protests in Tehran after over a year of relative quiet from the opposition, some members of the US congress, along with several other former officials, appear to be again dreaming of the possibility of a post-theocratic Iran. One significant sign is their renewed push to have the People's Mojahedin of Iran (also known as the MEK) removed from the State Departments list of designated foreign terrorist organizations. Echoing this sentiment last month, former Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli of New Jersey, in an event designed to raise support for the MEK's removal from terror list, asked the audience, "Is it even possible to oppose a terrorist state, and be a terrorist yourself?"
No matter how one looks at that question, the answer must be a resounding "yes." MEK is a non-state organization that, at regular intervals over the years, has taken pride in attacks that have left innocent civilians dead. In the lexicon of our times that qualifies as terrorism. With their designation as a terrorist organization currently under review, the larger issue is not just whether the MEK is engaged in terrorism at the moment, but that if the organization is further legitimated by U.S. policy makers, it will prove to be yet another disastrous read by the U.S. government.
BAGHDAD — The only way to get to Baghdad's Tahrir Square -- yes, it has one too -- on Feb. 25 was to walk. It was a treat to stride down roads usually solid with traffic, but the silent city also felt ominous. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had warned that the long-planned "Day of Rage" protests would be infiltrated by al Qaeda and remnants of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime, and imposed a ban on all vehicles within city limits to reduce the risk of car bombs. Religious leaders warned people to stay away, while security officials made doom-laden predictions of violence. Most people were too scared to venture outside.
The hush throughout Baghdad made the clamor in Tahrir Square seem all the louder. Thousands of demonstrators had walked for miles to gather there, not even bothering to go to Friday prayers first. They were mostly men -- some university graduates, others day laborers, but all with the same grievances. We have no electricity and no water, scant job opportunities, and our politicians are liars and thieves, they said. They flung themselves against the blast walls blocking the entrance to the Green Zone, a symbol of the distant and unaccountable elite that they were raging against.
Photo by Getty Images
Since February 11 when Mubarak stepped down, the Supreme Military Council, which has assumed leadership of Egypt's affairs until such time as free elections are held, has repeatedly and thus far unsuccessfully called on Egyptians to "return to work." It has even threatened to take action against striking workers in the name of national security. The civilian middle-class revolutionaries also seem to be insisting that the striking workers "return to work." Even Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, in his February 18 Tahrir khutba before hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, urged striking workers to go home, stating that it is impossible for all demands to be met immediately and counselling them to be patient.
This is above all a moment of new possibilities in the Arab world, and indeed in the entire Middle East. We have not witnessed such a turning point for a very long time. Suddenly, once insuperable obstacles seem surmountable. Despotic regimes that have been entrenched across the Arab world for two full generations are suddenly vulnerable. Two of the most formidable among them -- in Tunis and Cairo -- have crumbled before our eyes in a matter of a few weeks. Another in Tripoli, one of the most brutal and repressive, is tottering at this moment. The old men who dominate so many of these countries suddenly look their age, and the distance between the rulers and the vast majorities of their populations born 40 or 50 or 60 years after them has never been greater. An apparently frozen political and social situation has melted almost overnight in the heat of the popular upsurge that took over the towns and cities first of Tunisia and then of Egypt, and which is now spreading to other Arab countries. We are privileged to be experiencing what may well be a world historical moment, when what once seemed to be fixed verities vanish and new potentials and forces emerge.
The same mainstream Western media that habitually conveys a picture of a region peopled almost exclusively by enraged, bearded terrorist fanatics who "hate our freedom" has begun to show images of ordinary people peacefully making eminently reasonable demands for freedom, dignity, social justice, accountability, the rule of law, and democracy. Arab youth at the end of the day have been shown to have hopes and ideals not that different from those of the young people who helped bring about democratic transitions in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and South, Southeast, and East Asia.
Jeane Kirkpatrick was angry.
In August 1997, I visited the retired diplomat at her spacious corner office at the American Enterprise Institute. "I guess they thought it was worth publishing," she spluttered. What had got her so steamed was my allusion to a recent philippic Robert Kagan had published in Commentary called "Democracies and Double Standards."
In his article, Kagan repudiated Kirkpatrick's famous 1979 essay "Dictatorships & Double Standards" in the same journal, which denounced U.S. President Jimmy Carter and caught the eye of his successor Ronald Reagan, who appointed her ambassador to the United Nations. As Kirkpatrick saw it, Carter had hustled the Shah of Iran and the leader of Nicaragua, both of them pro-American autocrats, out of office. The results were disastrous. Friendly authoritarians were gone; true totalitarians were taking over in both places. While authoritarian regimes of the right could mellow over time into democracies, totalitarians ones of the left would not. Anyway, it required "decades, if not centuries," she observed, for "people to acquire the necessary disciplines and habits" to create a viable democracy.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
We take billionaire financier George Soros up on the bet he proffered to CNN's Fareed Zakaria this week that "the Iranian regime will not be there in a year's time." In fact, we want to up the ante and wager that not only will the Islamic Republic still be Iran's government in a year's time, but that a year from now, the balance of influence and power in the Middle East will be tilted more decisively in Iran's favor than it ever has been.
Just a decade ago, on the eve of the 9/11 attacks, the United States had cultivated what American policymakers like to call a strong "moderate" camp in the region, encompassing states reasonably well-disposed toward a negotiated peace with Israel and strategic cooperation with Washington: Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf states, as well as Morocco, Tunisia, and Turkey. On the other side, the Islamic Republic had an alliance of some standing with Syria, as well as ties to relatively weak militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. Other "radical" states like Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Muammar al-Qaddafi's Libya were even more isolated.
ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images
Last Sunday, with violence mounting as the Libyan government unleashed elements of its security apparatus to put down the uprising against the 40-plus-year reign of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi, Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi -- the colonel's son and heir apparent -- took to Libyan television to deliver a rambling speech threatening civil war and the potential takeover of Libya by militant Islamists. As I heard the reports of the younger Qaddafi's speech, I was puzzled -- were these the same militant Islamists the government had released from the notorious Abu Salim prison under a program of rehabilitation sponsored by none other than Saif al-Islam himself?
Along with a number of international experts and researchers, I traveled to Libya in March 2010 for a three-day public relations tour on the dime of the Qaddafi Foundation, the quasi-governmental organization headed by Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi. The ostensible purpose of the trip was a conference on the terrorist deradicalization and rehabilitation program the foundation runs for imprisoned members of an al Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. But what I and the other academics and think tankers assembled in Tripoli were really there for was the hard sell of Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi and the "new Libya" he supposedly represented.
The Middle East Channel offers unique analysis and insights on this diverse and vital region of more than 400 million.