You can barely see it in the popular press, but the global insurrection is going great guns, despite the fecklessness of the so-called Western world. And it’s going great guns in our enemies’ countries, not just in those of our (at least erstwhile) friends.
In Syria, for example, the anti-Assad demonstrations are getting bigger and are explicitly calling for regime change. In Iran, there are ongoing strikes, violent anti-regime demonstrations in the oil regions in the west, adjoining Iraq (think Basra), and continued sabotage of the country’s gas pipelines.
So what does our government do, when faced with a splendid opportunity to advance the cause of freedom, strike a blow at the world’s leading supporter of terrorism, and perhaps even convince waverers around the world that American support is worth something after all?
We tell the Syrian opposition to take a hike, that’s what. As Eli Lake tells us,
The Obama administration has turned down a plea from Syria’s democratic opposition to step up diplomatic pressure on President Bashar Assad, who has violently repressed peaceful anti-government protestsPlease read that again and notice that the Obama administration turned down a plea for DIPLOMATIC pressure on poor Assad.
We should not kid ourselves. In foreign policy, all moral questions are really questions of power.
Unlike the often impenetrable and calibrated language it used in addressing the Arab world, the West’s rhetoric in Eastern Europe was clear and unapologetic. During Ukraine’s second round of elections in November 2004, President George W. Bush sent Senator Richard Lugar as his special envoy. Lugar issued a forceful statement condemning President Leonid Kuchma’s government for election fraud. Soon after, Secretary of State Colin Powell refused to recognize the election results and warned that “if the Ukrainian government does not act immediately and responsibly, there will be consequences for our relationship, for Ukraine’s hopes for a Euro-Atlantic integration, and for individuals responsible for perpetrating fraud.” As political scientist Michael McFaul recounts, the protestors in Maidan Square applauded when Powell’s statement was read.3 Meanwhile, Lech Walesa, Poland’s first democratically elected president, assured the crowd that the West was on their side. The West had aligned itself with revolution.
Instead of challenging the authoritarian status quo, Obama reluctantly accepted it. In his historic Cairo University address of June 2009, he promised a “new beginning.” Instead, the Obama administration moved to rebuild relationships—frayed from Bush’s democracy posturing—with Egyptian President Mubarak and other autocrats.
President Obama got one thing right—the centrality of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict to Arab grievance—but he got another wrong: that conflict was not, nor had it ever been, the most important problem facing the region. But pursuing peace seemed a more promising course than trying to refashion American foreign policy into a force for something—Arab democracy—it had actively resisted the previous five decades. The U.S. needed, or thought it needed, the support of ‘moderate’ Arab regimes to push the peace process forward. What Obama did, albeit unwittingly, was remove the U. S. from its central place in the ongoing Arab conversation over democracy.
America’s unwillingness to align itself with democratic forces was not, it seemed, a matter of one president over another, but a structural problem inherent in U.S. foreign policy.
The optimism over the [Obama] Cairo speech quickly subsided. Somehow, in several Arab countries, U.S. favorability ratings dropped lower under President Obama than they were in the final years of the George W. Bush administration.
Arabs kept on waiting for America to change its policy and divest itself of dictatorship. It never did. So they did. In doing so, they are forcing the U.S. to reconsider five decades of a failed, and failing, policy in the Middle East.
It would be a mistake, though, to conclude that international factors are now irrelevant. In the cases of Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, international pressure, whether from governments or citizens moved by what they saw on television, played a critical role in undermining support for regimes that just months before were thought by many to be invulnerable.