The Arab Spring

09.13.12

The Danger for Obama and a Question for You All

Putting Romney aside for the moment, we should focus on the possible danger lurking in this unrest for Obama. Attacks on embassies and consular offices should lead those who are paid to worry about such things to worry specifically about a replay of Tehran 1979. It's not for nothing that we dispatched an elite group of Marines to Bengazi post haste.

Those of you who've spent three years saying Obama is Jimmy Carter might get your wish here. Of course, that puts you in the position of cheering for Americans to be killed or taken hostage, or at least of reacting to such news by hoping chiefly that it destroys the president. Hope that makes you happy.

Here's a good explainer from Sharron Ward in Foreign Policy about the group behind the Bengazi attacks. And Charlie Pierce is awfully depressed and worried about Yemen.

Now, the question. So a lot of people are saying today, see, we should have stood by old Mubarak, etc. Shallow and stupid nonsense. Go back to Tahrir Square. Nearly everyone, including figures on the right, was exhorting Obama to stand with the people! The only faction that didn't want Obama to be behind the protestors was a small group of Israel Firsters. Other than that, nearly everyone agreed that for the United States to position itself behind a dictator and against a people clamoring for rights that had been denied them for so long. And I do mean denied. That was a brutal and toweringly corrupt regime, and we cannot forget that--a reasonably wealthy country where the per capita income was among the lowest in the world. A horrible place to have the bad luck to be born.

There is no way the United States of America could have stood against those protestors. No way. It was very clear at the time that there was little chance that the voters of Egypt were going to elect some Egyptian Thomas Jefferson, or even Mohammad el Baradei. We knew the Brotherhood was likely to win.

But what could be done? Democracy means democracy. The people have to be able to express their will, and if that's their will, that's their will. Changing their will is the fight before us: showing them that values of tolerance and peaceful dissent and equality and freedom of speech and assembly are the things that will allow their society to prosper. That will take a generation or two. More, probably. Forty or 50 years.

There will be moments when some people will say "wish we still had Mubarak in there." But that's foolish. We've propped up enough dictators. Letting people decide their fate means letting them decide their fate, unless of course their fate has a desire to impose itself on our fate, and then we act, and no one disagrees on that principle. This is something we neither set in motion nor control, and we face the horrible contradiction between the noble and democratic aspirations of the regular people and the ignoble aspirations of the groups that are likely to take advantage of these changes, at least at first. But the country that calls itself the world's beacon of freedom can't possibly stand against the former. Can it?