Middle East Climate Change

The New York Times Editorial Board has joined the peace is breaking out all over bandwagon, a week or so after it swept the punditocracy:

It’s not even spring yet, but a long-frozen political order seems to be cracking all over the Middle East. Cautious hopes for something new and better are stirring along the Tigris and the Nile, the elegant boulevards of Beirut, and the impoverished towns of the Gaza Strip. It is far too soon for any certainties about ultimate outcomes. In Iraq, a brutal insurgency still competes for headlines with post-election democratic maneuvering. Yesterday a suicide bomber plowed into a crowd of Iraqi police and Army recruits, killing at least 122 people – the largest death toll in a single such bombing since the American invasion nearly two years ago. And the Palestinian terrorists who blew up a Tel Aviv nightclub last Friday underscored the continuing fragility of what has now been almost two months of steady political and diplomatic progress between Israelis and Palestinians.

Still, this has so far been a year of heartening surprises – each one remarkable in itself, and taken together truly astonishing. The Bush administration is entitled to claim a healthy share of the credit for many of these advances. It boldly proclaimed the cause of Middle East democracy at a time when few in the West thought it had any realistic chance. And for all the negative consequences that flowed from the American invasion of Iraq, there could have been no democratic elections there this January if Saddam Hussein had still been in power. Washington’s challenge now lies in finding ways to nurture and encourage these still fragile trends without smothering them in a triumphalist embrace.

I join Cori Dauber and Dale Franks in welcoming them aboard. Dale notes, as did I recently, the similarities to the fall of Communism starting in 1989.

Democracy tends to spread like wildfire, surprising everyone. It ran across northwestern Europe in the years after the American and French revolutions, swept Latin America in the mid 1980s, and Eastern Europe in the early 1990s. It looks like the mid-2000s will be the era for the Middle East.

Update (0910): Mark Steyn, also citing the Berlin Wall analogy, claims victory for the neo-cons.

Three years ago, those of us in favour of destabilising the Middle East didn’t have to be far-sighted geniuses: it was a win/win proposition. As Sam Goldwyn said, I’m sick of the old clichés, bring me some new clichés. The old clichés – Pan-Arabism, Baathism, Islamism, Arafatism – brought us the sewer that led to September 11. The new clichés could hardly be worse. Even if the old thug-for-life had merely been replaced by a new thug-for-life, the latter would come to power in the wake of the cautionary tale of the former.

But some of us – notably US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz – thought things would go a lot better than that. Wolfowitz was right, and so was Bush, and the Left, who were wrong about the Berlin Wall, were wrong again, the only difference being that this time they were joined in the dunce’s corner of history by far too many British Tories. No surprise there. The EU’s political establishment doesn’t trust its own people, so why would they trust anybody else’s? Bush trusts the American people, and he’s happy to extend the same courtesy to the Iraqi people, the Syrian people, the Iranian people, etc.

Prof Glenn Reynolds, America’s Instapundit, observes that “democratisation is a process, not an event”. Far too often, it’s treated like an event: ship in the monitors, hold the election, get it approved by Jimmy Carter and the UN, and that’s it. Doesn’t work like that. What’s happening in the Middle East is the start of a long-delayed process. Eight million Iraqis did more for the Arab world on January 30 than 7,000 years of Mubarak-pace marching

The actual emergence of democracy sure looks like an event. Sustaining it, however, requires a process.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jack Tanner says:

    ‘It looks like the mid-2000s will be the era for the Middle East. ‘

    Not to be unsupportive but you may be a little premature. Most everyone would love to see it but Iran, Egypt and Syria wouldn’t seem to be all that welcoming.

  2. Ron Wright says:


    See coment at Roger L. Simon’s:

    Link Here

  3. James Joyner says:

    Jack: Neither was the Soviet Union or Nicaragua.

    Syria has already bowed to public pressure in Lebanon. Egypt has already announced elections. Iran is more recalcitrant but, as recent articles have indicated, hardly a lost cause.