July 25, 2011


The Arab Spring Is Still Alive: Our 'realists' also doubted democracy in Eastern Europe and South Africa. (MATTHEW KAMINSKI, 7/26/11, WSJ)

An AP headline the other day summed up the conventional wisdom: "Arab Spring Stalled." "The stalling" in the Middle East, wrote Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass in the Financial Times the week before, leaves the region "less tolerant, less prosperous and less stable than what existed." Mr. Haass, a leading voice in the realist camp, sounded a nostalgic note for the days the U.S. maintained the Arab status quo together with the Saudi royals. "It will not be springtime any time soon in the Middle East," he concluded.

By this line of thinking, change in the Mideast carries almost exclusively bad consequences (political chaos, empowered Islamists, regional instability) that the U.S. can at best contain--rather than opportunities that Washington might seize to help build better, freer societies and undermine American enemies. Anyone who remembers the debates of the early post-Cold War era may feel the prick of déjà vu.

Before the Obama presidency, George H.W. Bush's administration was the last with pronounced realist leanings, seeing national interest narrowly and minimizing values in foreign policy calculations. To define the "Obama Doctrine" recently, columnist Fareed Zakaria approvingly cited then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel saying that, "If you had to put [President Obama] in a category, he's probably more realpolitik, like Bush 41." The case made by realists such as Mr. Haass, who served on Bush 41's national security council staff, must resonate with a president who's reluctant to assert himself in the Middle East.

One hopes that the disinclination won't be as misplaced and costly today as it was two decades ago. Bush 41 warned of a new era of "despotism" and "suicidal nationalism" in communism's wake, and he pressed to keep the Soviet Union together. Faced with a disintegrating Yugoslavia, his administration decided that, as then-Secretary of State James Baker put it, "we don't have a dog in this fight." Realpolitik meant washing our hands of the hard cases. But only when the U.S. properly engaged in reshaping the world did much of the Soviet camp join a united and free Europe, did the Balkan conflicts end, and did stability, that beloved realist shibboleth, return.

The Arab world begins this journey in no worse shape than did many recent budding democracies, including in Eastern Europe

...only thus can the Realist deny the Declaration.

Posted by at July 25, 2011 9:19 PM

blog comments powered by Disqus