Friday, January 14, 2011


This primarily Muslim nation in North Africa just drove out their autocratic leader. Americans, still reeling from Tuscon, may not know what to make of this, but Hillary Clinton fairly spells it out:

"While some countries have made great strides in governance, in many others, people have grown tired of corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order," she said. She appealed for leaders to heed calls to rein in rampant graft and offer all of their people a better way of life.

"Those who cling to the status quo may be able to hold back the full impact of their countries' problems for a little while, but not forever," Clinton said. "If leaders don't offer a positive vision and give young people meaningful ways to contribute, others will fill the vacuum."

This is one of the most mature statements I've heard an American Secretary of State make about the Middle East in almost a decade, and it fairly sums up the situation. How does it affect the United States? Because some of those "others" filling the vaccum happened to be Osama bin Laden.

For a long, long time, the United States ended up supporting too many anti-Democracy autocrats in charge of oil-rich Arab nations in the Middle East. Our intention was strategic control of oil, and democratic institutions might have threatened that. Better to engage a client autocrat to keep the communists at bay than foster democratic sentiment and give them a chance to change government through voting.

In the absence of political enfranchisement, the populations turned to the "others," those selling false religious fundamentalism, that could not be effectively controlled by these nation's autocratic rulers.

Our greatest failures? Our support for the Shah of Iran, our support for the Mujahedeen in Afganistan and our support for Saddam Hussien in Iraq. All decisions which have cost American lives, and have been doing so for decades.

What will happen in Tunisia? Hopefully, a liberalization will occur, and this nation will get to embark on their own experiment with self-government. Hopefully, they will never have to experience a rash of political suicides and riots that come along with internal unrest and self-propelled regime change. Hopefully, the people who just gave their blood for economic and political liberty will not surrender that liberty to tyrants of a religious stripe.

Back home, failed neoconservatives - architects of our failures in Iraq, Iran and Afganistan - will point to the recent and ongoing Iraq war as the catalyst for the Tunisian revlot. "See!" They will say, "that's what happens when democracy is spread."

Do not heed their words, for we do not know how Tunisia will reinvent herself, and we know from experience that neocons would have rather played ball with a corrupt autocrat than with a messy but vibrant democracy. This is what happens when the people choose, not when a government is forced upon them.


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