Thoughts on Chaos, Revolution, and Radicalism

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

Everywhere But Iraq?

No one quite knows all the causes of the unrest in Tunisia, now spreading to Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East, or how this will all end, and whether this seemingly middle-class revolt dovetails to the 2009 demonstrations in Iran and the Cedar Revolution earlier in Lebanon. But while Islamists may eventually hijack the popular outrage against authoritarianism, both secular and Islamic, for now one thing is at least clear. There will probably be no such popular violent unrest in Iraq where an elected and popular government is legitimate and where violence comes from small numbers of anti-democratic forces seeking to impose an intolerant dictatorship of some sort.

Given that those in and about the Obama administration have long dropped their old narratives about Iraq (“lost,” etc.), given that there are presently no popular complaints at home against our many thousands still in the country (e.g., mysteriously no more movies like In the Valley of ElahRedactedStop Loss, no more Camp Caseys in Texas, no more courtship of Michael Moore), and given that it has become one of Obama’s “greatest achievements,” surely someone in this administration can channel some sort of support for the dissidents in a way we did not in 2009 in Iran, by pointing to American support for the consensual and constitutional government in Iraq. Its free elections, complete control of its own fossil fuels, and open and unbridled media did not come out of the head of Zeus or because Saddam got tired of killing people.

1979 Redux?

The Obama administration’s deer-in-the headlights policy toward Egypt will probably change if and when Mubarak & Co. leave and thereby introduce the risk of a Czar–Kerensky–Lenin or Estates-Generales–Paris Commune–Committee of Public Safety scenario — i.e., the better organized and militantly non-democratic forces coming to the fore amid loosely organized protest against prior oppression.

Any “unity” government with the anti-democratic Muslim Brotherhood as a member is de facto a route to an Islamic Republic and a hostile Egypt for years to come — a veritable Libya, Syria, or Iran on steroids. We should remember just how much Nasser and, later, a pro-Soviet early Sadat stymied US interests. Certainly, Mubarak’s Egypt is no more Western or modern than was the Shah’s Iran, where the unlikely return to the pre-modern world soon became accepted. The thing that stopped Iraq from going the way of Iran (e.g., Saddam–Allawi–Zarqawi, like Shah–Banisadr–Khomeini) was, in large part, constant and vocal support for constitutional government and nothing but — and the skill of the US military.

I suppose the West currently feels like someone watching a train approaching an abyss without much insight into how to prevent the train from going over the cliff. Our daily-evolving strategy apparently hinges on proper triangulation, shifting from prodding Mubarak to reform to calling on protesters to form a democratic government as Mubarak appears to weaken, all while allowing some leeway should he make a remarkable recovery.

I hope we are saving our condemnation and diplomatic powder for even the hint of an Islamic manipulation of the chaos. However, after the president’s Al Arabiya interview, his silence over Tehran in spring 2009, and the Cairo speech — the constant themes being US culpability for Iraq, generic apologies for purported past sins, and America’s under-appreciation of past Islamic brilliance — I fear that far too many in and outside the Middle East are unsure how America would react to an Islamist absorption of the currently popular protest. ‘Oh well, America probably sees these guys as the inheritors of Cordoba, once again doing their part to create another Western Renaissance or Enlightenment.’

In short, at some point soon, we are going to have to come out and express our support for a non-Islamist constitutional state, period — without any Carter-esque talk of “moderate” Islamists.

©2011 Victor Davis Hanson

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