The formula that triggered a democratic revolution in the Soviet Union had three components: people inside who yearned to be free, leaders outside who believed they could be, and policies that linked the free world’s relations with the USSR to the Soviet regime’s treatment of its own people……….It will work anywhere around the globe, including in the Arab world.–Natan Sharansky, The Case for Democracy
This is the ultimate article of faith among foreign policy idealists, and it formed the organizing principle for the Bush Doctrine. In fact, George W. Bush was known to have spent quite a bit of time with Sharansky and his thought, which served as an inspiration for what will no doubt be a central legacy of his administration. I believe that there is little doubt that the aspirations at least partly inspired by this doctrine are playing out in Eqypt as I write–credit or condemn it as you will, but the Bush Doctrine is alive and well in the Middle East.
Unfortunately, at critical times since the formulation of this doctrine, we blinked and hesitated–in Iraq when Bush felt obliged to de-emphasize freedom as the primary mission as the conflict bogged down in the dark months of 2005-06 before “the surge” won the day; in Iran in the summer of 2009 as we watched without encouragement and support as freedom fighters took to the streets in opposition to an evil regime and its fraudulent re-election; and in Egypt as we continued to defer to an authoritarian regime that ostensibly protected our interests in the region while consistently denying economic freedom and civil rights to its own people, thereby building rage and animosity over denied aspirations that finally burst into revolution.
At this point, there is no way to know how this will end, but it figures to be one of the most transformational events in the Middle East since the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Caliphate at the end of World War I. My reference to the choice of Qutb refers to the late Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian and the intellectual founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, and in fact an inspiration for much of the ideology of Islamic jihadism as it is currently practiced, with a large following throughout the Arab world. On the other hand, the Egyptian army is generally pro-Western and is clearly preferable in the interim as a transitional stabilizing element. Question is, transition to what? Are there any Jeffersons, Madisons, Adamses, or Washingtons in the street? No one knows, haven’t seen one yet, but if not, the void is partly our fault, and we must deal with it as best we can. Freedom is messy and, needless to say, the stakes are pretty high. If Qutb wins, we’re in big trouble.