With the resignation of President Mubarak, the level of risk for instability in the Middle East is greatly increased. But this is a “half-empty” view. The “half-full” view, which I strongly prefer, is that we are facing perhaps the great opportunity for the spread of freedom since World War II.
It was often argued during the middle of the Bush terms that a free and democratic Iraq could be the stimulus for other nations in the middle east to move in the direction of freedom. The argument, in summary, was that other nations would see a free Iraq and yearn for the same for themselves. A more detailed view of the argument was that it could be easier and less painful for these other nations to make such a conversion. He and Condi Rice also argued that people naturally prefer to be free, and are visibly or secretly “leaning into” freedom, searching for an opportunity to become so. I believe these arguments, greatly debated on the left in Amerca, are proving to be correct, and that if we play cards properly we could make an exponential leap forward in the quest for freedom in the world.
I do not know enough to be able to outline in intricate detail how to capitalize on the situation, but I will offer some broad thoughts on how we could take bold steps to advance the freedom of hundreds of millions of human beings in the middle east, and perhaps elsewhere.
The first thing we need to do is ditch the philosophy that “democracy and freedom don’t follow a straight line”, as President Obama said in Cairo early in his administration. We should accept that while the statement may be true in certain instances, to say so and to set expectations at this level is equivalent to saying “if we can just lose the Super Bowl by a touchdown or less, we can consider it a win”. Let’s aim high, and strive for high, and if we fall short so be it. We can adjust if we miss the target, and perhaps achieve it in the subsequent iteration.
Here’s the really aggressive approach we could take, led by President Obama. We could go country by country, with a specific strategy and set of tactics for each. to encourage the oppressed to work and if necessary fight for freedom. President Obama could give a speech worthy of a Nobel Prize winner and talk about Egypt as an example, and make a speech to the nation and the world calling for all those governments that oppress their people to stop doing so, and for all those people who are oppressed to stand up, peacefully, for their right to be free. It would be like President Reagan at the Brandenburg gate commanding “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”, but on an even larger scale.
The targets? Syria, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Sudan, Cuba, Venezuela, Nigeria, Russia, Albania, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Chad, Rwanda, and others–and most importantly, Iran.
The specific message for each may be different, but the overall message for each is the same: You cannot, should not, and will not, separate your people from their natural right and desire to be free. At least, not for long. Either we (the US and free West) will not let you, or your people won’t, but between us freedom for your people is inevitable. You can influence and/or choose the path to get there, or your people will do so.
This is a very high risk strategy. The result very likely could be violent revolutions in some countries and result in many deaths. Surely there would be many situations such as those in Egypt where perhaps a few hundred people perish, and there could be much worse. But the stakes are so high, the value so great, that just as in our Revolutionary War the terrible costs would be worth it. The sacrifices of a single generation could create free nations for 50 generations to follow.
In addition, as another nation falls to freedom, the next nation that tries to convert will likely find it easier to do so. Egypt changing sends one message to the Iranian people. But how about Iraq, Egypt, Syria, the Sudan becoming free? What would you think if you are Iranian having seen that? In a sense it is a momentum play, one which we should capitalize on through aggressive overt and covert policies, and do so now.
World events can surprise us, and this moment could create many surprises. The veneer that many dictatorships have holding down their people could break easier than we think, at least in some countries. Let’s make an effort to find out.