A wind of change is sweeping across the Middle East. When we look back at the coming year through the eyes of history, we may rank 2001 with 1848 and 1989 as a year of widespread revolution that reshaped a continent. At the very least, 2011 promises to equal 1968 as a time in which widespread unrest reshaped global culture—and laid the groundwork for slower but equally certain political upheaval.
We westerners, of course, like to personalize everything. And so, as we watch the violent scenes in Tunis, Cairo, and elsewhere, we immediately seek ways to inject ourselves into the equation.
Did we cause these riots? Is the military response our fault? Is American policy to blame? Is Israel—and American support for Israel—the root cause? Is it Bush’s fault? Obama’s fault? Perhaps if Bush had not invaded Iraq, or Obama had not debased himself in Cairo or we had sent more aid or less aid or conditioned our aid on various behavioral changes, things would be unfolding differently.
Perhaps. Unlikely, but in the world of contrafactuals all is possible.
Either way, how should we react? Should we continue to support pro-American authoritarians? Should we throw our lot in with the people in the streets? Should we increase military aid? Decrease it? Favor some particular new face as leader? Should we apply the same standards to riots against “friend” (e.g., Egypt) and “foe” (e.g., Iran)? Should we alter our long-term strategy in the Middle East? And if so, how?