The past decade should have permanently cured Americans of the idea that we can dictate events in the Middle East. So it’s hard to take seriously some of the conservative claims and criticisms regarding the continuing anti-American demonstrations in the region.
Senator John McCain has insisted that the Obama administration’s policy of “disengagement” led to the attacks on U.S. embassy outposts last week. "We're leaving Iraq. We're leaving Afghanistan. We're leaving the area,” McCain said on Face the Nation. “The people in the area are having to adjust and they believe the United States is weak, and they are taking appropriate action." McCain characterized the protests as part of “a fight, a struggle in the Arab world between the Islamists and the forces of moderation. And they want America disengaged.”
On January 25, Egyptians marked the one-year anniversary of their revolution with another massive demonstration in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of what has become known variously as the Arab Spring, the Arab Awakening, or the Arab Uprising. Whatever term one chooses for the events that began with the self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit vendor in December 2010 and soon swept through Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Syria—the last year has marked a decisive shift in the modern history of the Arab world. Though the situations in different countries have and will continue to take different paths, the people of the region have voiced their unmistakable rejection of the political and economic arrangements that have dominated their countries for decades.
People demonstrate in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Jan. 31, 2011. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
The protests currently gripping Egypt caught everyone, including President Barack Obama, off guard. While it's been good to see the Obama administration coming out more strongly behind the protesters' democratic demands, warning longtime U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak away from a violent crackdown, and having no less than Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling for an orderly “transition to democracy” (a welcome sign the administration is thinking seriously about a post-Mubarak Egypt) -- it is imperative the administration provide a more robust and strategic response to these events, given what a new Egypt could portend for the entire region.
Hillary Clinton makes a statement on the WikiLeaks document release. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Some time between Saturday evening and Monday morning, it suddenly became important to U.S. hawks that we take seriously what Arab leaders have been saying about instability in the Middle East.
I refer, of course, to the comments from Arab leaders, released as part of the WikiLeaks cable dump, urging the United States to more aggressively curb Iranian power and influence in the region.
Unsurprisingly, these cables have bolstered neoconservative calls for a U.S. military strike on Iran. Leaving aside the irony that neoconservatives are citing as justification for another war the concerns of the same Arab authoritarians they wanted overthrown in 2003, it's quite interesting to note when and on what subjects Arab leaders are to be believed.