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The Wave Continues

The people of the Middle East really want to choose their leaders.

Mar 7, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 24 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
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The Obama administration is obviously having a hard time with the Great Arab Rebellion. In Egypt, President Obama finally saved the ship of state from a “realist” wreck by making it clear that he sided with the demonstrators and not the regime of Hosni Mubarak. But the president is still off balance in the Middle East, a region he does not know. 

The inexcusable wobbling—when firm condemnation of the bloodlust of Libya’s savage ruler was called for—suggests that President Obama’s “realist” roots are stronger than his sincere concern for third-worlders struggling for freedom. (If President Obama wanted to bury Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s dream of being the hero of the Arab world, he’d immediately order U.S. fighter aircraft into the skies of Libya to destroy all airplanes, helicopters, and armored columns attacking the citizenry.)

The administration may well play an inconsistent game, trying to support democracy seriously in Egypt but less seriously elsewhere. This will be a big mistake, inviting the contempt of Arabs and the collapse of U.S. democracy promotion everywhere. We need a consistent rule: The United States endorses one form of government—the one it chooses for itself, representative government—and it applauds this everywhere. The Khalifa family in Bahrain and the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan should be under no illusions about where America’s heart and wallet are. We most certainly are in favor of orderly change, which is why the Khalifas and Hashemites should start now to transfer political power gradually to the Shia in Bahrain and the Palestinians in Jordan. They may possibly save their monarchies by doing so (and save us a fairly good friend on the East Bank of the Jordan River and the anchorage of the Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf). We really don’t want to see the Saudi armed forces rolling across the Gulf causeway to crush democratic protests in Bahrain. If we wanted to create a situation that Iran could exploit, that would be it. If we wanted to ignite sectarian strife throughout the region, that would be how to do it. 

The United States has an enormous role to play midwifing democracy throughout the Middle East. And President Obama, if he could realize this despite his profound unease at becoming the successor to the freedom-promoting George W. Bush, might go down in history as America’s great third world president—the man who permanently buried our dependency on despots throughout the Middle East.

Reuel Marc Gerecht is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, and the author of The Wave: Man, God, and the Ballot Box in the Middle East (Hoover Institution Press).

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