When Success And Failure Look Alike

Fouad Ajami has an interesting piece on the results of the American democratic experiment in the Middle East. He points to all the instability in the region and asks whether that instability is really a sign of failure or not.

As Ralph Peters wrote shortly after the September 11 attacks, stability is not the most paramount of our national interests, nor is the comfortable stability of the region ultimately in anyone’s interest. The old order was an innately autocratic one that fostered the terrorism that led to the destruction of the Twin Towers — an act of savagery that was presaged by years of terrorism and Western inaction. For all those years, we worked under the premise that keeping the status quo in the Middle East was in our best interest — a contention that history should have proven to be utterly wrong.

We look at the Middle East and see a scene of chaos — the Cedar Revolution threatens to tear Lebanon apart as the Syrians try to turn that state back into a puppet regime. The US seems bogged down in Iraq, while the Mahdi Army continues to cause havoc and sectarian strife threatens the progress of the last few years. Iran is on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons as Ahmadinejad tries to consolidate his power.

If stability is our goal, then we’ve failed. But stability isn’t the goal — the goal has always been to effect a massive political transition in the region. If there’s one thing that history has taught us, it’s that such transitions are rarely quick and rarely without moments of chaos.

Ajami is right in pointing out that our first impulse in stirring up this hornet’s nest was both shrewd and justified. The old status quo was becoming more than intolerable — it was becoming deadly.

The greatest mistake we could make at this critical juncture is to give into the temptation of returning to the old status quo. Al-Qaeda and its brethren are but a symptom of the dysfunction of the Arab world in adapting to modernity — the autocracy of that region continue to nurture terrorism, even beyond the borders of the Middle East. Allowing it to persist means that we’ll be stuck in this war for a very long time, with disastrous consequences to follow.

Right now we’re in a moment of transition, which does not equate to a moment of failure. Most, if not all, of the problems we now face come not from our action, but from our timidity. Will we learn all the wrong lessons and step back when we should be fighting harder than ever? If so, not only will the important cause of democracy in the Middle East suffer, but we will likely see our best chance to end this war slip from our fingers.

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