Long, Hot Arab Summer
The Arab Spring, circa the end of August


Victor Davis Hanson
Everyone sympathizes with the popular outrage against the kleptocratic Arab strongmen, who finally looted too much even for the Middle East. No one knows what follows their removal. Some worry that those reformers — Westernized and apparently moderate — whom we naturally wish to see at the forefront of forming constitutional societies, and who seem disproportionately to appear on CNN and the BBC to reassure us, are in reality in a minority, given the better-connected and organized Islamists movements. And while it is true that there are vast regional differences in the Arab Spring, there are depressing commonalities (absence of popular commitment to human rights and minority protections, gender apartheid, tribalism, religious intolerance, statist and redistributive economies, anti-Semitism, etc.) that make democratization in the region hard without the humiliation of military defeat followed by costly occupation and reconstruction by American troops — something that is now politically impossible and impracticable after Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Why have we not invested the same sort of effort in wishing the Iranian theocracy and Assad gone, as we have with Mubarak, Ben Ali, and Qaddafi — given that these deposed or nearly deposed kleptocrats did not pose the same present dangers to U.S. and Western interests as do Iran and Syria? We announced that we would not “meddle” when a million protesters hit the streets of Tehran, and in Syria we restored diplomatic relations, sought “outreach” to that criminal regime, and dubbed Assad a reformer. 

If the belated campaign to pile on in support of the Arab Spring in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya was a precursor of more to come against our two real enemies, Syria and Iran, then bravo. But if we focus only on either pro-American dictators or unhinged dictators of small countries of 7 million, while the two real problems in the region remain immune, then we may end up with a Syrian-Iranian-dominated region, or a Mogadishu-style chaos that will be fertile ground for Islamization rather than pro-Western constitutional states as we would hope.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.

Michael Ledeen
Nobody knows how the “Spring” will turn out (it’s not just “Arab,” since the initial insurrection — which inspired the others — was in Iran, which is not very Arab). On the one hand, Americans should cheer whenever a tyrant falls. On the other hand, most revolutions fail, and sometimes things get even worse than they were before. Time will tell. I’d be more optimistic if our leaders supported democratic revolutionaries, but no president since Reagan has seriously attempted that.

NRO contributing editor Michael Ledeen is the Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and author of Accomplice to Evil: Iran and the War Against the West.