The Arab Autumn

Article excerpt

Byline: Stephen L. Carter

Tyrants have fallen. Elections have begun. Does America have the stomach to stand up for freedom once again?

It is autumn now in the Arab Spring. The protests that began last December when a Tunisian street vendor set himself afire have toppled three of the Arab world's seemingly eternal strongmen and show few signs of abating.

In Western hearts, the Arab Spring has excited admiration but also envy. Commentators have drawn labored and myopic comparisons with Occupy Wall Street, or the Tea Party. Only in America could we imagine a link between the passing spasms of our electoral politics and the greatest cultural upheaval of the young century, the demand for freedom and democracy by an entire people of whom experts said for decades that authoritarianism was a natural way of life.

Others choose as metaphor the collapse of the Communist bloc in 1989, another world-shaking political event that took the West by surprise. But the governing parties of the Arab world, although they claim to rule in the name of Islam, are not united by a central ideology. If the strongmen who have fallen and those who yet reign share a common belief, it is in the importance of their own power--and the ability to enrich their inner circles.

Should the passions of the Arab Spring continue unabated, America will face a conundrum. The Obama administration seemed ill at ease in the early days of the protests, undecided, for example, whether it was for Mubarak or against him. The United States seemed to be chasing the news, even though President Obama had declared in Cairo just two years earlier that "government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power."

The president found his footing with the decision to go to war against Gaddafi. Across the region, other dictators, and other people yearning for freedom, are wondering whether America has the stomach to do it again, or whether our effort to help the Arab Spring along was one final gesture by a superpower pressed by more urgent matters at home.

The Libya intervention, contrary to the fears of its critics, may actually have enhanced America's reputation around the Mediterranean. …