Commentary: Thankfully, Egypt did it without us
As a rationale for invading Iraq, then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said: "The people of the Middle East share the desire for freedom. We have an opportunity -- and an obligation -- to help them turn this desire into reality."
Yes they did, but no we didn't.
The desire for freedom fueled the revolution in Egypt. Thankfully, we Americans stayed out of it. And young Egyptians handled the ouster of their repressive leader with brilliant nonviolence.
Against the advice of some in his administration, President Obama kept the United States on the side of change -- which, in this case, meant the sidelines. Hosni Mubarak's rambling speech and the sight of every kind of Egyptian demanding a new society convinced Obama that this Mideast strongman was on his way out. Not only couldn't America save him, it had better not be seen trying.
The Tunisian and Egyptian upheavals are setting off similar democratic passions elsewhere in the region, including in Iran. Note that no American blood and little treasure are being spent helping the people "turn their desires into reality."
How odd that the unauthorized Wikileaks airing of U.S. embassy cables aided the glorious change in Tunisia. An American diplomat apparently called Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's family a "quasi mafia" running "organized corruption."
America's neocon warriors got one thing right. Mideast youth wanted democracy. But they got the big part wrong, insisting that young American soldiers had to get it for them.
Foreigners can't micromanage another people's revolution, which the neocons thought they had the genius to do. And all that sugary talk about invading countries as a selfless act insulted the intelligence. Sure, we wanted them to have the blessings of democracy, but other agendas, including oil, are why we went into Iraq and not Eritrea.
In 2004, pictures emerged of abuses by wayward American prison guards and of Iraqi civilians killed in the war. A U.S.-sponsored poll at the time found that four out of five Iraqis held negative views of our venture.
Asked about this on "Meet the Press," then-Secretary of State Colin Powell kept up the neocon patter: "We're going to stay and help the Iraqis do what we know the Iraqi people want, and that is to have a democracy based on free elections."
American weaponry helped power the pro-democracy demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt and Iran, but not the kind the Pentagon buys. The armaments this time were the made-in-America social networking systems Facebook and Twitter.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans saw new communications technologies as a frightening tool that empowered the demons. But here it is being used to create democratic movements that will, we hope, open economic opportunity for frustrated Middle Easterners. Once the young people get busy working and making money, their grievances with the West will fade.
During the mass protests in Egypt, many of the old neocon voices worried that Mubarak's ouster would open the floodgates to radical Islamic forces. The story was that they, the neocons, knew best how to orchestrate the change. They would prod Mubarak to slowly move toward democratization, something he had no intention of doing.
In 2004, Powell said of Iraq: "We have 138,000 troops there providing security. We have provided $18 billion for reconstruction, and we're helping now the Iraqi people develop a democratic system."
We have no troops in Egypt and haven't bombed anything we have to reconstruct. The road to Egyptian democracy may run zigzag, but as long as the masses have their Facebook town halls, it won't get blocked. All Americans need do is cheer them on, and isn't that a nice thing?
Froma Harrop's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.