Juan Cole lists the myths: 1. The upheavals of 2011 were provoked by the Bush administration’s overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq Bzzt! Wrong answer. None of the young people who made this year’s revolutions ever pointed to Iraq as an inspiration. The only time Iraq was even brought up in their tweets was as a negative example (“let’s not let ourselves be divided by sectarianism, since that is what the Americans did in Iraq.”) Americans are so full of self-admiration that they cannot see Iraq as it is, and as it is perceived in the Arab world. Iraq is not a shining city on a hill for them. It is a violent place riddled with sectarian hatred, manipulated by the United States, and suffering from poor governance and dysfunctional politics. I did interviewing with activists last summer in Tunisia and Egypt. The youth do not want to be like Iraq! They want to be like Turkey, or, now, Tunisia.
2. President Obama was wrong to ask Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down. This position has been taken by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. It is a crazy thing to say. Mubarak could not have stayed in power, with nearly a million people in the streets and order breaking down in the country. If anything Obama was far too slow to act, and there was danger of Egypt turning seriously anti-American if he had not stepped in when he did. Trying to keep a dictator in power who has worn out his welcome is always a big mistake on the part of a great power, as was seen in the case of the shah of Iran.
3. Muslim radicalism benefited from the revolutions in the Arab world. So far, at least, the beneficiaries of the upheavals have been both secular, left-leaning dissidents and Muslim religious parties. Neither is violent. In Tunisia, the new president, Moncef Marzouki, is a staunch secularist. The al-Nahda (Ennahda) religious party got about 40 percent of the seats in parliament. But neither sort of movement is radical or violent. Likewise, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is now peaceful and talks moderately, and is attacked for it by the radicals such as Ayman al-Zawahiri. Muslim radicals have not been able to take advantage of these largely peaceful movements in the way they could of George W. Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, which really did fuel the spread of violent extremism. Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkol Karman of Yemen argues that if democracy can be achieved in the Arab world, it will finish off violent extremism, which only flourishes under dictatorship. [Continue reading…]