The turn of events in the Middle East only demonstrates one more time how difficult it is to predict history before it happens.
There was overwhelming conventional wisdom in the West, and in the Middle East Arab establishment as well, that the “Arab Street” was reliably anti-American and anti-Israel, and not the least inclined (nor able) to overthrow various totalitarian regimes that had been put in place decades ago. Particularly “safe” were the affluent Emirates, Morocco (where the king was respected), and the one-man rule of Libya,, Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen. If any dictatorships were in danger, they were the kingdoms of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, both friendly to the U.S.
While there is unrest in Jordan, and potential insurrection in Saudi Arabia, these are not the current flashpoints of upheaval in the Middle East today.
It is uncertain what the timetable will be for Mr. Kaddafi’s departure, but there can be little doubt that his cruel regime will end soon.
Only the police state of Syria remains to fit the conventional wisdom of the recent past.
A new conventional wisdom emerged quickly after the fall of the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes. That was that the revolts sparked by the Arab youth in the’ region would soon be replaced by extremist Islamicist leaders and groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. So far this is not happening, as the Arab masses seem to be insisting on the creation of democratic structures, and the introduction of new civil rights, particularly for women, in those states where dictatorships have been replaced. Of course, it is very early, and the transformation of the Middle East, almost certainly, will be a long and painful process. Totalitarian forces, anywhere in the world, do not ever play “fair,” nor are they ever transparent in their goals and intentions. Historically, they have, since the Hitler regime in Nazi Germany, been willing to use democratic elections to gain power before employing violent police power to crush democracy.
This could happen now, but several observers have made a salient point in discussing how the current situation came to pass, i.e., the impetus for the uprisings came from the youth, a youth aware through internet and social technology of how the rest of the world, particularly in the West and the democratic East, were living, enjoying the fruits of democratic capitalism. Even in non-democratic but newly-quasi capitalist China, affluence was breaking out. Apparently, this Arab youth was also not buying the shell-game that the tiny state of Israel was the cause of their problems and justified suffocating police states across the Arab world.
I am not saying that the Arab youth are necessarily less anti-Israel than before, nor are they less sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, but removing the current pathological preoccupation with Israel may, in time, provide some room for true negotiation between Israel and the new democratic Arab states. Maybe.
I suspect that history will show that the creation of a democratic state in Iraq had more impact on the current revolt of the Arab masses than most observers are willing to concede now. This is because the rabid “George W. Bush hatred” of most of the Western media and establishment still persists, and to credit the “change of political chemistry” in Iraq with contributing to a region-wide democratic outbreak would mean that these critics might have to admit they were wrong about Mr. Bush.(Remember how long it took for Ronald Reagan to overcome his “cowboy movie star image” and be rightly credited for his giant role in the Cold War?)
Such a realization might even be more traumatic than the concession by these same critics that their conventional wisdoms about the Middle East were wrong.
History, as does Nature, has a persistent way of making all of us realize how complicated the world and its planet really are.