Friday, February 11, 2011

Realists, Neo-Conservatives and Egypt

One under-appreciated but useful aspect of Egypt's revolution is that it is a direct repudiation of both the realists AND the neoconservatives. The realists never thought that anything like this could ever happen. Sure, they're preaching "military coup" now, and the military has a big role to play in the short-term, but there's really nothing in realist doctrine and theory that acceptably explains all this, and not a realist in the world that had predicted it.

It's even worse for the neocons, though. Their argument was that only violent, foreign-backed uprisings and takeovers could bring any freedom to the middle east. That was the whole point of the Iraq adventure, of their coddling of Iranian terrorists, of their advocacy of sanctions against states that they didn't like, and of their attitude towards the Middle East in general. They were completely wrong. It was non-violent, it was Arab-led, and it had NOTHING to do with outside pressure. (Far from being a target of sanctions, Egypt was a favored client of the West. )

In fact, if anything, it was more about outside support than about outside pressure; while this wasn't a "twitter revolution" or anything like that, there's no doubt that the people of Egypt drew strength and hope from the outpouring of support that they received around the world. If we as outsiders want people to "throw off their chains", we shouldn't try to force them into it, we should encourage them. Make it positive, not negative.

(The lessons for handling the Israel-Palestinian conflict are left as an exercise for the reader.)

If there's any theory in IR or political science that holds sway here, it's good ol' fashioned liberalism, the kind that realists since Morganthau have always sneered at as "idealism". The Tunisian and Egyptian people wanted to be free of their dictators, and used their passion and determination to do it. That is the finest example of liberal doctrine and liberal tradition as we've ever seen, in countries that were thought to be so thoroughly illiberal as to be unrecognizable.

This isn't just a new day for Egypt. It's a new day for how we understand the world and our place within it.

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