Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

Cook examines developments in the Middle East and their resonance in Washington.

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America’s Radical Idealists Strike Again

by Steven A. Cook
June 14, 2011

Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration in Tunisia (Zoubeir Souissi/Courtesy Reuters)

Below is an excerpt from my most recent piece in The American Interest, America’s Radical Idealists Strike Again. For the full text, please click here.

The uprisings across the Arab world that began this past December with protests in Tunisia and then Egypt have generated several important debates in Washington and among the foreign policy community more broadly. How should the United States relate to new governments in Tunis and Cairo? Should the United States try to influence transitions to democracy in the Middle East, and if it should, how? What do the revolts mean both for the potential emergence of Islamist political power and for the prospects of extremist organizations? On this last question, the early betting is that, at least in many countries, the uprisings will be good for the former but bad for the latter.

Beyond these questions, which are largely the stuff of policy wonks, development professionals and democracy advocates, there is another intense discussion underway about change in the Arab world. It revolves around a more political question: Do President George W. Bush, the invasion of Iraq and the Bush Administration’s “Freedom Agenda” deserve credit for the current political ferment in the Middle East? It’s easy to dismiss this as a self-interested exercise within the small world of neoconservatives seeking to rehabilitate Bush’s record, and thus their own. The truth is, too, that this question hasn’t really touched off any debate since the uniform answer to this question among those who pose it is a resounding, “yes, of course” and “we told you so.” Yet the discussion over this question does reach beyond Commentary and the Weekly Standard, because these ideas and the people who advocate them cannot be easily dismissed; they remain well-positioned to influence the future trajectory of U.S. policy not only under Republican but also Democratic administrations.

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