This Would Have Worked Why?

by Conor Friedersdorf

I've got to respectfully disagree with Glenn Reynolds, whose says this about the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen:

Unfortunately and I certainly hope I’m wrong this may turn out to be a populist Islamist explosion of the sort that better followthrough on the original neocon plans for middle east democracy (then bashed by Kissenger et al. as unrealistic) might have forestalled. Had we pushed the overthrow of tyrannical Arab regimes post-Iraq (as some unsuccessfully urged) there might have been a wave of truly democratic revolutions, with Iraq explicitly the model, leading to Egypt as the “prize.” We are now seeing, at least potentially, such a wave, but the U.S. has been propping up Mubarak thanks, Joe! the Saudis, and other despots since we lost our pro-democracy mojo in 2005 after the Cedar Revolution, for reasons that are still not entirely clear.

That means the risk that power will coalesce around the only organized groups on the ground the Islamists is much greater now than it would have been then, and we are likely to be less favorably perceived. It’s possible, of course, that things will still go well don’t write off people’s enthusiasm for freedom but circumstances aren’t as congenial as they might have been.

What I won't challenge here is any characterization of what is going on now in Egypt, Tunisia or Yemen. I know far too little about what's happening. But the alternative history where we doubled-down on Iraq by pushing the overthrow of tyrannical Arab regims? Look, the coverage I remember from those days on Instapundit was largely "good news from Iraq" updates. But what was actually happening on the ground in pre-surge Iraq is that we were losing control of the country, Shiites and Sunnis were murdering one another, Iran was causing us all sorts of problems, and we were losing the war.

On what is Professor Reynolds basing the idea that things would've been better if only we'd also toppled Saudi Arabia and Egypt? Did any of the neo-con plans in the countries we actually invaded work out as they predicted? If you click through to that "Egypt as the prize" link, you'll be brought to a Power Point presentation on the overthrow of Saudi Arabia and Egypt that isn't even much of a prediction. It's just a bunch of bullet points. Here's what the last one says: "Iraq is the tactical pivot. Saudi Arabia the strategic pivot. Egypt the prize." This is the source cited in an argument for the overthrow of governments in two more countries? It isn't even clear to me if direct military intervention is being called for.

I don't mean to suggest that we shouldn't be worried about the possibility of a populist Islamist explosion in Egypt. How the most extreme US meddling in Saudi Arabia and Egypt would've forestalled that I cannot imagine. The worldview articulated by Professor Reynolds in that post is like a caricature of what I worry that a Republican presidential candidate might think deep down. "If only we'd have shaken things up more it might've worked out fine!" He and I have drawn very different lessons from the debacle in Iraq.