The professor's grasp of the profundity of what has happened these past two months boils down to one core point, one that seems bizarrely beyond some of the more, shall we say, parochial responses:
There is no overstating the importance of the fact that these Arab revolutions are the works of the Arabs themselves. No foreign gunboats were coming to the rescue, the cause of their emancipation would stand or fall on its own. Intuitively, these protesters understood that the rulers had been sly, that they had convinced the Western democracies that it was either the tyrants’ writ or the prospect of mayhem and chaos.
So now, emancipated from the prison, they will make their own world and commit their own errors.
What will it take for Washington's elite to understand that this is not about America? Mercifully, perhaps because of his unique background, Obama grasps this. Those trapped in old paradigms - like Wieseltier and Wolfowitz - are doubtless genuine and admirable in their concern about wanton killings by the Libyan dictator. But they do not seem yet to grasp - even after Iraq - that freedom is only freedom when you have won it on your own.
And a confession. For years, like many conservatives, I had become convinced that culture truly does matter and that culture would prevent the Arab world from ever developing the kind of democracy that exists in the West. The Persians and Jews and Turks and Kurds were different, I thought. The Arabs? Too tribal; too divided; too religious. Ajami reminds us that this narrative was favored by the Arab tyrants themselves and protected their interest. It was also favored by Israel, as a buttress to its case for open-ended colonialism in its own backyard.