A reader writes:
You've been comparing the events in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain to 1848, but I think that another interesting analogy is the series of revolutions that took place in Ottoman Europe in the 1820s and '30s - a comparison that is particularly relevant when it comes to the response of the West.
Like the revolts in the Middle East today, the revolts in Serbia (1804-1815), Greece (1821-1830), and Bosnia (1831) were pro-democratic insurgencies that created a dilemma for Britain, France, and Russia, forcing them to choose between upholding Metternich's "Concert of Europe" or supporting these democratic uprisings. In your staunch advocacy for a realist approach to Libya, you sound an awful lot like Metternich, who favored the entrenchment of the existing balance of power and opposed anti-monarchial uprisings. Metternich was on the wrong side of history.
The dilemma faced by the Great Powers then is the same as the dilemma faced by Obama now, and he has made the same decision that they did. Like Qaddafi, the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II provided the West a humanitarian casus belli with his brutal counterrevolutionary sweep across Greece in the 1820s, which led to an intervention culminating with the defeat of the Turks at Navarino and the establishment of the modern Greek state. Now, obviously, you are not exactly like Metternich - you don't favor Qaddafi over the rebels - but while your realism is born out of prudence, don't you worry that you too will be caught on the wrong side of history?
If it weren't for the intervention, a Qaddafi victory would have been all but guaranteed, and the same was true of Greece circa 1827.
In the sense that I obviously support - and the Dish has aggressively covered and championed - the various uprisings against the stagnant, ugly autocracies in the Middle East, I hope I am not on the wrong side of history. The question of how outside powers respond to the events we cannot control and do not fully understand seems to me a separate one. My judgment may be debunked by events. I sure hope so.