Obama and the Arab States 
Wednesday, January 28, 2009, 01:05 PM
An Op-Ed piece by Fouad Ajami in today's Wall Street Journal takes Obama to task on his new Middle East policy under the headline Obama Tells Arabia's Despots They're Safe.
The argument that liberty springs from within and can't be given to distant peoples is more flawed than meets the eye. In the sweep of modern history, the fortunes of liberty have been dependent on the will of the dominant power -- or powers -- in the order of states. The late Samuel P. Huntington made this point with telling detail. In 15 of the 29 democratic countries in 1970, democratic regimes were midwifed by foreign rule or had come into being right after independence from foreign occupation.

In the ebb and flow of liberty, power always mattered, and liberty needed the protection of great powers. The appeal of the pamphlets of Mill and Locke and Paine relied on the guns of Pax Britannica, and on the might of America when British power gave way.


I'm not sure I agree with that last sentence. I understand what he's saying here -- that only in peace secured by power can the ideals of liberty flourish -- but the examples he cites are all of liberty flourshing within an already secure state. Besides, back then liberty and freedom were relatively new concepts being developed and evolved. The problem today isn't that the soil in insufficiently fertile, it's that modern governments are now acutely aware of these ideals and actively oppose them.

Ajami's closing, however, is a potent reminder that there are two parties in any conflict.
But foreign challengers and rogue regimes are under no obligation to accommodate our mood and our needs. They are not hanging onto news of our financial crisis, they are not mesmerized by the fluctuations of the Dow. I know it is a cliché, but sooner or later, we shall be hearing from them. They will strip us of our illusions and our (new) parochialism.

A dispatch from the Arabian Peninsula bears this out. It was learned, right in the midst of the news cycle announcing that Mr. Obama has ordered that Guantanamo be shut down in a year's time, that a Saudi by the name of Said Ali al-Shihri -- who had been released from that prison in 2007 to his homeland -- had made his way to Yemen and had risen in the terror world of that anarchic country. It had been a brief stop in Saudi Arabia for Guantanamo detainee No. 372: He had gone through a "rehabilitation" program there, then slipped across the border to Yemen, where he may have been involved in a terror attack on the U.S. Embassy in the Yemeni capital in September of last year.

This war was never a unilateral American war to be called off by an American calendar. The enemy, too, has a vote in how this struggle between American power and radical Islamism plays out in the years to come.

In another time, the fabled era of Bill Clinton's peace and prosperity, we were mesmerized by the Nasdaq. In the watering hole of Davos, in the heights of the Alps, gurus confident of a new age of commerce pronounced the end of ideology and politics. But in the forbidding mountains of the Afghan-Pakistan frontier, a breed of jihadists that paid no heed to that mood of economic triumphalism was plotting for us an entirely different future.


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