A dictatorial government has been overthrown in Tunisia. Protests continue to rage in Egypt, causing long-time leader Hosni Mubarak to reshape his government and to declare that he will not seek “re-election.” Whether he can remain in power until September, as he plans, is anyone’s guess. Significant protests also have occurred in Jordan and Yemen.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in remarks reported by the BBC, has said that the entire Mideast region is in the grip of powerful forces and that the status quo is not sustainable. The inevitable question is whether other countries in the region — such as Lebanon, Syria, Libya, and even Saudi Arabia — also will be the site of mass protests and regime change.
Revolutions — even revolutions that, like the protests in Egypt, seem to be motivated by desire for freedom and democracy — can be unpredictable in their results. Were the bloody Jacobin governments and eventually the reign of Napoleon really preferable to the corrupt French monarchy? History teaches that there can be no assurance that, long-term, the governments that may replace the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes will be preferable to those that went before.
These circumstances present foreign policy challenges that are far more difficult than any yet confronted by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton. They will be asked to make quick decisions in the face of fast-moving events, decisions that may have profound consequences. All Americans, whether Republican, Democrat, or independent, should hope that their decisions help to produce a Middle East that is more stable and more democratic, rather than the opposite — because the opposite could be catastrophic.