A new Paul Berman piece is always worth reading. The Arab Spring, he believes, has now entered Phase Three. Phase One marked the liberal origins, with the overthrow of the old order; Phase Two the seeming triumph of the Islamists. Now, though, the people are fighting back against the Islamists. But has Obama noticed?
The entire development ought to make us wonder about a couple of aspects of American policy. In the years after the Second World War, the United States constructed all kinds of international institutions to cope with the new circumstances, military and otherwise. But here we are nearly a dozen years after 9/11, and the level of military coordination among the anti-terrorist allies is such that, somehow or another, France felt it necessary to venture into Mali alone. Naturally the United States supplied a bit of aid, after a while. The commentaries in the French press make it clear, however, that France is feeling a little blue in its moment of military bravura—proud of its own achievements, but feeling abandoned by the other military powers of the European Union, and genuinely offended by the United States and its tepid support. The White House response to the French invasion, in the estimation of Le Nouvel Observateur, which is normally warm toward President Obama, “bordered on insult.”...
A couple of weeks ago, an articulate human-rights champion in Egypt named Bahieddin Hassan published an open letter to President Obama in al-Ahram Weekly reminding the president of a good aspect of his Cairo speech—the American president’s promise to stand by the peoples of the region. Only, the letter complained that lately the White House, instead of standing with the people, has been issuing statements that tend to shore up the new government in Egypt—just as, in the past, the United States used to shore up the government of Hosni Mubarak. Is the open letter entirely fair to Obama? Those of us who are merely far-away observers have no way to judge. But the letter and its complaint ought to strike us, in any case, as familiar—a mirror reflection of heartrending complaints we have seen from Syrian rebels who, fighting against the Baath on one side, are also hoping to fend off the Islamists on the other, and are desperate for our help, and are not receiving it; all of which mirrors complaints we used to see, back in 2009, from Iranians who would have also have appreciated a few signs of American support in their own protests against Islamist rule.
At least in 2009 the American master-thinkers could have argued that, in Iran, the Islamist government was not about to tumble from power, and there was no point in encouraging the protesters. But in these early weeks of 2013, when no one can pretend any longer that Islamism has some automatic claim on the entire region, the several mutterings and complaints and cries of betrayal from our own friends and fellow-liberals and closest allies ought to be getting under our skin.