A large slice of the middle east appears to have decided that they are going to rule themselves. At the very least, large and predominantly peaceful crowds seem to be overturning decades long dictatorships in more countries than I can keep track of on one hand. This is both wonderful, and also quite scary.
First off, I think that we might finally be seeing the power of peer to peer communication in action. Historically, and still today in places like Burma and North Korea, those in power can simply close the windows and clean house. Note that this is not the sanitized American version of “clean house” where we have a decent sized rally and then complain that The Media undercounted our crowd, and the coverage was biased on a couple of our national news chains. I’m talking about the sort of housecleaning where – once the press is allowed back in, there are a lot of people missing and clean-up crews are putting whitewash over blood stains. It seems that it’s hard, anymore, to achieve the level of information blackout necessary for solders and police (who are, at root, simply people) to be willing to commit atrocities. I never realized that putting a camera on a phone would do so much for the world power balance. Following Nick Kristof’s twitter feed has convinced me that Twitter might actually be good for something besides brutish self aggrandizement after all.
Secondly, we’re seeing the instability of the role of the US in the world. I think that this is also a good thing – though it’s going to be less comfortable in the short term. Our existing strategic alliances are, naturally, with those in power. Bahrain is a great example: Even though it’s a tiny island nation – it’s host to the 5th Fleet of the US Navy, and a large US airbase. While we “support the people” of Bahrain, we also support having a place to park and refuel our ships and airplanes. There are undoubtedly several very nervous thumbs on a variety of “delete all the files” buttons at that airbase right now. One does not simply walk out of a major staging point and leave it for the locals. This means that the US needs to be rather careful in terms of picking sides in all of these fights. While Obama has taken some flak for being vague in his diplomatic pronouncements – I think he’s actually handled it pretty well so far.
This was, frankly, easier when the revolution was not televised. This is one of the things we’ll have to get used to in the brave new era of no big secrets.