As a person who loves Africa and follows it closely in the news on a daily basis, the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt have been incredibly intriguing to me. Two countries in the Arab world using people power to institute a complete change in their respective governments without massive causalities? This is close to unbelievable. I realize though that to the average American, these events might not strike much of a chord. In my view, this is a grave error. There is a important lesson to be learned from the events of the past few weeks and it would be incredibly unfortunate for us here in America to miss it.
The point I’m about to make may be controversial to some but I simply feel like it is too important to not state clearly and forthrightly. The recent mass protests and consequent political change in Tunisia and Egypt show how utterly misguided our invasion of Iraq in 2003 truly was. I am not trying to say that there were no good reasons to invade Iraq. One could note certain moral and even humanitarian grounds for the actions our country took. However the blaring question is did the ends justify the means? Thousands of American soldiers dead. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed. Eight years of incredibly high military costs. The neglect of our prior commitment to Afghanistan which even now is far from being “solved.” All to do what? Get rid of a unjust dictator oppressing his people and promote democracy in the Arab world.
Look at what has happened. Tunisia’s president has left the country. Mubarak has pledged NOT to run in upcoming elections. Barring an unconscionable show of force to crackdown on protesters, he may (and should) be gone in days as well. Two unjust dictators oppressing their people gone. All this has happened in a matter of weeks, not years. Other countries in the Arab world, such as Yemen, may soon experience their own revolutions as well. What did the US have to do with these situations? Essentially nothing. No military or diplomacy costs. The people in these lands got fed up and decided to go for it. They took a grave risk to their personal safety and well-being but so far it has paid off.
The USA remains an economic and military superpower. I’m not saying we should not pursue a completely isolationist path of foreign policy. But recent events show that our “investment” into promoting political change in countries we know little about by military means has been and will likely remain a complete and utter failure. This is why Egypt and Tunisia are important lessons and I can only hope that policymakers are paying attention as they move forward.