It was only three months ago that you could hardly open a newspaper without encountering columns full of growing predictions about the revolution sweeping the Middle East. Now the Arab Spring is swiftly becoming the embarrassing relative in the journalism family. The predictions as silly as crystal healing and alien visitations.
In Egypt, the revolution has been more like a realignment, with the army and Muslim Brotherhood sharing power. Tahrir Square is over. The Western backed leftists who were meant to benefit from the coup are hanging around foreign capitals giving speeches about the importance of a movement that has already made them irrelevant. El Baradei is a punchline in an Egyptian joke, and the only one who doesn't get it is Thomas Friedman.
In Tunisia and Yemen, the Islamists have a clear path to power. And if Libya and Syria do fall, it won't be to the enlightened forces of secular democracy, but to a populist Islamic state that will make the Taliban look like secular humanists.
Bahrain has been allowed to go on repressing the Shiites. Turkey's suppression of Kurdish parties is one of those obscure things unmentioned by newspapers too busy running tourism ads urging Americans to travel to Istanbul.
More importantly, the most repressive regimes in the region have emerged untouched. Iran bludgeoned and butchered its protesters. Saudi Arabia sent tanks to massacre protesters in Bahrain. The UAE is still running its slave empire, and Western companies are still eager to set up shop in Dubai.
The odds are good that Gaddafi and Assad will survive their own civil wars. The message that will send is that it's good to be a violently repressive regime. That Western alliances and human rights concessions create a dangerous weakness. And that no matter what deals you make with the United States and Europe, they will sell you out for the sake of some illusory democratic movement.
The winners of the Arab Spring will take that lesson to heart, especially the final beneficiaries of the coups in Egypt and Yemen. Mubarak and Saleh both made the mistake of forgetting what happened to the Shah. And not realizing that Carter's successor was poised for a grander repeat of the Ayatollahs. Their successors will profit by their example.
There will be more repression and Western NGO's will be stepped on. The State Department's favorite local human rights activists will meet with unfortunate accidents similar to those so commonly encountered by Russian human rights activists. If they aren't shot down in the street outright.
The Arab Spring will become an Arab Winter. And the Western media columnists who drove the narrative will go on associating themselves with a grand revolution that failed. The difference between them and A Gay Girl in Damascus will be slight at best. They all worked to manufacture and distribute a narrative that had as much in common with regional realities as Harry Potter does with the British public school system. And they will go on feeding off it, writing books and articles about it, and giving speeches about it at 20k a pop.
Washington D.C. and Brussels are full of Arab revolutionaries who are eager to explain how with only a little support, their country of choice can become a beacon of freedom and democracy for the region. America has played host to a large number of these folks, some of whom were also collecting checks from Tehran.
But if conservatives allowed themselves to be convinced that removing Saddam would usher in a free Iraq-- then liberals were far more foolish for believing that removing every moderately repressive ruler would lead to free nations, rather than the rise of a new breed of thugs and dictators. After spending five years tearing apart the very idea of regime change-- they fell head over heels for the idea that what couldn't be accomplished with a 150,000 soldiers could be accomplished with mob protests and bouts of self-immolation.
It was the same infatuation with democracy that had turned the wars against the Taliban and Saddam into grand nation building projects writ large. Unsatisfied with experiments in democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan-- the Arab Spring was an experiment across the length of the Arab world. And again as the ballot box was torn open, inside was chaos, violence and Islam.
It is a more cheerful thought that the Arab world can be reformed, than that it cannot. That the problem is not a Saddam or Mubarak or Assad-- but that there is something in the water. And if that is then importing large numbers of Muslim immigrants will not turn out newly minted Americans, but will repeat the same experiment with the same disastrous results. An experiment already approaching its hazardous point in Europe.
Western world leaders want stability around the world and at home. And they've tried everything from colonialism to appeasement. But regime change is clearly not the answer, unless the question is, "How can we make the Muslim world even angrier and more violent than it already is." That leaves just the humiliation of appeasement, or a new iron curtain put up by the free world to shut out the unfree world that desperately wants to cross its borders and introduce its citizens to the joys of child murder, polygamy and terrorism.
Those aren't good options, but the slow collapse of the Arab Spring leaves less room for dishonesty. What the Bush Administration couldn't establish at the cost of thousands dead and a global war-- the Obama Administration has managed to prove at a far lower cost. That may be its great unintentional foreign policy accomplishment. A thesis that lays out on a grand scale the futility of trying to bring human rights and democracy to the Muslim world, with obvious implications for Muslim migration.
The majority of the Muslim world is not interested in Whiskey, Sexy and Democracy. Rather they want Whippings, Sharia and Dhimmis. They want security and stability, and that can only come from either a dictatorship or an Islamic state. They want state subsidized prices and jobs, which makes for a stagnant economy. And they want Islamic morals policing and second class status for non-Muslims and women, which means there is no room left for human rights.
Both the Bush and Obama models wrongly assumed that greater democracy, through forcible regime change or by encouraging popular protests, would allow the populations of the Muslim world to show their true peaceable natures underneath. And that's exactly the opposite of what happened. What they actually showed was that the grim brutality and oppression of the Muslim world was not imposed from without, as the leftist model had it, but emerged from within.
That is why the Arab Spring is becoming a dangerous embarrassment to the foreign policy experts. If dictators and our foreign policy can no longer be blamed for conditions in the Muslim world-- then all that's left is to admit the truth. It is the Muslim world that is to blame for the state that it's in. And what is the Muslim world but the green brush of Islam splattered in dribs and drabs across the globe.
But after the decline and fall of the Arab Spring into tyranny and brutality, there are no other arguments to make. None that can avoid the central issue of Islam. And none that can shift the blame to us.
While the New York Times buries the Arab Spring on page A8, it also buries Muslim democracy as a solution to its ills. And that brings it one step closer to a confrontation with the inescapable problem of Islam.