(for the other 95% of America)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Nation Building in Tunisia Without Humanitarian Intervention

 History is truly in the making this week in Africa. Tunisian President Ben Ali has fled the country, signifying the first Arab country to transfer power via popular protest. This is obviously a huge win for US policy in the Middle East, and we would do well to take a long look at what happened, what didn’t happen, and why.

Many people, including myself, are not surprised that it doesn’t take hundreds of thousands of American teenagers pointing M16’s your way to bring about democracy. Now, granted, Tunisia is not a democracy yet. But the situation looks promising and there are more positive signs of a democratic evolution underway than even in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Over the last decade, Americans have shown a strong commitment to nation building in the Middle East, but Tunisia hasn’t been the focus of this policy. In fact, Ben Ali was ‘our dictator’ who helped in our counter-terrorism efforts. So what the heck worked?

Al Jazeera deserves kudos for its efforts to keep Tunisians informed about what was going on, much like Radio Free Europe did in the velvet revolution. America would do well to take a closer look at how restraint can be coupled with nation building.

The fact is that nation building takes time. General Petraeus has estimated that a nation building effort in Afghanistan would take generations to achieve. The same is true for any country. If Tunisians can find a way to capitalize on the current fervor for good governance, then perhaps Americans have a new example to look to in our efforts to reform the Middle East. Nobody doubts that democracy promotion is important --it’s just how you do it.

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