GMU Professor Chris Coyne over at the Coordination Problem blog has some valuable insights on the current spontaneous People Power revolutions at the Middle East.
He cites two important lessons: The failure of the foreign policy of imposing ideals (democracy) abroad, and in accessory to the first, the failure of foreign aid to promote democracies via dictatorships.
On imposing western ideals Prof Coyne writes,
what is happening in the Middle East is an indictment of U.S. 'nation building' and more specifically the idea that social change toward freedom must be initiated by outsiders. Consider that the U.S has now been in Afghanistan for nearly 10 years and have been unable to ‘win the hearts and minds’ of Afghan citizens. In Egypt it was a matter of weeks between the initial indigenous uprising and Mubarek’s resignation.
The spontaneous and unexpected events in Egypt, and the Middle East more broadly, highlight the flaws in the planning mentality that underpins most, if not all, U.S. foreign interventions. This view holds that (1) certain societies are unable to move towards freedom without outside assistance and (2) that the complex array of institutions that underpin societies are the result of some ‘grand plan’ which can be engineered by experts.
People’s actions have fundamentally been aimed at achieving the removal of unease. Thus, the political economic conditions have always been evolving as people yearn and strive to attain satisfaction or a better life.
And through trial and error, society has reflected on such perpetual discovery process as seen from the lens of the economy, and subsequently, politics.
And this is why the character of Arab revolutions has shifted from Nationalist to Islamist and now to People Power movements.
The quest for liberty may not be an immediate outcome of the recent spontaneous MENA upheavals, but from signs we see, we can be confident that the appreciation and adaption of the concept of freedom and liberty by Muslims have been gradually deepening.
As Michael Novak writes at the Wall Street Journal,
Yet it took the Jewish and Christian worlds centuries to begin cashing in their own longings for liberty. And so also it took the consciences of nonbelievers from the slave society of Aristotle and Plato until the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The universal hunger for liberty is not satisfied in any one generation, or in all the generations put together. It is an unlimited desire. (bold highlights mine)
And such endogenous ‘universal’ freedom inspired revolutions has NOT been imposed. The failed foreign policies designed for this has essentially backfired.
And to repeat what Mr. Novak points out, the desire for freedom has also been a long painstaking process mostly accrued from generational experience. I might add that this process will likely become accelerated as the facilities that stimulates these interchanges of experience or ‘emprical’ knowledge via the web or internet will dramatically be improved and whose usage will become widespread.
In addition, the concept of propping up dictators in the name of democracy via foreign aid has also been exposed as a disastrous model.
Again Mr. Coyne, this is
an excellent opportunity to reconsider the longtime U.S. practice of giving foreign aid to the world’s worst dictators...
These are not the only cases of the U.S. providing assistance to the world’s worst governments. Every year Parade magazine compiles a list of the “World’s Worst Dictators.”...
This means that the source of the problem—the predatory state—is tasked with playing a central role in solving the problem of which its very existence is the cause. The result is the well-known pitfalls of aid such as increased corruption and issues of aid effectiveness.” (bold emphasis mine)
At the end day, freedom is a bottom up process which can only be experienced, shared, learned, and assimilated, and not imposed from a top down dynamics especially through the state, or at worst, by dictatorships. As people learn about freedom, vertical structures and power centers are bound to crumble.