The (second) Arab spring—one of the most remarkable outpourings of democratic sentiment in history—was not supposed to happen. Arab regimes, if nothing else, were good at repression. They had no recognizable ideology beyond self-perpetuation. It seemed to work. Occasionally, they delivered impressive economic growth (but seemed almost entirely unconcerned with redistribution). They chugged along, coming up with a curious blend of brutality and, if necessary, insincere democratic openings.
This led to an odd phenomenon in Washington, D.C. Everyone knew the regimes would fall—eventually—but few seemed particularly interested in doing much about it. They’d last at least ten or 15 years or maybe 50. But this was precisely the problem with autocratic regimes. It was only a matter of time. Autocracies, by definition, are temporary. It’s difficult to recall it now, but the Bush Administration seemed, even if for a short while, to be making precisely that argument. The status quo was “untenable,” Bush officials were fond of saying. Well, the status quo was untenable.
The “stability paradigm”—exchanging ideals for interests in the Middle East—has proven foolhardy and, perhaps worse, naïve. Instead of hard-nosed realpolitik, foreign-policy realists, in particular, put their heads in the stand, unwilling to look at, much less understand, the shifting dynamics of a region in turmoil.
[The resignation of assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs Wess Mitchell] is surprising news, which seems to have caught everyone off guard. He doesn’t appear to have shared this news with his ambassadors, who were in Washington last week for a global chiefs of mission conference. His deputy is also slated to retire soon, which raises question of near term leadership on European policy at a time of challenges there.
[Wess] Mitchell was a strong supporter of NATO, particularly in Eastern Europe where he will be sorely missed. His departure comes follows the resignation of senior Pentagon officials – Robert Karem and Tom Goffus – working on NATO along with Secretary Mattis. Without this pro-alliance caucus, NATO is now more vulnerable than at any time since the beginning of the Trump administration.