Former ABC anchor Ted Koppel raised eyebrows when The Washington Post's Sunday Outlook suggested getting rid of things in a "spring cleaning," and Koppel said "Democracy." (Or "Democracy," in quotation marks, as if that's less shocking.) Koppel began:
"Democracy." Let's dump it; toss it on the scrap heap of history. The concept remains worthy, but the word is rapidly being exhausted of all residual value.
Koppel tossed several buckets of cold water on the "Arab spring." This is par for the course for Koppel, of course, who began mourning the Soviet Union before it dissolved as a wonderful pillar of geopolitical stability, and projecting Eastern Europe as hardly a democratic wonderland. From our newsletter Notable Quotables, an interview on John McLaughlin One on One on June 3, 1990:
"We may well over the next 10 or 15 years come to view the Soviet Union as being the power, the only power, that has the capacity of keeping China out of Europe, the only power that has the capacity of keeping Moslem fundamentalism out of Europe, the only power, in fact, we may find ourselves looking back wistfully five or ten years from now at Eastern Europe and saying 'Boy, I remember when Eastern Europe used to be nice and quiet.' "
If you're from Poland or the Czech Republic or the Baltics, you might want to throw several buckets of cold water on Ted Koppel. Keep those words in mind as he sees through his rather faulty crystal ball only weeds in the Arab spring:
Five years from now, we are more likely to see another Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, or another Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, than to see a functioning representational government in any of the countries now undergoing the "Arab spring."
The instant transfer of political power is intoxicating, but it should not be confused with democracy itself. Neither can a functioning democracy exist without fair elections, and a social compact that accepts representational government and the discipline of abiding by its decisions.
Truth be told, our government's commitment to democracy in other countries is almost whimsically inconsistent: clearly greater in Libya than in Saudi Arabia, less in Bahrain than in Iran. We are constrained from actively promoting democracy in China by our enormous national interests there; but in Congo, where our interests are negligible and the outrages against democracy are constant, we do nothing. The misappropriation of the word is so great as to be silly. Perhaps the late George S. Kaufman had it right when he noted that "One man's Mede is another man's Persian."
Perhaps Obama-haters can take comfort in Koppel's crankiness about the current state of affairs, but it might be more accurate to consider that Koppel has never liked American foreign policy (unless he was Secretary of State). In The Wall Street Journal on April 28, he painted this picture:
Overshadowing all other concerns is the fear that Iran is poised to reap enormous benefits from the so-called Arab Spring. "Even without nukes," one top official told me, "Iran picks up the pieces. With nukes, it takes the house."
Hearing Israeli leaders express grave concerns about Iran and its nuclear potential is nothing new. What is new is a growing worry that America's adversaries will be less inclined to take warnings from Washington seriously. Each week that passes without the overthrow or elimination of Moammar Gadhafi is perceived in Jerusalem as emboldening the leadership of Iran and North Korea."Imagine," one source told me, "how Gadhafi must be kicking himself for giving up the development of Libya's nuclear program."
Koppel concluded with his typical Eeyore-like pessimism:
The outlook from Jerusalem these days is not encouraging. Iranian influence is growing throughout the Persian Gulf and beyond. Egypt's commitment to its peace treaty with Israel is uncertain. Syria could explode into total chaos at any moment. Jordan's stability is in question. Pakistan, a Muslim country with more than a 100 nuclear warheads, is confronting an uncertain future—made all the more unpredictable by the commencement of a U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan this summer. Whether any U.S. troops will remain in Iraq after the end of this year remains an open question. America is war-weary and facing a crushing deficit.
The only glimmer of good news for the Israelis may be that, when it comes to reliable allies in the region, Washington's list also keeps getting shorter.