The Middle East’s Third Wave
In a private phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, almost two weeks after the unrest began, President Barack Obama finally called for Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi to step down. While the President’s inertia may have been mitigated by the need to get Americans out of the country so Qadhafi could not take any hostages, the incident demonstrates again that the wave of revolution currently sweeping North Africa and the Middle East took the Obama Administration completely by surprise. And for good reason: President Obama’s “engagement” strategy toward the “Islamic world” is thoroughly outdated and irrelevant.
The first wave of revolutions in the region came in the middle of the last century and was made up of nationalist revolts against European colonialism. The next wave, the Islamist revolt, came a generation later, upending corrupt monarchies and nationalist regimes set up after the colonial era. Each of these movements—nationalist and Islamist—pretended to be “pan” movements of some kind. But they never caught on for very long because their universal claims were myths, undermined by tribal, religious, and nationalist divisions. The third wave we are witnessing today is completely different.