By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
The New York Times
It’s a new day in the Arab world — and, let’s hope, in American relations to the Arab world. The truth is that the United States has been behind the curve not only in Tunisia and Egypt for the last few weeks, but in the entire Middle East for decades. We supported corrupt autocrats as long as they kept oil flowing and weren’t too aggressive toward Israel. Even in the last month, we sometimes seemed as out of touch with the region’s youth as a Ben Ali or a Mubarak. Recognizing that crafting foreign policy is 1,000 times harder than it looks, let me suggest four lessons to draw from our mistakes:
1.) Stop treating Islamic fundamentalism as a bogyman and allowing it to drive American foreign policy. American paranoia about Islamism has done as much damage as Muslim fundamentalism itself. In Somalia, it led the U.S. to wink at a 2006 Ethiopian invasion that was catastrophic for Somalis and resulted in more Islamic extremism there. And in Egypt, our foreboding about Islamism paralyzed us and put us on the wrong side of history. We tie ourselves in knots when we act as if democracy is good for the United States and Israel but not for the Arab world. For far too long, we’ve treated the Arab world as just an oil field.