How unstable will the Middle East's new democracies be?

There is a school of thought, especially popular among neoconservatives, that the spread of democracy makes the world more peaceful. Yet, while it’s true that mature democracies tend to be peaceful and almost never go to war with one another, emerging democracies tend to be more violent and aggressive than any other type of regime—and they are more likely to break out in civil war or revert to autocratic rule…

At least Obama understands that the United States has to take actions, and not just utter words. He talked in his speech about offering the budding democracies—especially Egypt and Tunisia—debt relief, entrepreneurial funds, education exchange programs, trade and investment partnerships. This is all good, more than Bush ever did. But are these things enough (whether or not Congress funds them sufficiently), and does the full support of the United States of America mean what it used to mean? Is it what some of the emerging new parties or potential leaders even want? Obama said, “America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding people to be heard, even if we disagree with them.” But what happens if we disagree with their freely elected leaders’ actions?

Obama is trying to build a foundation for, as he put it, “engagement based on mutual interests and mutual respect.” But this is hard, especially since—as Mansfield and Snyder concluded in their book—emerging democracies are more prone to violent and destabilizing tendencies than any other kind of regime. Obama seems to know this. It’s good to have a president who understands the limits, as well as the possibilities, of power. But that doesn’t necessarily make the situation easier.

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