When first conceived in the wake of 9/11, two convictions underpinned that war. According to the first, precluding further attacks on the United States meant that the Islamic world needed to change. According to the second, because Muslims were manifestly unable to change on their own, the United States needed to engineer the process, with American military might serving as catalyst. Freedom (or at least submission) would issue from the barrel of a GI’s assault rifle.
In Afghanistan, then Iraq and now, of course, AfPak, U.S. efforts to promote change have achieved — at best — mixed results. Meanwhile, the costs incurred have proved painfully high. In terms of treasure expended, lives lost and moral authority squandered, Americans have paid a lot and gotten precious little in return.
It now turns out that those exertions were unnecessary or, at the very least, superfluous. For nine years, the U.S. has been pushing in on a door that opens outward. More amazing still, that door swings open of its own volition. Events of the last several weeks have made it abundantly clear not only that important parts of the Islamic world are ripe for change but that the impetus for change comes from within. Transformation is not something that outsiders can induce or impose or control. The process is organic, spontaneous and self-sustaining.
So poor Muslims tired of living in squalor, and the not-so-poor fed up with suffering under the boot of corrupt authoritarian regimes (not infrequently allied with the United States), don’t need Washington’s coaching. They don’t need us to “liberate” them. They are perfectly capable of liberating themselves. And their doing so basically doesn’t cost the American taxpayer a nickel.