Revolution is the word of the day in the Middle East. The reaction in the American media and government is pure puzzlement. Who is revolting? Why? Should we support them or oppose them?
The fact that nobody seems to know what in hell is going on in Egypt, Tunisia, Albania and Jordan is yet another black mark on the American intelligence establishment, which has spent far too long playing patty-cake with dictatorial governments while failing to infiltrate and research popular movements in the Middle East.
It is also yet another horrible manifestation of America's benighted foreign policy when it comes to revolutionary movements. Since the Woodrow Wilson administration, American presidents have consistently mishandled revolutions abroad: Russia, Italy, Germany, Korea, Cuba, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Vietnam, Iraq, Iran, Honduras, among others. Those failures stem from two conflicting notions embraced by liberal American presidents since Wilson. First, liberal presidents champion the ideas of "self-determination" -- the idea that all populations have to decide their own future without extraneous help. Second, liberal presidents support the practical separation of civilian populations from the governments they elect.
Both of these principles are fictions. And working in tandem, they have crippled America's foreign policy, creating a catch-22: populations are supposed to pick their leaders without imperialist/colonialist interference, but those same populations cannot be held responsible for the leaders they pick. The result is American noninterference with burgeoning revolutions, then utter inability to cope with the results.
In practical terms, this means that the United States must uphold the dictators originally installed "by the people." We can't get rid of those dictators, since they were supposedly brought to power through popular means. We won't get rid of those dictators because if we did, we would have to deal with the reality that the people may in fact be just as problematic as the governments they select.
The first practical experiment in this catch-22 occurred in 1917 with the Russian Revolution. Wilson watched with approval as a hodgepodge of anti-tsarist popular movements ousted the unpopular dictators. Then Wilson watched in mild irritation as that movement, led by Alexander Kerensky, was ousted by the better organized and more militant Vladimir Lenin and his communists. While America interfered in a half-hearted way, by 1918, Wilson was preaching in his famous Fourteen Points speech that Russia would have to make "independent determination of her own political development."