Anarchy and directionless armed conflict benefits those who are up to no good. Show me a riot, and I'll point out the looters. Find a deadlocked election, and I'll find you some stuffed ballot boxes.
And when it comes to the Middle East, when civil unrest in the "Arab Street" starts spreading like a contagion throughout the entire region, it often open doors of opportunity for nefarious nations or factions -- in this case, Iran.
By condemning the West's intervention in Libya, the Iranians have drawn mostly diplomatic scorn from nearby Arab nations. (Iran isn't Arab, of course.) But as the Libyan situation gets messier and protracted -- as these ventures almost always do -- then the frustration of Arabs can present an opportunity to the most notorious opportunist in the region. Especially when radical Islamist factions in the Middle East and North Africa can potentially be exploited to further roil the waters.
The leaders of the nations under assault in recent weeks and months have been dictators. Should they all go? Of course. But it's also true that both Moammar Gadhafi of Libya and especially Hosni Mubarak of Egypt have been, on the grand geopolitical stage, stabilizing forces in the region. By design or chance, that has effectively made them allies of the world's unwilling constabulary nations, most notably America.
The Obama administration showed an inability to decide whether to support America's traditional ally Mubarak or to get on the side of history and support his ouster. On Gadhafi, the White House looked even more confused until European allies all but forced its hand.
This "spread of democracy" is not what it seems. And it's not going to end anytime soon. Nor will more moderate nations and forces in the Middle East be exempt from the movement's reach. A combination of social media and well-coordinated dissidents are riding the same idealistic wave that brought Iran out of the dark repression of the shah of Iran -- another American ally. Unfortunately, that easing into democracy morphed into a falling into the hands of an evil regime that has been in various stages of open or secret warfare with America in the three decades since it took over.
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