THE WINDS OF WAR….Wes Clark makes a good point regarding recent events in the Middle East:

It is a mistake to believe that everything that is happening in the region ? whether positive or negative ? is a result of American military actions or rhetoric from Washington.

In Iran, for instance, the hopeful movement toward democracy went into remission after we invaded neighboring Iraq. Did our invasion cause democratic reform to falter in Iran? Not necessarily. There are many reasons ? most of them internal ? for why reform movements within a country wax and wane. But it is hard to claim that the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq was responsible for pro-democratic reactions in some Middle Eastern countries, but not for anti-democratic reactions in others.

That sounds right, but it raises another question in my mind ? one that unfortunately I don’t have the chops to try and answer.

Here it is: put aside the question of whether the Iraq war actually caused any of the recent movements toward reform in the Middle East. It certainly didn’t cause Yasser Arafat to die or Syria to assassinate Rafik Hariri, for example.

But it does provide the backdrop against which these events have unfolded. So what I wonder is this: even if we assume all these things would have happened regardless, how has the war affected the way in which they are playing out? Perhaps the Martyrs’ Square demonstrations in Lebanon were inevitable after Hariri’s assassination, but would Syria have subsequently backed down if not for the 150,000 coalition troops camped out on its border? Conversely, would Iran be less intent on developing a nuclear deterrent if it hadn’t just watched the fate of a neighboring country without one?

Or take Saudi Arabia. Were their recent municipal elections made palatable in the first place because of the withdrawal of American troops from Saudi territory? Maybe. But on the other hand, were the results of the elections more anti-American than they otherwise would have been due to the influence of the war and the continuing insurgency in Iraq?

Answers to these questions are above my pay grade, I’m afraid. But I’d sure feel a lot better if I thought that more smart people were at least taking a crack at them.