American meddling has a way of making things worse, everywhere and all the time. So, as Algeria and Sudan now undergo coups and government transitions, here’s a thought for the U.S. empire: Leave well enough alone! It’s only been a couple weeks, but optimistic liberal interventionists have already dubbed the instability in Algeria and Sudan a “new” Arab Spring—a reference to the pro-democracy protests and attempted, or actual, government overthrows in 2011 and 2012 in Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Libya and Yemen. Back then, boy, Washington, with its newly minted idealist President Barack Obama, was just sure that those revolts augured a fresh democratic wave in the notoriously autocratic Mideast. Some even averred that George W. Bush and company had been vindicated—were, in fact, right about the fertility of Arab soil for Jeffersonian democracy.
This wasn’t the case, of course. For a number of complex reasons—one of which was American interventionism—all but Tunisia collapsed into chaos, civil war or renewed dictatorship. That Tunisia held out may, at least in part, have to do with the relatively limited U.S. influence and activity in that North African backwater. For his part, Obama didn’t know what to do with the Arab Spring. He’d campaigned on an (allegedly) anti-interventionist platform—except in Afghanistan, of course—but the truth is that he and his neoliberal Cabinet team, which included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, could hardly contain its excitement. Obama didn’t want to be seen as being on the wrong side of history, but he also didn’t want a new American crusade in the region, so he hedged. The results were unhappy and, in many cases, disastrous.