I remember in 2003 when Georges W Bush decided to wage war against Iraq, I was having these long conversations with US citizens on the New York Times forum.
My position back then was (and still is) : the world prefers Bill Clinton‘s America than W’s as Clinton’s Soft Power is much better in the long-term than neocon’s (W, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney) belligerent stance on the world.
Neocon’s official agenda while invading Irak was, in a first step, to topple Saddam to set up a democracy. In a second step it was to propagate democracy using a domino effect so that other arab countries in the area also choose democracy. We all know what the unofficial agenda was : Vice President Cheney’s friends to take control of Iraqi’s oil.
On the official one, clearly the strategy has failed miserably. And some people estimate that this has cost about $US1 trillion to the US citizens. Comparing the financial situation of the US at the end of Clinton administration and the one at the end of W’s one can also see that the belligerent approach have had terrible consequences on the US economy.
What is happening right now in the arab world (Tunisia, Egypt, Lybia, Yemen, Oman) is quite unexpected but seems so obvious. As Michael McFaul put it :”In retrospect, all revolutions seem inevitable. Beforehand, all revolutions seem impossible.”
In Tunisia and Egypt people have been using Social Networks to organise collective citizen actions. Prior to the internet this was impossible. With the internet, Here Comes Everybody, to quote Clay Shirky awesome book.
The symbol of the Egyptian revolution is Wael Gonim, a Google employee whose Facebook page turned into a hero (FR link).
Broadly speaking, Social Networks have succeeded where weapons have failed : bringing down tyrants and claiming a more egalitarian society with more democracy. It is still too early to pretend they will succeed in the second objectives but they did succeed in the first one and on the domino effect.
The middle east strategy lesson : if you want to force people into democracy with weapons it does not work. If you empower them with social networks it does.
This brief post reminds me of the core premise of Toffler’s seminal 1990 book “Powershift – Knowledge, Wealth and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century”.
He posits that there are three sources of power .. knowledge, wealth and violence. Violence is the crudest, wealth nest .. whereas knowledge is the highest “quality” source of power. Less tangible, but capable of effecting enormous shifts in power when connected, aggregated, concentrated, and put into action.