The news and images from Cairo three days ago were so strange I nearly did a double-take: John McCain, the indefatigable supporter of US military intervention for regime change in Iraq, had suddenly discovered in himself a strong fervor for the homegrown uprising against tyranny in Egypt. There he was, with his good friend Joe Lieberman, mingling with Egyptian youths in Tahrir Square. “This revolution,” he said, “is a repudiation of Al Qaeda. This revolution has shown the people of the world, not just in the Arab world, that peaceful change can come about and violence and extremism is not required in order to achieve democracy and freedom.”
But less than a month ago, when protesters were fighting for their lives in Tahrir Square, McCain told Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren that “this virus is spreading throughout the Middle East.... This, I would argue, is probably the most dangerous period of history in—of our entire involvement in the Middle East, at least in modern times. Israel is in danger of being surrounded by countries that are against the very existence of Israel, are governed by radical organizations.”
McCain isn’t the only politician suddenly afflicted with amnesia. From Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama, our elected officials changed their positions to suit the events unfolding in North Africa and the Middle East. But I doubt if anyone in the region is fooled by this. The Arab publics can see exactly how much the current US administration cares for freedom and democracy when it backs the Bahreini royal family, in spite of the horrific violence the ruling clan unleashed on protesters in Pearl Square, or when it praises the Moroccan king for allowing the February 20 protests, even though demonstrators were beaten some days later in Rabat.
And now that Libya is in open revolt against Muammar el-Qaddafi, John McCain finds nothing better to do than to suggest that “we've got to get tough” and that the administration should arm the Libyan rebels. (The rebels do not want direct US intervention.)
Many in our political class, it seems, have completely missed the message that the Arab uprisings have sent them: American intervention is neither required nor needed. The young people protesting in Arab capitals right now want a meaningful break with the status quo and, in many ways, that means a break from American support.