Via Scoblete, George Brock is largely correct in his assessment of why the apparently successful Tunisian uprising has received so much less attention in the U.S. than the various “color” revolutions and the Green movement in 2009. The holiday season timing may not have helped, but December was the month when the Orange protests were taking off in Ukraine in 2004 and that didn’t seem to stop obsessive and cheerleading coverage on behalf of Yushchenko in the Western media.
I would add that it isn’t just Tunisia’s relatively lesser geopolitical significance that has kept its uprising from gaining more attention in the U.S. It’s also that Tunisia’s uprising is not very useful ideologically or strategically for most Americans. The Tunisian uprising doesn’t fit the neat schemes that have been applied to various “people power” movements in the last ten years. It also tends to blunt Western outrage towards authoritarian governments elsewhere in the world that one of the bloodiest crackdowns on protesters in recent years has come at the hands of a pro-Western client government, so it might be that many of the pro-Green enthusiasts are just trying to avoid the entire subject. In a related way, the excesses and foolishness of a lot of pro-Green enthusiasts and the subsequent faltering of the Green movement may have left Western observers chastened enough that they were unwilling to say anything about the Tunisian protesters for fear of being made to look foolish again.
If you are strongly committed to the idea that the only alternative to Arab authoritarian regimes is Islamist radicalism, Tunisia creates a problem for you. If you believe that Westerners’ actively promoting political reform in the Arab world is the only way that it will ever happen, the Tunisians seem to have just proved you wrong. If you have spent the last two years berating the Obama administration for neglecting democracy promotion, Tunisia offers something of a rebuke that U.S. advocacy or lack of advocacy has any impact on the internal politics of authoritarian states. Put another way, more significant internal political change has taken place in an Arab country during the first half of one term of the “negligent” Obama administration than occurred during the entire Bush administration. This is purely coincidence, and has nothing to do with Obama, but it makes a mockery of all those who have tried to pin the crackdowns elsewhere around on the world on Obama’s supposed indifference.
Administration critics might say that the administration abandoned a reliable ally by not backing Ben Ali more forcefully, but some of them have spent so much time building up their narrative that the administration is allegedly “pro-dictator” that it wouldn’t work. Unlike the other governments targeted by both spontaneous and semi-staged popular protests, Ben Ali’s regime had good relations with western Europe and the United States, so at best the outcome of the uprising is to maintain the status quo. Ben Ali was already deemed “pro-Western” for good reason and was interested in integrating Tunisia economically with the West, so his downfall does not serve the convenient morality tale that economic and political reform must go hand in hand.