Must the United States abandon its “state-centered approach” and instead engage with both “governments and societies,” as Ann-Marie Slaughter argues? She writes:
This world of governments and societies is the foreign policy frontier. Many members of the Administration have been arguing that although it may be messy and uncomfortable, US foreign policy must change fairly dramatically to prosper in that world. Recognizing the importance of societies as well as governments—and both are important—requires focusing on development, the suite of policies dedicated to improving the lives of the individual human beings who comprise a society, as much as on diplomacy. It requires standing for Internet freedom and promoting all the ways in which information technology can help societies hold their governments to account. It requires paying attention to which voices are and are not heard in societies. And it points to the value of engaging the full spectrum of US society—economic, civic, educational, religious, philanthropic—to connect to foreign societies.
Damir Marusic of The American Interest responds:
Evidence paints a different picture. Though Facebook and Twitter provide unprecedented opportunities for non-state actors to organize and raise awareness of injustice among the public, the state remains defined by its monopoly over the use of violence. Though the Egyptian and Tunisian episodes occurred (and continue to evolve) without excessive carnage, the unrest in Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and of course Libya show that people armed with ideals and values are not sufficient agents of change. Indeed, as an article in the upcoming issue of The American Interest will argue, the reason for the relative success in Tunisia and Egypt had everything to do with the political realities and power relationships within these very different polities, and very little to do with each country’s military recognizing the legitimacy of the people’s grievances. Furthermore, in Egypt, the entrenched power of the army and the superior organization of existing parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood is tempering reform, as evidenced by the carefully choreographed constitutional referendum of March 22. Twitter and Facebook are, to be sure, unprecedentedly powerful tools for organization, but they do not change the primordial, sharp-elbowed nature of politics.
In any case, whether the resignation of Mubarak will bring about political and economic revolution in Egypt remains an open question. While some young, cool, Internet-savvy Egyptians played a role in organizing the anti-Mubarak protests, the demonstrations wouldn’t have erupted were it not for key political and economic developments, including rising food prices and the erosion of America’s ability to secure the power of friendly autocrats in the Middle East. The mostly secular and liberal Egyptians who have been successful in constructing Internet sites have yet to demonstrate that they have the power, talent, and patience to establish political parties in a free society—if and when the military decides to give up power. The fact that Egypt’s generals don’t tweet isn’t going to make a big difference.