What U.S. Diplomacy Can Learn from Tunisia

While I am sorry for the repression and the people who have died in Tunisia, I am excited at the unexpected overthrow of Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali by its own people.

I have visited the country a few times as well as many other Arab/Muslim countries (Syria, Lebanon, Morocco, Egypt, Palestinian territories). Most Muslim nations have rulers for life and it's nice to see that for once, a corrupt dictator who has been in power since 1987 was thrown out, not by U.S. military intervention but by popular rebellion. And as this article explains it took American diplomats and Wikileaks efforts to reveal what many Tunisians suspected and that is the extent of the government's corruption and abuse to help ignite the overthrow. Now the paradox here is obvious. The U.S. spends hundreds of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of human lives are lost in a bloody military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq with very little success in establishing grassroots change. And instead, U.S. diplomats telling a detailed story about corruption in Tunisia and a group of determined journalists at Wikileaks and Bradley Manning help accomplish what a decade of military intervention in the Middle East could not: a popular uprising against corruption and dictatorship. Yes, the realities of Afghanistan, Iraq and Tunisia are different and most credit goes to the Tunisian people themselves. Yet, as this New York Times article explains, many in the Arab/Muslim world are watching Tunisia and wondering how long will they put up with their own "Ben Alis". Especially in nearby Egypt.

It is interesting though that it took a combination of angry Tunisians, Wikileaks, U.S. diplomacy, a dissident soldier and social media to ignite the rebellion. Most likely if it had been Hillary Clinton alone telling the Tunisian people how corrupt Ben Ali was, it would have backfired. What US fails to see is that change is possible but the most USA can do is move the needle, not "build nations". I think the State Department should learn a lot from Tunisia and rethink Wikileaks, cellular networks, social networks, and the power of the raw truth when dictators lose control of the popular message.

I do recommend to read the original documents that Wikileaks exposed about Tunisia to understand the anger of the Tunisian people.