And in the specific case of Tunisia, the fact that the uprising that drove President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was both spontaneous and entirely local, has been one of its great assets in the eyes of activists that would like to emulate the Jasmine Revolution in places like Egypt or Algeria. There's an argument to be made that the US should express support for democratic change in Tunisia, but avoid getting in the way of a revolution it's had nothing to do with so far and whose ultimate outcomes remain unguessable. (Kristen Chick, the Monitor's correspondent in Tunis, writes this afternoon that many protesters are vowing to resist an interim government that is packed full of Ben Ali's erstwhile underlings.)
One question in Ms. Rubin's column does have a clear answer however. "How much did the emergence of a democratic Iraq have to do with this popular revolt in Tunisia?" she asks.
Having covered Iraq and Egypt full time between 2003-2008, and having explored the question of whether the US invasion of Iraq would spur regional political change at length with academics, politicians, and average folks in and out of the region over a period of years (and talked to people in touch with current events in Tunisia the past few days) the answer to her question is clear: "Little to nothing."
The sectarian bloodletting in Iraq, the insurgency, and the US role in combating it claimed tens of thousands of Iraqi lives, and Iraq remains unstable today. The regional view of the Iraq war was and is overwhelmingly negative, the model of Iraq something to be avoided at all costs. Before I read Rubin's piece earlier today, Simon Hawkins, an anthropology professor at Franklin and Marshall, was kind enough to chat with me about Tunisian politics and history.