The NYT is astonished.
"[T]his has so far been a year of heartening surprises," according to Tuesday's lead editorial about developments in the Mideast, "each one remarkable in itself, and taken together truly astonishing. The Bush administration is entitled to claim a healthy share of the credit for many of these advances. It boldly proclaimed the cause of Middle East democracy at a time when few in the West thought it had any realistic chance."
That's a nice line about what "few in the West thought," isn't it? But the Times may be confusing "the West" with its one-dimensional and utterly predictable editorial staff. There's no shortage of Westerners who took Arab liberalism seriously, if only because they were paying attention to Arab liberals.
In contrast to the NYT's late astonishment, for example, here is the opening of an essay (Post-Pan-Arabism) that appeared nearly two years ago, on April 18, 2003:
The fall of Baghdad this month was accompanied by another event that was less visible but that has potentially far greater consequences: the collapse of Pan-Arabism as an essential and controlling aspect of Arab political thought. Because the triumph of Pan-Arabism half a century ago led to the eclipse of liberal thought in the Arab world, Pan-Arabism's collapse may well make room for liberalism's gradual return in the region's discourse. That could in turn allow the region to break its historic cycle of political failure and economic stagnation. If that occurs, it would be a clear—if perhaps paradoxical—case of liberal interests advanced and served by military means; the true victors of the overthrow of Iraqi Ba'thism would be the long-powerless Arab liberals.