Reading Kenneth Pollack's survey of the Middle East I was reminded, a little, of the Meiji Restoration in Japan in 1868. Pollack says the Middle East suffers from a surplus of educated but useless males, disrespect for the rule of law, failed pseudo-socialist economies, kleptocratic leadership, terrorism, and the only apparently viable alternative is Islamicism and Islamic fundamentalism. In mid-19th century Japan there was an archaically-educated and underemployed hereditary elite, divided into roughly 250 highly independent clans and living on shrinking government stipends, a relatively weak legal tradition (again, about 250 independent systems), a tottering pseudo-monarchical Shogunate, and widespread disaffection with Japan's position in the world. A relatively small group of mid-rank radicals -- classically educated, with strong clan loyalties, pro-Imperial, anti-foreign -- engineered a coalition of regional powers and a small corps of troops using modern weapons and methods that forced the Shogunate to initiate reforms (as well as crackdowns because of the steady stream of assassinations and terror and infighting coming from the pro-Imperial factions) and eventually forced the Shogunate into total collapse. I wouldn't want to push the comparison too far: Japan had a dynamic mercantile economy (though it got a little creaky when foreign goods started to come in and Japanese silk started to go out) and strong middle class. Japan had only a small fundamentalist problem (and most of them were working on the side of the reformers, at least initially).
But the whole process, from the initial contact with Commodore Perry to the Meiji Restoration (named after the reign-name of the pro-Imperialists Emperor who conveniently took the throne that same year) took only fifteen years. Then, having toppled the Shogunate, the pro-Imperial samurai leaders of Japan proceeded to undertake a thorough and radical revision of Japanese society, economics, politics, law and culture. Within twenty years, Japan was playing an active role in regional politics; in forty, Japan was the leading nation in Asia. (And in eighty, Japanese Imperialism had led to the US atom bombing and occupying Japan and again reforming Japanese politics and society, so the story isn't entirely positive, but there's time for that later.)
So it wouldn't be entirely surprising to see a radical, but practical, Arab nationalism take hold and lead the Middle East through extensive and positive changes. If it follows the Japanese model: the movement will be led by middle and low ranking bureaucrats, competent but frustrated at the failure of opportunity; the ideology of the movement will be divisive, starkly nationalistic and a little frightening, but ultimately more focused on internal reform rather than lashing out. The initial moves of the movement, after seizing power, will be to break down traditional barriers (clan, state) to"national" identity and unity, as well as to jettison counterproductive traditions and entitlements (for example, the Meiji state legislated the samurai class out of existence). Ironically, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's speech to the Organization of the Islamic Conference seems to actually fit the bill pretty well.
So, in a round-about way, I'm starting to think that Pollack is right when he argues that success in creating an independent liberal democracy in Iraq is vital to our national interest (I already thought it was a good thing, by the way, but for different reasons, mostly having to do with the joys of living in a liberal democracy.). Given how powerful and threatening Japan became after its Restoration revolution, what would the world look like half a century after an Arabian Restoration?