Back in the good old days of the Cold War, when I was a kid and all the Soviet missiles were aimed at me and my kin in North Dakota, the domino theory held that if one nation fell to communism, so too would all of its neighbors. The process was liable to end with Minnesota toppling, and then bringing down North Dakota.
I snark, but the domino theory was used to justify all kins of hideous mischief, from American involvement in the Vietnam War to our endless meddling in Latin America.
It strikes me as a huge irony of history that the most notable instance of a regional domino effect is the wave of democratization that swept through eastern Europe in 1989/90. And now the desire for democracy seems to be doing the same in North Africa and the Middle East.
I don’t buy into any teleological approach to history. Democracy is still far from a foregone conclusion in Tunisia or Egypt, never mind Bahrain or Yemen. Still, it’s fascinating to see that the domino dynamic is so much stronger for nascent democracies than it ever was for authoritarian communist states.
Maybe the theory would have been more accurate if we’d added some Legos to it?