by Ray Fleming

U NLIKE most senior diplomats Hillary Clinton sometimes wears her feelings on her sleeve. Last week, in the aftermath of the killing in Benghazi of Chris Steven, America's ambassador to Libya, she said: “How could this happen in a country we helped to liberate in a city we helped to save from destruction by American military intervention?” One has to hope that Secretary of State Clinton was overcome by the occasion and perhaps also by her personal respect for the Ambassador because, taken at their face value, her words show just how ill-prepared the West is to weather the storms of post-Arab Spring unrest. Whatever the precise cause of the violence of the past few days in many Middle Eastern countries - a worthless American video demeaning the Prophet Muhammad, or the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, or civilian deaths from US drone attacks -- their cumulative cause is the new freedom of activists of many kinds, religious and political, to express themselves after decades of suppression often condoned and aided by Western policies and money.

The expectation that the Arab Spring revolutions would be followed by instant shiny new Western-style democracies was always irrational and dangerous. Progress to stable free societies will be painfully slow with many accidents along the way. Western countries must understand this and respond in balanced, constructive and understanding ways with the long-term always in view.