I’m not sure that is what David Ignatius is saying here, but it is what I think.
Defense Secretary Bob Gates is running through the standard list of factors that have caused political upheaval across the Middle East: the youth bulge, unemployment, corruption. I start to ask another question but Gates cuts me off, as if he wants to underline the dangers and uncertainties of this moment of history.
Gates says the unrest has highlighted “ethnic, sectarian and tribal differences that have been suppressed for years” in the region, and that as America encourages leaders to accept democratic change, there’s a question “whether more democratic governance can hold . . . countries together in light of these pressures.” The implication: There’s a risk that the political map of the modern Middle East may begin to unravel too, with, say, the breakup of Libya.
Then Gates says something policymakers rarely admit in crisis, which is that he doesn’t know how things will turn out: “I think we should be alert to the fact that outcomes are not predetermined, and that it’s not necessarily the case that everything has a happy ending. . . . We are in dark territory and nobody knows what the outcome will be.”
He has a lot more to say, read it here. You will notice I have highlighted what Gates said, not what Ignatius thinks, although I have not seen the originals.