There's one big, fat foreign-policy lesson that cuts against the American grain: elections, no matter how free and fair, are only the icing on the democratic cake, not the cake itself; and if the icing comes before the cake is baked, the result is rarely true democracy.
Following the ouster of dictator Hosni Mubarak, President Obama and the foreign-policy crowd began demanding immediate elections. The absolutely predictable winner soon thereafter was the organizational juggernaut of Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, which proceeded to turn their majority into an effective weapon against democracy. The hands-down losers were those charming, sincere, democracy-spouting youths of Tahrir Square, as well as standard Egyptian leaders trusted by knowledgeable Americans, all of whom were ill-organized. And if free and fair elections were held once again a month or six months or a year from now, the likely outcome would be the same.