End of the Pro-Democracy Pretense
Media coverage of the Arab Spring somehow depicted the U.S. as sympathetic to and supportive of the democratic protesters notwithstanding the nation’s decades-long financial and military support for most of the targeted despots. That’s because a central staple of American domestic propaganda about its foreign policy is that the nation is “pro-democracy” — that’s the banner under which Americans wars are typically prettified — even though “democracy” in this regard really means “a government which serves American interests regardless of how their power is acquired,” while “despot” means “a government which defies American orders even if they’re democratically elected.”
It’s always preferable when pretenses of this sort are dropped — the ugly truth is better than pretty lies — and the events in the Arab world have forced the explicit relinquishment of this pro-democracy conceit. That’s because one of the prime aims of America’s support for Arab dictators has been to ensure that the actual views and beliefs of those nations’ populations remain suppressed, because those views are often so antithetical to the perceived national interests of the U.S. government. The last thing the U.S. government has wanted (or wants now) is actual democracy in the Arab world, in large part because democracy will enable the populations’ beliefs — driven by high levels of anti-American sentiment and opposition to Israeli actions – to be empowered rather than ignored.
So acute is this contradiction — between professed support for Arab democracy and the fear of what it will produce — that America’s Foreign Policy Community is now dropping the pro-freedom charade and talking openly (albeit euphemistically) about the need to oppose Arab democracy. Here is Jon Alterman, the director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a very typical member of the National Security priesthood, writing on Friday in The New York Times about Egyptian elections (via As’ad AbuKhali):
Many in Israel and America, and even some in Egypt, fear that the elections will produce an Islamist-led government that will tear up the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, turn hostile to the United States, openly support Hamas and transform Egypt into a theocracy that oppresses women, Christians and secular Muslims. They see little prospect for more liberal voices to prevail, and view military dictatorship as a preferable outcome.
American interests, however, call for a different outcome, one that finds a balance — however uneasy — between the military authorities and Egypt’s new politicians. We do not want any one side to vanquish or silence the other. And with lopsided early election results, it is especially important that the outcome not drive away Egypt’s educated liberal elite, whose economic connections and know-how will be vital for attracting investment and creating jobs.
Our instinct is to search for the clarity we saw in last winter’s televised celebrations. However, what Egyptians, and Americans, need is something murkier — not a victory, but an accommodation.
I love this passage both for its candor and for what it lamely attempts to obfuscate. Why should “American interests” determine the type of government Egypt has? That it should is simply embedded as an implicit, unstated assumption in Alterman’s advocacy. That’s because the right of the U.S. to dictate how other nations are governed is one of the central, unchallenged precepts of the American Foreign Policy Community’s dogma and it thus needs no defense or even explicit acknowledgment. It simply is. It’s an inherent imperial right.
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