President Obama has had a rude awakening in the Middle East. The region he thought existed was an illusion built on American progressive assumptions about the way the world works. In the dream Middle East, democracy at least of a sort was just around the corner. Moderate Islamists would engage with the democratic process, and the experience would lead them to ever more moderate behavior. If America got itself on the “right side of history,” and supported this hopeful development, both America’s values and its interests would be served. Our relationships with the peoples of the Middle East would improve as they saw Washington supporting the emergence of democracy in the region, and Al Qaeda and the other violent groups would lose influence as moderate Islamist parties guided their countries to prosperity and democracy.
This vision, sadly, has turned out to be a mirage, and Washington is discovering that fact only after the administration followed the deceptive illusion out into the deep desert. The vultures are circling now as American policy crawls forlornly over the dunes; with both the New York Times and the Washington Post running “what went wrong” obituaries for the President’s efforts in Egypt, not even the MSM can avoid the harsh truth that President Obama’s Middle East policies have collapsed into an ugly and incoherent mess.
The President and his team have been taken in by two very old American mistakes about the rest of the world. One is to confuse the end of history with the morning news. The other is to exaggerate America’s importance to the rest of the world. The President is in good company here; most of our political and policy class is deeply steeped in these beguiling fantasies about how the world works, and most of his critics on both the left and the right are as deeply and fatally confused about the region as he and his advisors have been. I’ll get to the inveterate tendency of narcissistic American policy makers and commenters to exaggerate America’s influence in another essay; for now, it’s enough to look at how the deep set American tendency to think that democracy is sweeping the world, right now, has helped wreck the Obama administration’s Middle East policy.
The end of history, which AI founder Francis Fukuyama used to describe the historical implications of the Cold War, is to American political philosophy what the Second Coming is to Christians. In the end, almost all Americans devoutly believe, the liberal, market principles on which our country is built will triumph around the world. Asia, Africa, South America, the Middle East and even Russia will some day become democratic societies with market economies softened by welfare states and social safety nets. As a nation, we believe that democracy is both morally better and more practical than other forms of government, and that a regulated market economy offers the only long term path to national prosperity. As democracy and capitalism spread their wonder-working wings …read more