In 1776 thirteen colonies in North America declared independence from Imperial Britain and the United States was born. However judged from without, and many outside the United States view that country’s motives somewhat less lofty than do we Americans, in our own eyes we are a force for freedom and democracy in the world. But at what cost to those on whom we insist on bestowing the "gift"?
Jimmy Carter in 1979 responded to what for him were the cries of Teheran’s students to be “free” and deposed the Shah, the same we had installed less than twenty years earlier in a bloody CIA-engineered coup. And, as had the amateur Mensheviki been displaced just months after the Russian Revolution by the Bolsheviki so too the students of 1979 unprepared to govern and were soon replaced by Khomeini and his “democratic” Islamic Republic of Iran.
As had Carter in 1979 so would George W. Bush in 2002 “save” the oppressed, this time of Iraq, this time from the tyrant Sadam. According to the media George W had not previously known that Arabs are just "Arabs," and not divided by religion. Upon learning that the minority Sunnis had ruled the majority Shi''ites it was only just that he back the Shi''ites for the new "democracy" once the US defeated Sadam''s army.
American arms quickly overwhelmed the both army and Revolutionary Guards and Bush declared victory aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln soon after. And soon after that the Iran-backed Shi’a militias, organized, trained and armed before the US invasion began their nearly decade-long insurrection against the now US invaders sapping both the courage and spirit of America’s military. And Iranian intelligence and their double agent and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld confidante Ahmed Chalabi enticed Bush to achieve for the ayatollahs that which they failed in their ten-year war with Sadam. And so Iraq, thanks to American arms, was liberated in order to become a satellite of Iran whosince threatened American and Western interests throughout the Middle East, the very stability of the global economy.
Not a very fast learner, came Palestinian elections in 2006 Bush, again in the cause of Democracy, insisted that “full and fair elections” meant including Hamas: armed, radical and anti-Fateh Hamas. And when Hamas, as Israel and the Palestinian leadership had warned the president defeated Abbas in the elections* a surprised Bush attempted to reverse the democratic outcome by funding, training and arming a coup against Hamas. Which failed, leaving Hamas undisputed ruler of a now second mini-Palestine in Gaza. And if peace talks between Israel and a single Palestinian entity were, for any objective observer doomed before the Bush coup, how likely now that there were two “Palestines” that a Bush “roadmap” might succeed?
Barak Obama entered office in 2009. Young, idealistic and America’s first bi-racial president he was, by all appearances, the exact opposite of George W. Bush. Where his predecessor had been all energy and impulsivity, Obama promised reason and deliberation. And from the beginning he proclaimed to the world a “reset” to American policy: America would henceforth “lead from behind.” The Afghanistan “surge” his only decision to “lead from the front,” Libya, it seemed had been imposed on him by his militant women advisers, Clinton, Rice and Power. While Libya fits the script of the “dogma,” it was an EU initiative backed by the US. It took Egypt to provide Obama the opportunity to fully join Presidents Carter and Bush as a practitioner of America’s dogma of Democracy.
As did Carter in 1979, Obama responded to the cries of the youthful Tahrir protesters. And as the Shah’s Iran had been a pillar of stability in an unruly Middle East, the Shah a leader whom the US had groomed to serve American interests only to be betrayed by the US, so too was Mubarak of Egypt. No matter that Tahrir was about jobs and not democracy! And, as Bush installing a government of Shi’a had the “unintended consequence” of empowering Iran in its challenge to America’s commitments to the oil-rich Arab monarchies (a principle “interest” and reason for American bases in the region), by forcing Mubarak from office Obama all but guaranteed the victory of the Islamists, the very antithesis of "democracy" and threat to US interests. And compounding “naïveté” with hypocrisy, when Mubarak’s police attacked street protesters Obama swiftly demanded Mubarak’s resignation. But when Morsi’s minions repeated the performance Obama was content to sit mutely on his hands.
How make sense of this apparent flip-flop approach of America to the Middle East: the CIA engineering a coup against a democratically elected government in Iran, replacing democracy with autocracy only to later reverse itself and depose their "Shah" in the cause of “democracy”? Since Bush changed his reason for attacking Iraq several times, in the end he retreated into describing the war in service of “democracy” and, surprise, surprise achieved the same “unanticipated consequences” of damaging US and regional interests. Just as Carter achieved in Iran.
Obama and Mubarak: is there a pattern here? America, having defeated imperialism in 1776, now sees itself a revolutionary force for “freedom and justice” in the world?
Perhaps a simpler explanation serves, that America is, has always been, the “reluctant superpower.” Isolationist by nature, America can be forced to act on the world stage only when threatened. Germany insisting on sinking American cargo and passenger ships forced a reluctant President Wilson into the First World War. And had Japan not attacked Pearl Harbor would an isolationist United States have entered the Second World War? As for the Cold War and America’s promise of a defense shield to its allies in the Middle East: the threat of “communism” was palpable in Capitalist America, even inspired a failed military effort by to overthrow the Russian “worker’s state” in 1918. And by mid-century the Soviet Union was in the Middle East, supported revolutionary regimes in Egypt and Syria.
Absent a significant external threat the US prefers to leave the world to fend for itself. America prefers the solace of its own continent secured by two surrounding oceans. Had America asked to be the world’s only superpower? Succeeding generation argued over serving as “policeman to the world.” America is tired, tired of the wars, tired of its cost in lives and treasure. Iraq was the tipping point, Afghanistan but a failed afterthought. The Suez Canal? Let the EU worry about that, and Arab oil also for that matter. Anyway, the US now has its own shale reserves. And if Russia replaces America as regional hegemon, well at least they''re no longer communists!
America is tired; the world’s wealthiest country has spent enough treasure protecting other countries. America just wants to go home, quietly. Syria couldn''t have just waited another few months to blow up?
* Israel and the Saudis tried to convince Bush against deposing Sadam precisely because they ANTICIPATED the “consequences,” that Iran would be empowered and America’s allies and interests threatened. And the rest is history.