Friday, February 4, 2011

Diplomatic Masochism

Middle East scholar Juan Cole sums up why the U.S. has a history of backing the wrong horse in the region.

It might seem surprising that Mubarak was so willing to defy the Obama administration’s clear hint that he should quickly transition out of power. In fact, Mubarak’s slap in the face of President Obama will not be punished and it is nothing new. It shows again American toothlessness and weakness in the Middle East, and will encourage the enemies of the US to treat it with similar disdain.

The tail has long wagged the dog in American Middle East policy. The rotten order of the modern Middle East has been based on wily local elites stealing their way to billions while they took all the aid they could from the United States, even as they bit the hand that fed them.

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As long as the president and the Congress are willing to lie down and serve as doormats for America’s supposed allies in the Middle East– out of a conviction of the usefulness of their clients and the inexpensiveness of putting them on retainer– there will be anti-Americanism and security threats that force us to subject ourselves to humiliating patdowns and scans at the airport and an erosion of our civil liberties every day. We are only one step away of being treated, with “protest zones” and “Patriot Acts” just as badly as the peaceful Egyptian protesters have been.

This country, under presidents and Congresses of both parties, has a long history of backing regimes and dictators for all the wrong reasons. We like to think we’re promoting democracy and freedom, but even a cursory glance at the names of our clients, going back to the generals in Central America and dictators like the Shah of Iran, Batista in Cuba, Diem in Vietnam, Marcos in the Philippines, Franco in Spain, and on and on, shows that they were all ruthless and corrupt. The only thing they had in common was that they knew how to milk the U.S. foreign policy — and the Treasury — by chanting the mantra of being anti-Communist or nominally pro-Western.

In return, they could beat their people with impunity and humiliate us as long as they kept up the facade. And it always ends up badly for them, for us, and most importantly, the people of the nations for whom we were supposed to be bringing democracy and Wonder bread.