US can blame itself for anger in the Middle East, and start making peace
America's policy in the Middle East – blind interventionist support for regimes on behalf of myopic 'American interests' – fueled the unrest now boiling over across the region. Washington must now learn to work with the moderate opposition groups arising, including Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.
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We Americans believe that we favor democracy and democratization. But our government does not. We favor democracy – but only when it produces the leaders and policies that suit our interests, not theirs. Democratization is always a punishment we deliver upon enemies, never a gift bestowed upon friends. God forbid that elections should turn up “anti-American” leaders – whom we help to generate. And what does “anti-American” mean except a call for true sovereignty they have been denied?Skip to next paragraph
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Is our response to decades of anti-Americanism still to be more of the same? Are we incapable of finally acknowledging that free elections are required – come what may? Yes, come what may, because angry people of the region may initially support policies we do not like. Ironically, it is the “anti-American” regimes of Syria and Iran that act most confidently in the face of Egyptian turmoil: Whatever the virtues of their regimes, they are perceived as truly sovereign and on the “right side” of Middle East anti-colonial history.
The root of anti-American sentiment
Yet we have been through this debate endlessly since 9/11. Why is there so much anti-American sentiment? No, it’s not because “they hate our values.” It’s our lack of values in foreign policy they don’t like, our hypocritical lack of commitment to democracy, except when it meets our immediate needs.
We have tiptoed fearfully around Mubarak’s death agonies in Egypt. Yes, reforms, but no regime change. God forbid, Muslim Brothers might end up in government. Yet it has been the very iron fist of the Mubarak regime that has helped make the Muslim Brotherhood the dominant opposition party in Egypt today. Like it or not, at this point in history Islamist parties do well all over the Muslim world; they have become the default opposition. Get used to it. They vary tremendously across a wide spectrum, from moderates to radicals, and include a small sliver of violent killers. These movements are constantly evolving.
We must learn to work with the more moderate ones; that includes the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. They are not prone to love America, especially in view of our past policies, but the Brotherhood has eschewed violence for half a century and moves cautiously. If they occupy a major place in any new Egyptian government, they could well do with our help. And they will have to meet the political, economic, and social demands of the people once in power: Anti-Americanism doesn’t feed bellies or reform the social order.
Can't ride the tiger forever
America cannot go on riding the tiger forever in the Middle East. We cannot expect to have “pro-American” forces in power in the Middle East when the publics don’t like our policies. We cannot continue our endless interventions – out of fear that some states might emerge as anti-American. The world is sick of such meddling. We have to deal with the causes of why populations have become anti-American. And all this comes in the context of the rise of new powers with their own interests, and desire for clout in what they see as a new, emerging, multipolar global order. The costs are rising on our old patterns of imposing Pax Americana.