The time has come for the U.S. to acknowledge that the notion of exporting democracy to the Middle East is a bad idea that does not work.
This policy had a decent run in the aftermath of World War II — witness Germany, Austria, Italy — and still had some traction into the 1990s—see the former Warsaw Pact nations (minus the countries that emerged out of the old Soviet Union). Those countries all had at least some pre-war experience of democratic government and had no recent history of commingling government and religion. But that was then and there — and this is now and elsewhere.
Successive U.S. administrations have failed to consider the profound differences between Christian Europe and the Islamic Middle East when they sought to continue what had worked reasonably well for half-a-century. That was naïve and inexcusable, given the fact that we pay thousands of people to keep their eyes open and ears to the ground for indications of what is happening in this volatile part of the world.
The almost total failure of this misbegotten policy is evident everywhere one looks in the Middle East: Iraq is now a ward of Iran, a supporter of Syria’s butcher Bashar Assad and is rapidly collapsing into civil war; Afghanistan is a corrupt kleptocracy with a dismal future once U.S. troops pull out; Gaza’s elected Hamas government conducts constant rocket attacks on Israel; Lebanon’s freely-elected, Hezbollah-dominated government is far more successful exporting terrorism than we are exporting democracy; Libya’s democratic government funnels arms to al-Qaeda rebels in Syria; and then there is Egypt, where the now-defunct “democratic” Muslim Brotherhood government tried to subvert the constitution and ensure its continuation in power.
This is a U.S. foreign policy failure that rivals anything in American history. Yet Washington remains in deep denial and keeps beating the democracy drum. The Middle East is not Europe. Authoritarian rule by elites has been the norm in that region for the last 5,000 years. The Koran, which Muslims believe is the literal word of God, permits nothing else. So how is it that we can presume to impose our system of government on a people for whom it is not only utterly alien, but contrary to their entire belief system? Stable, successful democracies need organic roots that grow from the bottom up and take time to develop. You would think that someone in a position of power and influence in this country would understand that. Apparently not.
Until President Jimmy Carter arrived on the scene, realpolitik generally prevailed when it came to U.S. foreign policy. We consistently held our noses and supported some very bad actors around the world because it was in our national interest to do that. And that served us quite well despite its distasteful character.
The underlying delusion that is the engine of our Middle Eastern policy seems to be that the U.S. will be sitting pretty when the entire region is ruled by freely-elected, democratic regimes. The proof so far is just the opposite. Just because a country shares our system of government does not mean that they are going to be our buddies. When Europe was ruled by absolute monarchies, nations fought each other constantly. We need to learn from the lessons of history, not ignore them and proclaim that today’s paradigm is different. It isn’t.
While I would love to live in an ideal world where everyone enjoyed the rights that we do, that is a pipedream. The sooner our presidents, congressional representatives and foreign policy establishments realize this, the better our national interests will be served and the better off we will be.
Richard Hermann is a part-time Canandaigua resident and Canandaigua Academy graduate. Email him care of Messenger Post Media at email@example.com.