The view from the Gulf

One of the things we frequently bemoan here is the fact that American foreign policy tends to be naive.  Perhaps because our culture is a fluid melting pot in which citizens, until quite recently, willingly changed themselves to assimilate into the broader culture, we’re very poor at understanding that other cultures not only have different behaviors, which is a superficial thing, but different mores and values, many of which run almost intractably deep.

The Obama administration has added to that already dangerous naiveté a definitely anti-American bent.  First, Obama seems to care very little for foreign policies that, no matter how misguided, are at least intended to advance American interests abroad.  Second, Obama has abandoned an American foreign policy goal that goes back almost one hundred years, which is to advance individual freedom abroad.  Advancing individual freedom rests upon two prongs, the first of which has an airy-fairy, elementary school sweetness, and the second of which is grounded in hard common sense.  On the sweet side, valuing our own freedom, we like to share it with others.  More pragmatically, nations that rank high on the individual liberty scale seldom go to war with other, similarly situated nations.

The Bush administration perfectly exemplified both America’s traditional goal of pushing freedom and her naiveté.  The Bush crowd understood that free nations are stable nations, and they truly wanted to see the Iraqi and Afghani people freed from tyranny.  As history shows, however, the Bushies had absolutely no idea how very different Middle Eastern culture and values are from those in the West.  They assumed that, if we gave Middle Eastern Muslims freedom, they’d act like free people.  Boy were they wrong.  It turns out that, while people may value freedom, older, more firmly entrenched behaviors (tribalism, misogyny, religious fervor) will trump nascent democracies just about every time.  Change, if it comes, is gradual, often at a glacial pace.  Nor did the Bushies seem to understand that we were able to rush the freedom process in Germany and Japan only because we reduced them to rubble, rebuilt them from the ground up, and then stuck around for 60 years to keep an eye on things.

All of which gets me to a fascinating article from Bahrain’s Gulf Daily News, which a friend sent me.  Although most decided a Muslim country, Bahrain is also moderate by Muslim standards, and it prides itself on that fact.  I doubt I’d be comfortable living there, but it’s no Saudi Arabia or Iran.  Iran, however, would like it to be an Iran.  The article focuses on Bahraini fears that Iran is attempting to control it, and to bringing it in line with Iran’s fanatic, medieval Shia practice of Islam:

BAHRAIN is a victim of Iran’s expansionist policies, which will not be allowed to succeed, it was declared last night. It has been the ideology of Iran over the last many centuries to interfere in the affairs of its neighbours and pursue its policies of suppression, said Akhbar Al Khaleej Editor-in-Chief Anwar Abdulrahman.

He said 65 per cent of the people in Bahrain were the “moderate silent majority” who did not speak while 35pc were the “vocal anti-government” people who shouted and their voices were heard.

“We are one people and we are moderates. There is no way we can be violent and there is no way we can be like Iran,” said Mr Abdulrahman.

The article goes on to complaint in greater length about the risk an expansionist Iran poses for the Gulf states, and I urge you to read it.  Two things in the article really jumped out at me, one about the nature of Iran, and the other about the nature of America:

“These policies have been with the Iranians since 600BC, even though the regimes and rulers have changed,” said Mr Abdulrahman.

“There were all kinds of rulers, but they have always been dictators who have repeatedly suppressed their own people.


He also spoke about the US role in the region and about its double standards.

“They have a policy to play a role in every part of the world, regardless of how disastrous it might be,” said Mr Abdulrahman.

“Whether it was Vietnam in the 60s or in the modern-day Iraq and Afghanistan, they have never won. It is only a matter of time they will withdraw from Afghanistan as well.

“Wherever they go, it turns into a disaster. Their policies are like fast food – they change every day.”

Mr. Abdulrahman is right on both counts.  Unlike America, which is a new nation, old nations have deeply entrenched behaviors.  Iran, whenever it’s had strength, has sought regional domination, whether the ruler was Darius, Xerxes or the Mullahs.  (In the same way, Russia, the Soviet Union and now Russia again, have always sought warm water ports.  It’s just what the rulers of that land do.)

As for Abdulrahman’s complaints about America, he’s right on that too.  America has always had a tug of war between isolationists and those who seek to advance freedom and democracy.  World War II put us firmly on a democracy seeking path right through 1968.  It was then that the McGovern/Obama wing of the Democratic party denounced America as a country too evil to offer salvation to other nations.  Since then, we’ve see-sawed back and forth between government powers that have viewed America alternately as a Lightbringer and as Satan incarnate — all with a good deal of naiveté thrown in to keep things interesting.

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  • Danny Lemieux

    I hate to say this, but Abdulrahman is right: America is not a dependable ally.

    The eye-opening experience for me was the betrayal of the South Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians by the Democrat Congress. The war had been won militarily in 1973. I suspect that the Democrats betrayed our erstwhile allies in 1975 out of spite, to deny Nixon a success in Vietnam where their own leaders, JFK and LBJ, had failed.

    I fear that Obama is about to do the same to Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Britain (the Falklands) and Taiwan. Even if the U.S. suddenly becomes a dependable ally under a Republican administration, what would our “friends” look forward to when administrations change? Would you want to be in the position of a Mubarak?

    It used to be said that U.S. politics stopped at the water’s edge. No more. 

  • Ymarsakar

    Nor did the Bushies seem to understand that we were able to rush the freedom process in Germany and Japan only because we reduced them to rubble, rebuilt them from the ground up, and then stuck around for 60 years to keep an eye on things.

    That’s not true.

    The process was fast in Japan because the Japanese had already adopted Western ways of thinking, including Christianity. When MacArthur was seen as the right hand of the Emperor Hirohito, it was the same as America being seen as an ally tribe of the Sunnis and Shia. MacArthur got that done immediately. It took 4 years from 2003 to 2006, before happening in the Sunni Triangle.

    As for Germany, they had no choice but to integrate. with Western ideas of capitalism. Everything else then followed, to the point where politics in Germany is split down the Berlin Wall lines. West is pro capitalist. East is socialist and anti-American.

     America was never a dependable ally. Because it’s a democracy. How can anyone be a dependable ally when they switch to the side of your enemies within one election cycle? You see, nobody would ever think of it like that, but Americans seem to think there must be a unity in foreign policy. On the surface, that looks like unity, but in reality, it’s not.


  • Ymarsakar

    Like I said before, a lot of anti-American sentiment in the world is due to the fact that America interferes in other nation’s affairs, blows it all up, and takes the loot back to DC to spread amongst Democrats. Then America takes the blame internationally, while Demoncrats say it was the Republicans that did it. It was Bush’s stupidity that made the world hate the US. Actually, the world hates the US because the US has military might, but is operated by a bunch of corrupt civilians which we would never countenance ruling our daily lives. But other nations have no choice but to accept the demands of corrupt Demoncrats in DC, or face economic or military sanction.

     The more anti-American sentiment there is, the more patriotism there is, and the more desire for independence. Theoretically American philosophy is pro-independence and wishes for a nation to pursue their own destiny, but in reality, the Demoncrats control what really goes on. Irregardless of the temporary tactical victories won by freedom loving Republicans.

  • Oldflyer

    While I cannot dispute the rap against America entirely, it is nevertheless overstated at least.
    Viet Nam was a disaster from the beginning.  No question.  Still, we spent 8 years trying to help South Vietnam stabilize itself.   We learned–or should have–that you cannot make chicken salad out of ….
    Iraq, eight years.  This was a country that supposedly had an educated middle class, and a functioning buraeaucacy.  We made mistakes.  But, the Iraqis did have the will to forge a nation.
    Afghanistan, 10 years.  What can be said?  Some said it was always hopeless; maybe it was, but some always say that.
    So, clearly we have taken on seemingly impossible tasks at different times in different hell holes.  The success rate is not high.  But, that should not obscure the real successes; and the real successes fuel the optimism that leads to new efforts.
    What were the prospects for success in South Korea?  Who would have predicted as we fought to a stalemate on the battlefield that a vibrant and (primarily) democratic society would emerge? 
    Who in the whole world expected a democratic Japan could be shaped from a devastated feudal society in the late 1940s? 
    A free and united–and peaceful–Germany?  Not a chance.
    I won’t, can’t, speak to the countless  confrontations faced, or avoided due to an American presence, that kept countries from falling into tyranny over the decades.  Some took advantage of the opportunities that American involvement provided, some obviously did not. 
    I have no idea what the wise course is at this point in regard to  Iraq and Afghanistan.  I don’t see how anyone who is not privy to the big picture, at a highly classified level, can really know.  I do know that our commitment to those countries has been long and serious. Has it been long enough, and is it presently serious enough?   Normally, I would say that at this point we just have to trust our elected leadership, except…
    The point of all of the above is simply to try to refute the tone of dismissal I just read  toward American involvement around the world.  It has been a long time since a clear cut success; but success never comes if you don’t try.  America, almost alone among nations, tries.

  • NavyOne

    No discussion of Bahrain is complete without mention of cool Bahraini blogger Mahmood:
    I don’t agree with everything he writes, but his heart is in the right place and even when wrong, he is mostly generous. 

  • Ymarsakar

    Obama is privy to the highest classified information. Fat lot of good that does us. Information has no worth when the people with it, lack something called a spine, resolve, guts, or something approaching common human decency. That was always the flaw of democracies to begin with. They didn’t know what the hell to do when their leaders were evil and got elected anyways. Information or no information, it didn’t matter. It didn’t even matter whether they won on the battlefield either.

    There is no guarantee that people at the top know what the hell they are doing. They could be incompetent, evil, lazy, or simply being led around the block by military traitors, State Department socialist and totalitarian sympathizers, or any number of other issues that seem to crop up all too often for a superpower called America.

  • Ymarsakar

    The United States of America no longer even respects property laws vis a vis their own citizens. Why should any other nation expect us to hold to our bargains? Do we freaking expect our politicians to be honorable? If not, why the hell should foreigners who despise rabblerousing CIA coups, Demoncrat agents, State Department commies, and all the rest of the Wilsonian American clique, trust America to do a damn thing? Unless they were forced to by fear of economic or military repercussions. That’s a great and fine way to get other people’s loyalty, point a gun at their head. Only works for so long as you have more firepower and bullets, however.

     Btw, all those coups and assassinations the Left starts smack talking to us about? They were mostly started by Demoncrats, FYI. They don’t tell you that, now do they. Diem, Iran, Zimbabwe, Cuba, etc. They have, at every turn of history, sided with totalitarian and anti-American forces. And because they are part of America, people started realizing that American funding of UN rape squads, military occupation of the entire world, and various other things such as coups and betrayal of the Shah of Iran, Diem, and others, painted an interesting picture of American character: that of hypocrisy, talking about freedom but pursuing American “interests” such as looting other nations, getting rid of local leaders they don’t like (Diem), funding revolutions in Cuba, getting a whole bunch of Cuban patriots killed in the Bay of Pigs as if it was all on purpose and a way to appease Castro. They don’t live in the heart of America. Fing hell, the damn politicians don’t live in America, and they’re politicians OF America. So why the hell should foreigners know what the True Heart of the US is when our own damn politicians don’t care to and are totally ignorant of? Anybody got an answer for that?

     If you ever really want to start to get to the truth of why a lot of the world despise American hypocrisy and believe we are weak, all you have to do is to look at your next door Democrat neighbor. It’s not so hard, now is it.

  • expat

    One major change that we have to incorporate into our approach to foreign policy is the internet. As people are freed from the propaganda of their regimes, they begin to compare themselves with more succesful countries and they become discontented. Some will want a more democratic government; others will want a return to the good old days of headscarves.  There is no way we can avoid dealing with this, and we are responsible only in so far as al Gore gave us the internet. In Turkey, part of the rise of religion over secularism is due to the immigration of really backward villagers into the cities and the resultant culture shock they experienced. How much of the radicalism in Pakistan is really a revolt against the feudal structures of that country?
    We can and should support people seeking greater voice in their lives and government, but we should do so in a way that helps prepare them for the messiness of more democracy. And we should be humble in our expectations of what we can do. I remember seeing a TV clip after the tsunami in which a young woman was talking about other young people (students, I think) who were organizing their own relief efforts. She said they had seen how in America individuals organized themselves to help those in need. She felt they had a similar responsibility. Sometimes we don’t have to hit people over the head with our values. They can now observe them for themselves and choose what works for them.

  • Ymarsakar

    The problem is that the world cannot differentiate between American Leftists and American warriors or Jacksonians. To them, we are all the same. Just as they are all the same to us, because we don’t live there. Before 2003, nobody on the streets in America knew the difference between Sunni or Shia. IN fact, they didn’t even know the true existence of Islam to begin with in 2000.

     Part of why Mao or the Left, did their March through the Institutions or their Long March, is because they don’t want a fair fight. They don’t want people to realize how evil they are. They don’t want to allow people to make a choice between Left and other, when it is transparent that it is just a choice between evil looting vs alternative that might not work.

     It is far easier to crush American liberty, or independent opinions in the world, when evil is in the guise of the world’s superpower, the one claiming to be Good.

  • Mike Devx

    > The problem is that the world cannot differentiate between American Leftists and American warriors or Jacksonians.

    In my own way, I’d like to second Ymar and agree with him.

    You’ll notice that the only places in the USA where the Democrat left is furiously fighting right now is Ohio and Wisconsin, over collective bargaining politics.  Because the events in those two states struck at, and reduced, Democrat power.   It’s all about power.

    The sad corollary to this is that NOWHERE else have the Republicans (the GOP) made any real dent in Democrat power.  That is because the GOP is not serious about efforts to curtail the massive rise of government power, which is the Democrat raison-d’etre of existence.
    You only need to examine where and when Democrats get furious and determined, to understand where the GOP is having an effect.  Otherwise, you can completely ignore everything the GOP leadership is saying, because it is all political window dressing and cowardly GOP bullshit.

  • Ymarsakar

    The Left is the enemy and the Democrat party is an arm of the Left. But Republicans often times treat Demoncrats as just somebody with political differences. That has poisonous consequences over the long term.

  • Mike Devx

    someone said recently that democrats remain true to their core convictions.  Meanwhile, Republicans remain true to… what?