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.