Guess Who Is Sticking It To the Man?
US hegemony, democracy goals in M-E a doomed mix
by Leon Hadar
One of the
best television commercials I have seen for a while comes from Sprint
promoting its Fair & Flexible Plan for cellphones. We see a
pompous business executive discussing the Sprint plan and then telling
his assistant that joining the plan is his way of "sticking
it to the Man."
is shocked: "But, sir, you ARE the Man."
responds the executive.
sticking it to yourself," his aide asks.
It seems to
me that this television commercial can help illustrate what is wrong
with the Bush administration's policy in the Middle East. To put
it in simple terms, the entire American foreign policy establishment
is promoting a strategy based on the need for the United States
to be the hegemonic power, the Boss, the Man, in the Middle East.
At the same time, the same administration led by its neoconservative
ideologues is advancing a policy of democracy promotion and holding
free elections in the Middle East, which runs contrary to its goal
of establishing hegemony in the region. In a way, when it comes
to Washington's two contradictory goals in the Middle East – preserving
hegemony and advancing democracy – President George W Bush, the
Man, not unlike the business executive in the Sprint commercial,
is "sticking it to the Man" – to himself, that is.
the end of the Cold War, the consensus in the "foreign policy
establishment" in Washington has been that despite the disappearance
of the Soviet threat in the Middle East, the US needed to maintain
a strategic hegemony in the region because of "oil" and
"Israel," that is, to preserve the "access"
to Persian Gulf oil and to protect the Jewish state.
in Washington has been over the means to achieve that goal. There
was the Hegemony-Lite version adopted by former presidents George
H Bush and Bill Clinton that assumed that the US could remain the
Man in the Middle East through indirect military influence or "offshore
balancing." And now we have President Bush and the neocons
who, after 9/11, implemented a policy of direct US military intervention
and control in the Middle East. In that context, both camps agree
on the need to try to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict as a way
of reducing the costs of US involvement that includes juggling Israeli
interests and Arab (Saudi) interests.
of course, challenge this entire hegemonic US strategy by proposing
that the US should work with other great powers as part of a strategic
oligopoly (as opposed to a US monopoly) to maintain stability in
the Middle East and to encourage the formation of regional balance
of power systems, a policy that would probably require an engagement
with Iran. But neither the Bushies nor the leading Democrats are
willing to consider such a change in the USMiddle East paradigm.
Instead, they want America to remain the Boss, the Man, in the region.
If that is
the case, it seems to me that free elections in the Middle East
can only weaken US hegemony. My reading of modern history is that
nationalism – and not democracy – is the most powerful political
force and the main reason for civil and international wars, and
that democracy has been the most reliable ally of nationalism. By
definition, they both help release the forces that challenge the
existing hegemony at home and abroad, as the experience of other
great powers – the Austro-Hungarian Empire, for example – has demonstrated.
There are not half-pregnant solutions here in the form of "tamed
democracy." Free elections, especially in unstable societies
that are facing foreign threats and where nationalism is a powerful
force, tend to give rise to forces that want to "stick it to
the Man." In fact, they get elected by stating that as their
democracy in the Middle East and igniting the forces of nationalism,
ethnicity, religion and tribes, or a mix of all of these, the Americans
have made the Middle East safe for nationalism and radical, ethnic
and religious identity.
The US is discovering
that mixing hegemony and democracy is producing explosions that
are blowing up its interests in two strategic parts of the Middle
East – the Persian Gulf (Iraq) and Israel/Palestine – where it has
led to the victory of political parties whose values and goals run
contrary to that of the US.
In Iraq, the
elected coalition of Shiite clerics wants to reverse women's rights
and give second-class citizenship to non-Muslims. And their goals
of enhancing ties with the Shiite clerics in Tehran are hindering
efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. One could
make the argument that the election of a friendly Shiite government
in Baghdad has strengthened the ability of the Iranians to resist
Western pressure to discontinue its nuclear military program. At
the same time, the election of the radical Hamas in Palestine would
make it close to impossible for the Americans to revive whatever
is still left from the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. It's a
major blow to U.S. interests and raises also the possibility of
an "Islamization" trend among the Palestinians, one of the most
secular Arab societies.
Rami Khouri, editor of an English-language newspaper in Beirut,
has suggested in an interview with the New York Times, the
victories of the Shiites in Iraq and of Hamas in Palestine and the
"sense that the Islamists were on a roll" have helped
ignite the violent anti-West protests over Danish cartoons. President
Bush and his aides are, indeed, sticking it to themselves.
Hadar [send him mail] is
Washington correspondent for the Business
Times of Singapore and the author of Sandstorm:
Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan). Visit
© 2006 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved. Reprinted
with permission of the author.