Posted by on April 03, 2012 in Blog

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has an op-ed in the Washington Post today about the intersection of American strategic objectives and the “Arab Spring.”

Kissinger identifies a number of the key complications facing the Arab uprisings, and the inherent contradiction in the fact that mass democratic movements have so far largely failed to produce an enviable democratic outcome:

The Arab Spring is widely presented as a regional, youth-led revolution on behalf of liberal democratic principles. Yet Libya is not ruled by such forces; it hardly continues as a state. Neither is Egypt, whose electoral majority (possibly permanent) is overwhelmingly Islamist. Nor do democrats seem to predominate in the Syrian opposition. The Arab League consensus on Syria is not shaped by countries previously distinguished by the practice or advocacy of democracy.

At the same time, however, Kissinger appears to only appreciate the context of these uprisings within his Cold War framework. He dismisses the idea that America’s support for dictators and despots “in the name of international stability generated long-term instability,” arguing instead that “the Cold War structure lasted 30 years and induced decisive strategic transformations.”

This leads him to assert that “a doctrine of general humanitarian intervention in Middle East revolutions will prove unsustainable unless linked to a concept of American national security,” which he thinks the United States has somehow failed to do.

But when I look at the aid (and crowd control weaponry) we’ve given to Egypt’s military government, our tacit acceptance of the repression in Bahrain, and our heavy involvement in Libya’s militarization, I don’t think it’s accurate (or fair) to call our intervention “humanitarian” or to assume that it’s somehow divorced from national security objectives. On the contrary, it seems to me (and based on AAI polling, I’m not the only one) that Washington hasn’t moved far ­enough away from antiquated Cold War objectives, still clinging instead to the idea that we can enforce our will through local strongmen without any regard for the aspirations of the actual populations.

Kissinger closes his piece by warning that “in the end, [U.S. policy will] be judged by whether what emerges from the Arab Spring improves the reformed states’ responsibility toward the international order and humane institutions.” This is undoubtedly true, but I would also add that U.S. policy will be judged by our adherence to our morals, our principles of democracy, human rights, and individual prosperity, and our respect for the lives of the millions of Arabs who have boldly stood up for the respect to which they are long overdue.

Read the full article here.


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