From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Sun Sep 11 2011 - 08:17:07 EDT
No longer king of the hill
By Haviland Smith - Published: September 11, 2011
It now appears clear that Muammar Gaddaffi's Libya will not survive. Like
all repressive regimes that have exploited their people for decades, it will
cease to exist. The $64 million question is what will replace it?
In a burst of bravado or compassion, or whatever you wish to call it, the
United States decided to get involved in the ongoing civil unrest in Libya
when it lurched onto the scene in the middle of February of this year. The
issue here is not the insurrection, the wishes of our European allies or
oil. The issue is very clearly how we view ourselves in today's world.
For reasons that probably lie at the heart of the American psyche, we
genuinely view ourselves as today's only benevolent world power. We are the
people who are somehow destined to bring peace, prosperity and democracy to
the rest of the world. If everyone in the world lived under the rules of our
liberal democracy, there would be nothing but peace and prosperity. Having
once become caught up in that scenario, it is difficult for us Americans to
see the world the way it really is.
Whether or not we realize it, the world most of us grew up in ended with the
death of the Soviet Union. That old Cold War world had resolved a very
simple dilemma for the rest of the world. In the battle between democracy
and communism, whose side were you on? With a variety of defense and aid
packages, we and the Soviets signed or bribed the Third World into our
respective camps and tolerated their brutalities in return for their
Today, no such Cold War competition exists. There are no further existential
choices to be made between democracy and communism. This new reality has
allowed all of the rest of the countries in the world to focus on and be
guided by their national and regional interests. Yemen does not have to
choose anymore because, frankly, the lack of Cold War competition means that
there is no free lunch coming to them from either America or the USSR.
So in many respects, particularly given the results to date of our
adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, America has become a toothless tiger. We
no longer hold sway over much of the rest of the world, as we had during the
Having found a startling level of foreign disinclination to help us with our
Iraq adventure, we went ahead with a new, aggressive, unilateral policy.
Under Bush, we would do whatever we wished whether the world agreed with us
or not. As a basis for foreign policy, that approach is not likely to find
many friends. In fact, over the years since that 2003 invasion, we have come
to be known around the world as self-interested and hypocritical - touting
democracy while running Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, secret jails, renditions,
"enhanced interrogations" and a reduction in our own civil and individual
rights. Not many countries outside NATO, and not all within, are interested
in supporting our foreign adventures.
This would be acceptable if we had unlimited resources and imperial
inclinations. As can be seen in American public opinion polls on Iraq,
Afghanistan, Yemen and Libya, the fact is that Americans are not so
inclined. A quick look at our divisive governance, our financial problems
and our seriously overcommitted "all volunteer army" gives no indication
that we have the necessary imperial capabilities.
And yet in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Syria and all the other Middle
East countries struggling for their freedom from homegrown oppressors, we
continue to meddle in their internal affairs.
The problem here is that we, as a country and people, have not acknowledged
this new world. We have not recognized the extent to which foreign countries
and peoples have put aside their relationships with us in favor of
concentrating on what they see to be their own true national interests.
All of these countries face major issues that will inhibit their transition
into whatever they ultimately become. They share many of the following
realities: A critical lack of direct experience with democratic governance,
a lack of political movements that could evolve into actual governance,
tribalism, ethnicity, corruption and increasing distrust of the West. None
of these realities argues in favor of the successful installation of liberal
Democracy will not thrive in these kinds of environments. It really is time
that we started to support true self-determination where the downtrodden
people of these countries really do get to choose the kind of governments
under which they live. Only then will any kind of stability come to the
It will take a very long time.
Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in eastern and
western Europe and as chief of the counterterrorism staff. He lives in
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