The embedded journalists, writers, commentators and think-tankers who spend their hours urging “moderate” regimes in the Middle East – namely Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others – never cared too much about the democratic aspirations of the Arab people themselves. Too messy, too inconvenient. And as long as Israel was happy, well, Washington (and its colonial allies, hello Australia and Britain) could just sail along.
Every US administration has its mouthpiece in Washington’s think tank world, its courtier that will slavishly praise its every utterance. For the blessedly bygone Bush administration, that echo chamber was the American Enterprise Institute and the neo-conservative broadsheets in its orbit. For the Obama administration, it is the National Security Network, an operation founded in 2006 to bring “strategic focus to the progressive national security community.”
With one US-backed Arab despot dislodged and dodging Interpol, and another facing an intifada of historic proportions, many eyes looked to Washington, hopeful that President Barack Obama might reprise his ballyhooed Cairo speech of June 2009, showing the restive Arab masses that he felt and, perhaps, really understood their pain. Instead, Arab populations have heard a variation on Washington’s long-standing theme: “The Obama administration seeks to encourage political reforms without destabilizing the region.” That sentence, taken from the National Security Network’s January 27 press release, says it all: Democracy is great in theory, but if it will cause any disruption to business as usual, Washington prefers dictatorship.
n the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Americans wondered why their country had been targeted. Many, of course, settled upon the solipsistic, emotionally comforting explanation that “they hate us for our values” or resorted to conspiracy theory about Islam and world conquest. Saner sorts looked to the US history of support for Israel in its colonization of Palestine or coziness with certain kingdoms sitting atop vast pools of petroleum. But these factors have never been the whole answer. All who continue to wonder about the rest should ponder this day, January 28, 2011. The words of Obama and his chorus of apologists say it all: When it comes to the aspirations of ordinary Arabs for genuinely participatory politics and true self-determination, those vaunted American values are suspended, even when “special relationships” and hydrocarbon riches are not directly at issue. And the anti-democratic sentiment is bipartisan: On this question, there is less than a dime’s worth of difference between “progressive” Democrats and Republican xenophobes, between pinstriped State Department Arabists and flannel-clad Christian fundamentalists, between oil-first “realists” and Israel-first neo-conservatives. There is none.