The friend (FB Ali) who pointed me to this recent talk by Chas Freeman described it as “the best analysis I have read of the problems of the ME, US policy, and what the future likely holds. It is superb.”
Amen. The hardest part was choosing which of my twelve lengthy highlights was most likely to persuade you to read the whole thing.
The need for restraint extends to refraining from expansive rhetoric about our values or attempting to compel others to conform to them. In practice, we have insisted on democratization only in countries we have invaded or that were otherwise falling apart, as Egypt was during the first of the two “non coups” it suffered. When elections have yielded governments whose policies we oppose, we have not hesitated to conspire with their opponents to overthrow them. But the results of our efforts to coerce political change in the Middle East are not just failure but catastrophic failure. Our policies have nowhere produced democracy. They have instead contrived the destabilization of societies, the kindling of religious warfare, and the installation of dictatorships contemptuous of the rights of religious and ethnic minorities.
Americans used to believe that we could best lead by example. We and those in the Middle East seeking nonviolent change would all be better off if America returned to that tradition and foreswore ideologically motivated intervention. Despite our unparalleled ability to use force against foreigners, the best way to inspire them to emulate us remains showing them that we have our act together. At the moment, we do not.
Every other attempted analysis of these matters has seemed to me to suffer from various failings, whether of perception or in the proposed solution. Not so Freeman’s. What he offers is a desperately needed reality check, painful and bleak though it is.
1 In late February 2009, Freeman was named chair of the National intelligence Council, “which culls intelligence from sixteen US agencies and compiles them into National Intelligence Estimates.” Within two weeks he withdrew after vociferous criticism and lobbying (primarily from Israel’s more fervent supporters) and minimal backing from Obama. In an article in the WSJ on March 10, he wrote:
The libels on me and their easily traceable email trails show conclusively that there is a powerful lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired. The tactics of the Israel lobby plumb the depths of dishonour and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the wilful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth.”… “The aim of this lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those that it favours. (Wikipedia)
I was far from alone in thinking this failure on the part of the White House to hold firm under fire might prove to be all too predictive of what was to come.