America: Demolishing Liberty in Exchange for Tyrants We Can Do Business With

The most embarrassing blight on America is our foreign policy democracy hypocrisy. While Americans claim to have--and in large part do have--many liberties associated with democracy, such cannot be said of the citizens of most of the nations with which the United States government "does business". U.S government actions indicate that our leaders do not understand a basic, easily observable premise: that the principles of liberty are valid for any people, regardless of religion, race, color, gender, creed, or nearly any other category. Yet the imperialism of the United States for the last 100 years has spit in the face of those principles--all in the name of control.

Immediately after the attacks of 9/11, U.S. President George W. Bush asked, "Why do they hate us?" Ironically, he was ostensibly speaking on behalf of the American people in general, whom the rest of the world actually does not hate. Had Bush been speaking of the United States government in particular (but he wasn't), he would have been accurate that they do hate

The first principle of liberty is simple. It is that most people around the world want it.

this facet of America. It's not difficult to discern the reasons why.

Natan Sharansky, a former prisoner of the Soviet gulags, wrote the book The Case for Democracy in 2004. He had a simple explanation of why foreigners often hate the government of the United States. It has almost everything to do with U.S. foreign policy.
...the most anti-American regimes in the Middle East have the most pro-American populations. This is not despite those regimes' anti-American propaganda, but because of it... If America is seen as supporting that regime, as in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the people hate America. If America is seen as opposing the regime, as in Iran, the people admire it.

Even those who genuinely do hate America do not necessarily hate free societies. Rather, part of their hatred is due to the perception that by supporting the nondemocratic regimes that are oppressing them, America is betraying the values it claims to uphold.

The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, p. 60
Not long after Ronald Reagan successfully asked Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall", Reagan's successor, George H. W. Bush, and the American foreign policy establishment began having second thoughts. Natan Sharansky was able at that time to speak with the first President Bush on the subject of Jewish emigration from Russia. He says:
When I asked him why America wanted to prevent the breakup of the USSR, he explained that Gorbachev was a man with whomthe United States "could do business." Bush argued that it was better to have the Soviet's nuclear arsenal in the hands of a leader America could rely on than under the control of unproven heads of state, even ones who democratically elected.

The Case for Democracy, p. 67
Even considering the backlash against America's overweening attempts to control the rest of the world, Bush's statement is pure, short-term interested bunk. The American establishment, with the potential fall of the Soviet Union, was thrust outside its comfort zone. After listening to the logic of Sharansky's argument, Bush's first overture to a former Soviet-bloc country (in 1991) was to go against Sharansky and tell the Ukraine that it shouldn't attempt to achieve liberty, because that would be too dangerous. The utterly shocked Ukrainians, once they had regained their wits, gave Bush the proverbial finger, and a new hatred of American government was formed.

Noah Feldman, in his book After Jihad, written in 2003, notes where such wishy-washiness on principles has gotten the American Establishment.
In the United States, the idea that promoting democracy abroad serves American values and interests was never considered applicable to the Muslim world... The...fear that...democracy might lead to Islamist politics has become a convenient partner to the cautious preference for stable autocracy and the flow of cheap oil. has led the United States and Europe to ignore the possibility that Muslims might want freedom as much as anybody else. It has led Western governments that pride themselves on their own democratic character to embrace dictators for reasons of short-term self-interest, forgetting that in the long run, the support of autocracy undermines their own democratic values and makes enemies [to democracy] of the people who are being oppressed with Western complicity.

After Jihad: America and the struggle for Islamic Democracy, pp. 9-11
In other words, the

Most of the rest of the world is justified in hating the United States government--and us, too, unless we can soon convince the rest of the world that we don't think like our Establishment leaders.

If we really don't think like them, then let's stop voting for them.

people of the Middle East and other third world countries can't understand that if freedom is okay for Americans, why isn't it for them? Answer: because then the American Imperialists can't control you.

Feldman reminds us, though, that
European countries have criticized America's heavy-handedness in the Muslim world, but they...are just as satisfied to deal with autocrats as the U.S. has been.

After Jihad, p. 11
Long before Donald Rumsfeld shook Saddam Hussein's hand in Iraq, the United States had already decided that Saddam was someone that we could and should develop a positive relationship with. Barry Lando, in his book Web of Deceit shows how this relationship came about:
...the Americans [began having] second thoughts about the Iraqi tyrant. He may have been a brutal dictator and the patron of some nasty people, but he also seemed to be a very down-to-earth leader who had brought a measure of stability to a traditionally chaotic land.

Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush, p. 36
In 1975, while meeting with Iraq's foreign minister, Henry Kissinger kissed up to the Iraqis.
He admitted [to the foreign minister] that the U.S. had been backing the Kurdish rebellion in Iraq "because we thought you were a Soviet satellite." But the U.S.'s views had now changed. "We think you are a friend of the Soviet Union, but you act on your own principles."

Web of Deceit, p. 37
And with that, the Americans entered into the Iraq-weapons-supplier sweepstakes.

The Communist bogeyman has often been used as an excuse for American interference in world affairs from Latin America to the Middle East. Despite the fact that western interests, including some in America, bankrolled and otherwise supported the rise of Communism, in many instances the United States provoked the Communists into a rage. Lando gives an early example of such chicanery:
..after the 1963 coup in Iraq, U.S. and Baath officials met in Baghdad to formalize their ongoing relationship. One of the points agreed upon was the common desire to contain communism throughout the region.

Following the coup, doors that had been closed to the West, and particularly the Americans, suddenly reopened. ...Major American corporations like Parsons, Bechtel, and Mobil landed lucrative contracts... Iraq's new leaders performed another very useful service to the CIA, handing over Russian built Mig-21's, T-54 tanks, and Sam missiles for the United States to examine.

Web of Deceit, p. 30
The first principle of liberty is simple. It is that most people around the world want it. The only complication arises when buffoons with lots of money and with power brokers behind the scenes bamboozle their fellow citizens in their whorish rise to dominance.

Most of the rest of the world is justified in hating the United States government. But it won't be long until they'll feel justified in hating the rest of America--you and I. By supporting dictators, including Communists, American governments have made a bed of scorpions. Everyday Americans will have to lie in that bed unless we can soon convince the rest of the world that we don't think like our Establishment leaders, and that we believe that everyone--not just the West--deserves to be free.

If we really don't think like our leaders, then let's stop voting for them.


  1. Some of your rhetoric sounds a lot like Osama bin Laden's (i.e. the US is primarily at fault for 9/11). I'm not saying all of your suggestions are wrong, but your slant seems a bit myopic.

    You seem to imply that the US can only "do business" with perfect or near perfect actors. It would seem that there never is a situation that would allow the US to deal with the enemies of our enemies, though they be foul. There is apparently no room for making friends with mammon or working with the lesser of various evils.

    The school of thought you deride is known as political realism in international affairs -- often just 'realism' for short. It has been the preferred method of US foreign policy for decades, although Reagan sort of bucked the trend a bit.

    Bush I was a strict realist. He followed realist ideals in the State Dept and as CIA director. He filled his administration with realists, such as Brent Scowcroft. The Iraq Study Group was packed with realists.

    The US has had stints where it didn't follow realist policies. That would include, for example, Teddy Roosevelt's charge up San Juan Hill and Bush II going into Iraq. These instances have usually incited a fresh round of realism. Indeed, realist policies seem ascendant today.

    In reality, US foreign policy is a jumble of inconsistency, both due to the unevenness of international affairs and constant policy upheaval that is inherent in a democratic republic. There is some pro-activity and some reactivity. There are consequences for actions. But often posts like this whitewash the consequences of alternative courses that might have been pursued.

    A little humility is always good.

  2. Reach,

    Thanks for your alternate perspective. You're right that it's easy to second guess what might have been.

    However, the point I think you are missing is that "doing business" often includes actually putting the people in business that we want to do business with. The Shah and Saddam Hussein come to mind.

    Either way you look at it, if these leaders had looked at and cared about the most important issue--liberty--they would have made some decisions that were dramatically different.

  3. I'm not sure we can be blamed for putting Saddam in power. We did some things that facilitated it, and we worked with him while he was in power. But there were too many other factors at play there to categorically blame Saddam's ascension on us.

    The Shah, well, that was a shoddy piece of work. Having studied the events surrounding that, however, I can see how people at the time thought they were doing the best thing.

    Both of these issues came about due to our pursuit of the type of realism promoted by Bush I and Brent Scowcroft. And many in the realism camp still think they were right. That type of thinking seems rather short-term to me.

    One other comment. We have so many foreign affairs that it is impossible to deal with each one in a perfect manner. We tend to muddle through and do our best. It's never clear up front which ones will end up blowing up in our faces. And some end up going bad even when we have seemingly done almost everything right.

    I agree that we should pursue liberty as our 'prime directive' in international affairs. But I do not believe that there is always a single best way to do that. Sometimes we make mistakes. We should learn from those mistakes. That's where criticisms come in handy.


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