America’s Schizophrenia

Over the two terms of the previous president, George Bush, the neoconservatives were blamed for being ideologues — that is, they based their foreign policy goals on their particular image of the world. The invasion of Iraq was the culmination of the application of this image.

The Democrats who came to power, through President Barack Obama, assumed that only direct military disengagement from Iraq would correct the ideological methods used previously — that it would correct the tarnished image of America in our region, in which the United States believes that it has vital national interests, especially in the field of energy.

Arabs made bets on whether the Obama administration would be capable of diverging from the arrogant ideological methods of his predecessor, and on its actual openness to the concerns of the people of the region, who are eager for real democracy, the just distribution of wealth, and especially the stimulation of the wheel of a productive economy that can set apart vital forces that will support stability and the respect for the rule of law. Similarly, they made bets whether it could protect the people’s rights — including the Palestinian people, downtrodden under occupation by America’s ally — and the serious work of repelling Israeli aggression and compelling Israel to respect the national and human rights of the Palestinians in their land.

This rosy picture of the Obama administration’s capabilities didn’t last long. It quickly clashed with and made a humiliating retreat before Israel, which showed at the least contempt for the human rights of the Palestinians and their aspiration for a good life in an independent state. Indeed, here it erased the concept of human rights as a value to be defended universally, and it abandoned the Palestinian right before naked Israeli violence. It upheld this violence in its various forms — physical, economic and political.

The image of America’s position on this right was struck dead, not only among the people of our region, but also on the level of American foreign policy in general. The day is coming to defend human rights, with the events in Tunisia and Egypt, in an attempt to renew the beauty of this image.

Of course, in general, it’s impossible to defend the practices of Arab regimes, especially in Tunisia and Egypt. But circumstances and a number of other factors made these two countries a stage for a clash with the authorities, including: mismanagement, corruption, tyranny, violations of human rights, economic failure, and the uncertainty of future prospects, along with hidden ideological conflicts with the regime and its supporters.

These demands and popular aspirations are taking the form of clashes with the ruling regimes, and this is due to a pair of impediments: the separation of the authorities from reality in all its aspects, and the separation of the protest movement from the reality of politics and the state. It’s because of this that the opposition movement had no apparent political leadership — violence was the only tool in for either side, occasionally leading to mob behavior.

And here comes America, interfering in the name of human rights in a manner reminiscent of Washington in the shadow of the Cold War, when it spoke of the peoples behind the Iron Curtain. This happened in Tunisia and it’s happening now in Egypt —human rights becoming a political tool rather than a value in itself. In the name of these rights, it was arranged that Ben Ali leave power, a situation seized to the benefit of the Tunisian military establishment. It appears that a similar situation is in the realm of possibility in Egypt.

Given the definite differences between the two experiences, the United States wants to guarantee an alliance with any future form of regime, after concluding that the current form has come under threat. Things like human rights are not the subject of this policy.

But the form imagined for subsequent democratic life lacks internal foundation, given society’s lack of productive internal economic forces that have real interest in stability and aren’t influenced by the transfer of power. In both states, the pattern will repeat; in any new regime, an elite rises which benefits from the income of the regime. Imagining at first that it’s protecting stability, the military establishment, whether alone or allied to rising Islamist forces, has no other choice but to repeat the experience of the previous regime in the best circumstances, with all the horrors that pushed the people to the streets. As for human rights, the banner that the United States is currently raising has no goal other than securing a position of influence with the new regime.

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