Have the Bush-era neocons and Obama liberals made all the same mistakes in the Middle East? David P. Goldman argues convincingly in Tablet that the past five years of Middle East policy have been marked not by a Democratic departure from the previous administration’s policies but by a complete failure by consensus: with regard to Egypt, Libya, and beyond, liberals and conservatives have been making many of the same mistakes for many of the same reasons:
Republicans vied with the Obama Administration in their zeal for the ouster of Egypt’s dictator Hosni Mubarak and in championing the subsequent NATO intervention against Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. Both parties saw themselves as having been vindicated by events. The Obama Administration saw its actions as proof that soft power in pursuit of humanitarian goals offered a new paradigm for foreign-policy success. And the Republican establishment saw a vindication of the Bush freedom agenda.…
They were all wrong. Just two years later, the foreign-policy establishment has fractured in the face of a Syrian civil war that threatens to metastasize into neighboring Iraq and Lebanon and an economic collapse in Egypt that has brought the largest Arab country to the brink of state failure.…
As Goldman explains, as much as the Obama liberals and Bush neocons love to hate each other’s Middle East policies, they’re very similar in an important way: both are based on the flawed and distinctly American expectation of a happy ending. A little prudence would have done the neocons a world of good in Iraq, and a bit more of this underrated virtue would have helped both parties during the Libya fiasco and larger Arab Spring.
Wonks in both political parties in America need to take a long, hard look at the assumptions and expectations informing their policy decisions in the Middle East. It’s looking like terrorism and Islamic extremism aren’t going to disappear in this century any faster than Communism disappeared in the last one. And it’s clear that commentators and decision-makers on both sides of the aisle still haven’t figured out what to do about it.
Our suggestion: American wonk wannabes spend too much time in school studying IR and economic theory, leading them to think about the world in ideological ways. Less theory, more history would make for a smarter and more cautious wonkocracy. We especially recommend the study of the long effort to spread liberal governance and cultural ideals, an effort that began in the early 19th century and that has had many successes, failures and hard-to-categorize surprises since. Today’s democracy promoters, whether liberal or conservative, are almost always illiterate about the rich and complex history of the endeavor they usually cluelessly seek to push forward.
Read Goldman’s whole piece here.
[Obama and Bush image courtesy of Getty Images]