Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | March 1, 2013

Expectations vs. Reality, Middle East Edition

A short post for Friday.

I was recently rereading Henry Kissinger’s Diplomacy (Powell’s, Amazon), and the following passage jumped out at me (pp. 524-25):

America was prone to its own illusions, one of which was that the independence movements of the developing world paralleled the American experience, and that the new nations would therefore support American foreign policy once they realized that the U.S. attitude about colonialism sharply differed from that of the old European powers. But the leaders of the independence movements were of a different type than America’s Founding Fathers. While using the rhetoric of democracy, they lacked the commitment to it of the drafters of the American Constitution, who genuinely believed in a system of checks and balances. The vast majority of them governed in an authoritarian manner. Many were Marxists. Almost all of them saw in the East-West conflict an opportunity to overthrow what they identified as the old imperialist system. However much America might dissociate from European colonialism, American leaders, to their chagrin, found themselves perceived in developing countries as useful auxiliaries from the imperialist camp rather than as genuine partners.

Kissinger was writing, almost twenty years ago, about Egypt in the 1950s, and more generally about decolonization and the Cold War, but the passage seems like it could be equally applicable today. I was thinking about the variance between the reality of the Arab Spring and the hopes that many of us had for the Arab Spring. I was I was thinking about the variance when I read this post by Eugene Volokh about four foreigners arrested in Libya on suspicion of being missionaries and distributing Christian literature, a charge that could carry the death penalty. This is in the new, post-Gaddafi, post-Arab Spring Libya.

The more things change…

(Image Credit: Physical Map of the Middle East and Map of Libya, from the CIA World Factbook.)


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