Column: Why America gets revolutions wrong
Revolution is the word of the day in the Middle East. The reaction in the American media and government is pure puzzlement. Who is revolting? Why? Should we support them or oppose them?
The fact that nobody seems to know what in hell is going on in Egypt, Tunisia, Albania and Jordan is yet another black mark on the American intelligence establishment, which has spent far too long playing patty-cake with dictatorial governments while failing to infiltrate and research popular movements in the Middle East.
It is also yet another horrible manifestation of America's benighted foreign policy when it comes to revolutionary movements. Since the Woodrow Wilson administration, American presidents have consistently mishandled revolutions abroad: Russia, Italy, Germany, Korea, Cuba, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Vietnam, Iraq, Iran, Honduras, among others. Those failures stem from two conflicting notions embraced by liberal American presidents since Wilson. First, liberal presidents champion the ideas of "self-determination" - the idea that all populations have to decide their own future without extraneous help. Second, liberal presidents support the practical separation of civilian populations from the governments they elect.
Both of these principles are fictions. And working in tandem, they have crippled America's foreign policy, creating a catch-22: populations are supposed to pick their leaders without imperialist/colonialist interference, but those same populations cannot be held responsible for the leaders they pick. The result is American noninterference with burgeoning revolutions, then utter inability to cope with the results.
In practical terms, this means that the United States must uphold the dictators originally installed "by the people." We can't get rid of those dictators, since they were supposedly brought to power through popular means. We won't get rid of those dictators because if we did, we would have to deal with the reality that the people may in fact be just as problematic as the governments they select.
The first practical experiment in this catch-22 occurred in 1917 with the Russian Revolution. Wilson watched with approval as a hodgepodge of anti-tsarist popular movements ousted the unpopular dictators. Then Wilson watched in mild irritation as that movement, led by Alexander Kerensky, was ousted by the better organized and more militant Vladimir Lenin and his communists. While America interfered in a half-hearted way, by 1918, Wilson was preaching in his famous Fourteen Points speech that Russia would have to make "independent determination of her own political development."
When the communists took over, America quickly shifted into a defensive mode, opposing the Red regime while claiming that it was unrepresentative of the populace.
The result: the most evil regime in human history reigning over half of Europe, sponsoring large swaths of like-minded evil regimes in Asia, Africa and Latin America - and an American policy that coddled that regime for decades until Reagan.
The pattern repeated itself in Korea, where the United States under Truman refused to go all the way in stopping the North Koreans. Instead, MacArthur was fired for suggesting that America target the root of the problem in China. In Vietnam, the left protested that the Vietnamese people wanted communism, that Ho Chi Minh was a man of the people, and that any significant incursion into Cambodia was unthinkable. It repeated itself in Iran, where the left insisted that we allow the shah to fall, but now watch from afar as the mullahs crush all dissent.
Most recently, the pattern has repeated itself in the Gaza Strip, where the United States pushed for the installation of democratic institutions and then had to face the unpleasant reality that the electoral majority of the Palestinian population is radically evil in its anti-Semitism and Islamism. Instead of facing that fact, the United States under President Obama has chosen to legitimize Hamas by ripping Israel as intransigent.
Now the pattern is repeating itself in Egypt. President Obama's administration has taken the conflicting position that Hosni Mubarak is not a dictator, but that he must make way for democratic reforms. Obama's minions have stated that the Egyptian people seek freedom, even as they parlay with the Muslim Brotherhood (Obama has kowtowed to the brotherhood himself, inviting them to his 2009 Cairo speech). Obama's messengers have labeled prospective Egyptian leader Mohammed ElBaradei a Nobel Prize winner as though it is a real qualification, even though he is also a soft agent of Iran.
Instead of seeking out and supporting the most pro-America strain within the Egyptian revolution, Obama has sat idly by, still following in the footsteps of Wilson. When an anti-democratic movement shoves its way forward and usurps power, Obama will sit idly by, abiding by those same Wilsonian dictates. And when America has no one to deal with in Egypt but the radicals the Egyptian people have selected, we will appease them, all the while sighing over what might have been.