In case you haven’t noticed, there are thunderstorms across the Sahara desert. Half of the Arab world is on fire, people from Tunisia to Yemen are rallying the streets demanding a better future. You would think that the Obama administration would at least send its best wishes to the protesters. You’d be wrong. The reason is very simple – human rights and democracy rhetorics are only used when the interests of the US government and the crumbling regime don’t match. In cases like Tunisia and Egypt, human rights and democracy can actually clash with vital US policies, therefore every US government would ultimately prefer to have a reliable friendly dictatorship, preferably a long lasting one, in which everything depends on a single person that can be wined and dined in the White House and easily persuaded to do “the right thing”.
And there’s nothing wrong with this approach. Countries like France and Britain have used it for ages. Openly. The problem with US policy is that its main inspiration is exactly the denial of self interest, after all America was founded as a political alternative to Europe, where kings and queens used to decide the fates of whole nations in the same fashion they used to decide what to wear at a dinner party. There was a brief period in history when America really lived up to its ideals. But when it grabbed 1/3 of Mexico and tasted the sweet sangria of forceful diplomacy, something cracked. America became as European in its diplomatic approach as any other empire from the Old World. And while WW2 and the Cold War presented an amazing opportunity for political charade with idealistic notes, after the end of Communism, there is no reliable ideological veil under which America can continue to perform the role of the Altruistic Freedom Fighter. Someone should just alert the casting director.
But let’s be realistic. The dichotomy in US Foreign Policy will continue, ultimately undermining the otherwise noble principle of Human Rights itself. And if it’s true that relations between countries can be compared to relations between human individuals, the word “dichotomy” should actually be replaced by “hypocrisy”.