By Jerome Grossman
In Cairo, President Barack Obama addressed the world’s billion Muslims preaching the values of political freedom, democracy and human rights. Remarkably, he virtually apologized for the repeated Western interference in the affairs of Muslim nations, citing the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran in 1953 by the U.S. CIA and its British counterpart, then the installing of a dictator in that country. While this act of contrition was widely welcomed, it had already been performed by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright during the Bill Clinton Administration without improving the relationship. Iran was placed on “The Axis of Evil”.
If President Obama was promising a policy of non-intervention in the Middle East, it did not reflect the operating situation there. The U.S., under Democratic and Republican presidents alike has gone to war, sometimes to protect, sometimes to oust regimes in the area: e.g. in 1991 to protect Kuwait from Iraq, in 2002 to oust Saddam Hussein from Iraq. Another rarely discussed U.S. intervention but high in the consciousness of Iranians is the support the U. S. gave to Saddam Hussein when he attacked Iran in 1980. In this eight year war, Iran lost more than one million lives and suffered Saddam’s repeated use of poison gas on civilians and the military.
Obama promises to change the historical behavior of the U.S. in the area. Will his preaching lead to the over-throw of America’s favored dictators? Apart from Israel, the countries we support there are dictatorships, any elections held are merely automatic endorsements of reigning corrupt dictators in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, etc. For generations, starting with the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our politicians, business leaders, military and intelligence staffers and diplomats have found it easier to deal with dictatorial establishments than with the messiness of prolonged negotiations involved in democratic procedures. Guarantees of military support or well-placed financial contributions often produce policies more quickly and efficiently.
Literal adoption of Obama’s good government recommendations would likely impede the U.S. system of dominance in the Middle East, opening it up to competition from other nations now frozen-out. The commercial position of the U.S. oil companies might be in danger. The price of oil might be driven to new heights. The Arab countries might decide to leave the U.S. dollar for better deals with rival currencies and to invest their surplus funds in venues other then American Treasury Bonds. Rival countries might try to play the game of bribing government officials. In a democracy, the possibilities for change and competition are endless when the pool of competitors is expanded.
The crisis in Iran highlights the possibilities for change in all Muslim nations by breaking established patterns of conduct. In Cairo, President Obama set forth the ideals that might not support the current system and world American hegemony. Is the U.S. prepared to sacrifice its preeminence for the ideals of openness and democracy? Will the dominant interests in America, big business and the military, allow such a sacrifice, such a transformation?