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Former Director of the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center: American Policy in the Middle East is Failing Because the U.S. Doesn’t Believe in Democracy

Robert Grenier – a 27-year veteran of the CIA’s Clandestine Service, and Director of the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center from 2004 to 2006 – writes today:

Events in the Middle East have slipped away from us. Having long since opted in favour of political stability over the risks and uncertainties of democracy, having told ourselves that the people of the region are not ready to shoulder the burdens of freedom, having stressed that the necessary underpinnings of self-government go well beyond mere elections, suddenly the US has nothing it can credibly say as people take to the streets to try to seize control of their collective destiny.

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Our words betray us. US spokesmen stress the protesters’ desire for jobs and for economic opportunity, as though that were the full extent of their aspirations. They entreat the wobbling, repressive governments in the region to “respect civil society”, and the right of the people to protest peacefully, as though these thoroughly discredited autocrats were actually capable of reform.

They urge calm and restraint. One listens in vain, however, for a ringing endorsement of freedom, or for a statement of encouragement to those willing to risk everything to assert their rights and their human dignity – values which the US nominally regards as universal.

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There are two things which must be stressed in this regard.

The first is the extent to which successive US administrations have consistently betrayed a lack of faith in the efficacy of America’s democratic creed, the extent to which the US government has denied the essentially moderating influence of democratic accountability to the people, whether in Algeria in 1992 or in Palestine in 2006.

The failure of the US to uphold its stated commitment to democratic values therefore goes beyond a simple surface hypocrisy, beyond the exigencies of great-power interests, to suggest a fundamental lack of belief in democracy as a means of promoting enlightened, long-term US interests in peace and stability.

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The US’s entire frame of reference in the region is hopelessly outdated, and no longer has meaning: As if the street protesters in Tunis and Cairo could possibly care what the US thinks or says; as if the political and economic reform which president Obama stubbornly urges on Mubarak while Cairo burns could possibly satisfy those risking their lives to overcome nearly three decades of his repression; as if the two-state solution in Palestine for which the US has so thoroughly compromised itself, and for whose support the US administration still praises Mubarak, has even the slightest hope of realisation; as if the exercise in brutal and demeaning collective punishment inflicted upon Gaza, and for whose enforcement the US, again, still credits Mubarak could possibly produce a decent or just outcome; as if the US refusal to deal with Hezbollah as anything but a terrorist organisation bore any relation to current political realities in the Levant.

Machiavelli once wrote that princes should see to it that they are either respected or feared; what they must avoid at all cost is to be despised. To have made itself despised as irrelevant: That is the legacy of US faithlessness and wilful blindness in the Middle East.

For background, see this and this.

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