It is surprising what a month of rioting in different countries can do to the image of a superpower: it can bring it down to the level of “ordinary” countries. The widespread protests in the Middle East and North Africa seem to have busted the myth of American supremacy.
But was there any such supremacy to begin with? Pax Americana has been an expression of hate for long, but even a cursory understanding of events—from Vietnam in the 1970s to Somalia in 1993 to Pakistan in the present day—shows how limited and ineffective the US’s power of intervention has been. The question of its impending “booting out” from the Middle East is thus moot.
Any country—leave alone a Great Power—does business with a variety of regimes, democratic and non-democratic. The moral choices of individuals have little salience at the level of relations between countries. Countries of diverse persuasions —Russia, India and the UK, among others—maintain relationships with countries with very different political systems. The internal structure of countries is simply not a factor in inter-state relations. In the case of the US, much of its unpopularity has its origins in its dealings with authoritarian regimes—both in the past and in the present—in the Middle East. An added source of irritation for the people of the region is the perceived bias of the US towards Israel and its inability to solve the Israel-Palestine issue. Seen from the vantage point of relations between countries, the US and its behaviour doesn’t present anything unusual from the normal.
Much of the turmoil in the Middle East today has to do with the domestic political arrangements in these countries and very little to do with what the US does and does not do. These problems, if at all they need to be addressed outside these countries, have to be addressed in a forum such as the United Nations Security Council. Even that is only possible if there is a danger to peace in the region or the world, for that matter.
The sources of anger against the “sole” superpower (another fond myth in this age of developing multi-polarity) has to do with our search for heroes and villains. That is fine: in the end that sort of dualism is a very human quality. But it has very little to do with realities of relations between states.
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