“Commerce between master and slave is barbarism.” — Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson Memorial
Americans just celebrated the declaration of independence from Great Britain in the late 1700s with the Fourth of July holiday. The rebellion against British colonial rule was as much about taxes as it was about political power. The unfair British taxes that so vexed Americans, we ought never forget, were high because of the ill-considered foreign wars and financial speculations of the English crown. No nation, no matter how mighty, can long afford the cost of war or empire in a financial and economic sense.
As we celebrated the Fourth of July, Americans were greeted with the spectacle of a military coup in Egypt, another former British colony that has not yet recovered from centuries of foreign rule and the aftermath. The whole notion of Egypt and other Middle Eastern nations as states is a legacy of foreign colonial rule going back to the Ottomans and Byzantines. Watching the cronies of former president Hosni Mubarak taking power in Egypt should remind us all of the evils done in the name of empire, most recently by Rome, Britain, and the United States.
Since a declining Great Britain withdrew its military “East of Eden” in 1971, Washington has been the great colonial power of the world. The military industrial apparatus in Egypt has been a client of Washington for decades and before that, of the Soviet Union. What we call Egypt today has been dominated by European powers for centuries. In Iran, by comparison, a largely secular military industrial state that happens to be anti-American rules that nation under the religious label of the “Revolutionary Guards.”
The ability of great foreign powers to guide outcomes in these various states is uncertain at best but is always done under the guise of good intentions. Such are the rules of “the great game,” to borrow another phrase from the era of British colonial power a century ago. Brian Urquhart writes in The New York Review of Books, “Disaster: From Suez to Iraq”:
Only seventy years ago, Great Britain ruled over more than one quarter of the land surface of the planet. It policed, as far as anyone did, the oceans and seas, and it was the most important force in world finance, trade, and economy. All this was a source of national pride and a sense of mission that, for most people, conveniently evaded moral questions about the right of one race or nation to dominate another. Lord Curzon, the ultimate British proconsul, wrote that the British Empire was the greatest instrument for good that the world had ever seen.
America likes to believe that it too is a great instrument for good in the world, but in the Middle East you can certainly ask whether Washington’s policies are creating stability or larger chaos. President Barack Obama has overtly encouraged social unrest in Libya, Egypt, and Syria, but without any apparent grand goal. Veteran foreign affairs analyst Sol Sanders notes that “Obama is on record publicly as negating the concept of American exceptionalism,” but he notes that Obama and his advisers have no vision for the future.
They do not believe in the U.S. overwhelming role as the leader of the free world nor in what most observers see as its constructive and stabilizing influence since World War II… They do not believe in guiding the almost inevitability of a huge role for the U.S. in international politics because of its inherent overwhelming and comparative economic, political and military power.
In a sense, the U.S. under Barack Obama has declared independence from world leadership and accountability. The cadre of incompetents buzzing around the American president don’t see any problem allowing events in the Middle East to careen out of control or to encourage precisely that outcome. The Obama Administration has even considered military intervention on the side of Syria’s insurgents, many of whom have ties to Al-Qaeda. In Afghanistan, Iraq, and Israel, the policies of the Obama White House lack any evidence of thought, much less a clear U.S. objective.
Along with this dangerous political trend, growing energy production in the US is causing the financial unraveling of the Arab oil cartel led by OPEC — and with it the financial underpinnings of the pro-Western regimes of the Middle East. Despite the best efforts of the Obama Administration to curtail energy production and waste billions on failed energy projects at home, the US is about to become an exporter of crude oil and eventually natural gas. Nobody inside the White House has even begun to consider the strategic implications of U.S. energy independence for our allies in the Persian Gulf.
It’s the children’s hour at the White House. A combination of technological innovations and market forces has lessened America’s need for imported energy and thus the need for America to play the role of global policeman in the Middle East. The bad news is that the misguided foreign policy of Barack Obama in the Middle East could eventually lead to a regional war or worse.
In the absence of a global power in the Middle East, events in that region will increasingly take their own course. Hundreds of millions of people are declaring independence from Anglo-American colonial rule. All this is happening under an absentee American President who neither understands nor cares about the historical or global implications of his reckless actions. And best of all, Americans face three more years of non-government under the lame duck regime of Barack Hussein Obama.