Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The limits of Americanism

I just heard it again. Yet another talk show host asked yet another pair of Middle East experts, “How can the U.S. shape events in post-Mubarak Egypt?” Think about the arrogance of that question. Then think about the knee-jerk presumption that we have the power to design an outcome overseas. The former is disquieting. The latter is naïve. Obviously the U.S. must pursue its interests in Egypt using whatever influence we have there. But here at home, we’ve seemingly made scant progress getting past our old “Manifest Destiny” attitudes, the notion that inside every foreigner is an American trying to get out. There are many paths to democracy. We can assist, but places like Bahrain or Yemen or Egypt must find their own way. We must also recognize that American power, though great, is limited in the modern world. Our challenge is knowing when and where to best leverage it. Fortunately, the clear-eyed man in the Oval Office gets it. In today’s press conference, President Obama said, “What we didn't do was pretend that we could dictate the outcome in Egypt -- because we can't. So we were very mindful that it was important for this to remain an Egyptian event; that the United States did not become the issue.” As I’ve said many times before, I’m glad there is a grownup running the show.

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