On the eve of President Barack Obama’s visit to the Middle East, he should examine the damage to vital U.S. economic and national security interests caused by benevolent ethnocentrism.
Ethnocentrism — judging other cultures by one’s own standards — is morally wrong, especially when motivated by superiority complex or racism.
Benevolent ethnocentrism — the assumption that other cultures are ready to embrace one’s own standards and worldview — is morally flawed and strategically self-destructive. This reflects a superficial view of global complexity and undermines one’s posture of deterrence in a world of intensifying disorder, and increasing hostility toward Western values, in spite of President Obama’s outreach campaign since 2009.
The tectonic history of international relations, from time immemorial attests that Free World leaders — who represent a global minority — should avoid the delusion that most non-democratic societies would depart from their centuries-old values, preferring engagement to confrontation, peace over war, tolerance over fanaticism and freedom over oppression, if offered adequate diplomatic and economic incentives.
Free World leaders should not assume that cardinal democratic values such as life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, peaceful coexistence, and the belief that all men are created equal, could be adopted by most non-democratic cultures. Most non-democracies consider these values a lethal threat. One should not ignore the drastic and endemic historical, ideological, religious, cultural and educational differences, as well as conflicting interests and visions, which separate the global democratic minority from the tyrannical majority. They should avoid oversimplification and over-globalization in a highly diversified, conflict-ridden world, which has been afflicted for millennia by insoluble conflicts, unpredictability, instability, shifty policies and violent intolerance.
For example, in 1967, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson was determined to introduce self-determination into Aden (South Yemen). His decision was impacted, in part, by a U.S. policy to push Britain out of Arabia and the Gulf and by South Yemen anti-British upheaval. However, rather than advancing self determination, the British/U.S. policy transformed South, and North, Yemen into a major platform of Islamic and international terrorism, further destabilizing the Arabian Peninsula, undermining democracy and vital British and American interests.
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter pressured the Shah of Iran to accelerate the expansion of civil liberties and tolerate the activities of Ayatollah Khomeini and other anti-Shah elements. Carter informed Iran’s military of his disregard for the Shah — who was America’s leading and most loyal “policeman” of the Persian Gulf — triggering a pro-Khomeini shift among Iran’s generals, thus transforming Iran into America’s most determined enemy in the world.
In 1989/90, the disintegration of the USSR was misinterpreted by President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker as a New World Order, vying for democracy and producing Peace Dividends. Instead, the New World Disorder that evolved culminated with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capabilities and the proliferation/explosion of Islamic terrorism throughout the world, including on the U.S. mainland.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton followed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, embracing Yasser Arafat as a messenger of peace, recommending him as a Nobel Peace Laureate and considering the Oslo Process a venue to a more peaceful, prosperous, free and stable Middle East. Instead, Oslo produced unprecedented Palestinian hate education, terrorism and non-compliance, consistent with 1,400 years of no intra-Arab peace, no intra-Arab compliance with agreements and no Arab democracy.
In 2003, the democratization of Iraq was a top priority for President George W. Bush, who assumed that elections in a violent society could be “free,” leading to democracy. Instead, unprecedented terrorism has engulfed Iraq, accelerating the disintegration of the country, transforming Baghdad into an Iranian satellite, and serving as the principal conduit of military shipments to the Assad regime.
In 2011, the tumultuous Arab Street was perceived by the Free World as an Arab Spring featuring the March of Democracy, Facebook and Youth Revolutions, and the reincarnation of MLK and Mahatma Gandhi. In 2013, it is evident that the seismic Arab Street is experiencing a stormy Arab Winter, top heavy with rogue entities, which are less familiar, less predictable, more treacherous, more violent and threatening to the U.S. and the Free World.
In 2013, the Free World prefers diplomatic and economic engagement — rather than confrontation — with Iran. The delusion that the Ayatollahs are vulnerable to inherently ineffective economic sanctions, and responsive to the democratic values of negotiation, compliance with agreements, peaceful-coexistence and enhancement of civil liberties, defies reality as is evidenced by the case of North Korea. This has provided Iran with more time to develop/acquire nuclear capabilities, which could devastate critical American economic and national security interests.
The exercise of benevolent ethnocentrism — projecting one’s democratic values upon non-democratic societies — consistently is interpreted by non-democratic societies as weakness. It erodes the Western posture of deterrence, aggravating, rather than solving, regional conflicts, while undermining Western national security and economic interests.