On the wrong side of the Arab Spring

by John Quiggin on October 1, 2011

The US Administration has been ambivalent about the Arab Spring from the start. But three recent developments have palce the US more clearly on the opposing side than at any time since the fall of the Tunisian regime. The list of motives is long, and its variety indicates how many things are more important to US foreign policy than the democratic aspirations of people in Arab countries

* The autocracy in Bahrein has sentenced doctors to long prison terms for the crime of treating injured demonstrators. The US reaction is to sell the regime more weapons, as part of the deal that keeps the 5th Fleet based there

* The assassination of Anwar Al-Awaki was carried out in close co-operation with the Saleh regime. Although the US has called on Saleh to leave, it’s clear that the Eternal War on Terror takes precedence over the concerns of Yemenis

* Finally, there’s the promised veto on Palestinian statehood, driven by US politics, which are now characterised by the “antipathies against particular nations and passionate attachment to others” against which Alexander Hamilton warned two centuries ago.

As with the Iraq war, there is such a mixture of motives and inconsistent policy goals that it’s a safe bet that few if any will be achieved in the long run. Conversely, I think that attempts to find a coherent national or class interest driving US policy are doomed to failure. There are a bunch of different interest groups, each with their own veto points and spans of control, and the outcomes are good for (almost) no-one.