John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence via Wikimedia Commons

As the United States struggles to respond to rapidly changing conditions in Egypt, it is informative to look at the arc of US foreign policy over the past half century or so. Foggy Bottom is stuck in a fog precisely because the approach to foreign policy has not evolved sufficiently since the demise of the Cold War. US foreign policy today is just as dependent on supporting individual despotic leaders today as it was in the 1950′s and 1960′s.

Consider the “crowning achievement” of the neocons under George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda”. Because they were imposing freedom at the end of a gun, rather than through the actions of the people, Bush’s new governments in Afghanistan and Iraq have given us corrupt leaders in the form of Hamid Karzai and Nouri al Maliki, whose governments are, at best, only loosely engaged with their citizens. Laying aside for a moment the underlying agenda of the robber barons promoting the neocon agenda to enrich themselves, note just how disengaged these governments, formed under US leadership, are from their citizens. Karazai still operates as if he is a small time drug lord and is actively squirreling away assets and real estate in Dubai. Iraq was unable to form a government for over a year after elections, because there was no real mechanism built into the US-designed “democracy” for people to have a voice.

The US has long backed Hosni Mubarak, and as Marcy has noted, the new Vice President has been an essential cog in the US rendition-torture process, so he is a natural replacement for Mubarak as the typical thug repressing his people to promote US foreign policy. The US stumbles in considering Mohammed el Baradei, perhaps because he is not proposing to come in as a “strongman”, but is instead saying that all he wants is a voice for the people.

In 2009, the US was slow to support a popular uprising in Iran against a despot who is not in favor in Foggy Bottom. However, perhaps because we had not yet chosen a new “Shah”, the US did not provide enough signals to the people of Iran that we would support their moves to overthrow the suppressive regime.

I believe that our foreign policy is too stuck on the wrong passage from the Declaration of Inedpendence. Policy today is centered on this clause from the Declaration:

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient cause

Perhaps Foggy Bottom should spend some time reading how that paragraph begins:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Clearly, Mubarak has lost (if he ever had it) the consent of those whom he governs. Likewise for Karzai and al Maliki. A new US foreign policy with the consent of the governed as the primary focus would go a long way toward having a proper response to popular uprisings like the one already completed in Tunisia, the one under way in Egypt, and those that might be beginning in Yemen, Jordan and Syria.

In fact, it is also the failure to take this approach that was the basis for the Bush administration’s utter failure when Hezbollah Hamas (corrected h/t Hannibal in comments) won the democratic elections in Palestine. By refusing to even acknowledge their win, the US emboldened Israel’s brutal stranglehold which continues today under Obama.

h/t: I have seen several people over the past few days make the observation of US foreign policy being mired in the Cold War era and felt the idea needed further fleshing out. I apologize for not remembering and being able to note just those who brought up the concept.