The paradoxical responses of the Obama administration to popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia and other countries of the Middle East are not the result of Barack Obama’s foreign policy incompetence, as is now whispered on both sides of the House and Senate in the United States, but the logical outcome of five centuries of realpolitik. What Democrats and Republicans seem to share at this current juncture is the mistaken assumption that those Arabs who have risked their lives for democracy in Egypt, Libya and other places in the region are fighting to implement liberal democracy throughout the Arab world. This confusion is partly the result of the appalling ignorance of the American public and legislators when it comes to the history, religion and politics of the Middle East. It is also partly the result of Reagan-era politics, especially among those belonging to the Republican Party, during which the term ‘liberal’ was downgraded to a merely pejorative label in popular debate.
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