The United States needs to change its foreign policy in the Middle East. Here's how.

First, a preamble: The ideas herein may not be new. You’ve probably heard them before. I’m simply posting my take in the Middle East situation and seek to garner some discussion.

Ever since the United States of America gained status as the world’s sole military superpower, its government has maintained a foreign policy of usurping world leaders it deems “too dangerous to be in power” and replacing them with a democracy like ours [cite].

Now, I fully admit that I am no foreign policy or international relations expert. There are hundreds of people in the State Department who know far more than me. However, I have lived long enough and seen enough of our world policing to know that other cultures aren’t like ours by any stretch.

The culture of the Arab nations in particular could are far different from our own. These nations are made up of tribes, and its citizens are loyal only to their own tribes, not a national government. For most Middle Eastern nations, there’s little sense of national patriotism unless forced by the ruling party.

In contrast, during the Civil War, Americans generally moved from a sense of pride in one’s own state to that of the united states formed under one flag. The experiment in democracy worked for us, so we assumed it could be applied uniformly amongst all nations. Yet the War in Iraq is a prime example of how that assumption went horribly, horribly wrong.

If the United States government intends to depose “dangerous” rulers from the Middle East (whether this is right is another debate), it needs to abandon its policy of instituting one-size-fits-all democracy. Instead, a confederacy of tribal leaders meeting under a unified libertarian constitution should be instilled. The mostly autonomous tribes should have more power than the national governing body. In fact, the only business that should be handled by the national government would be concerns of building national roads, minting a secondary national currency, funding a national defense, and settling land disputes between tribes.

We need to base our nation-building policies on the receiving nation’s culture, not ours. The citizens of Arab nations are loyal first to their families, neighbors, and tribes. Wedging that square peg into the round hole of democracy will only end in governmental collapse and further inflammation of hostilities towards the U.S.

Except for Iraq, we haven’t designed any governments in the Middle East. I don’t really disagree with your core thesis – that a civil society may mean different things in different places – but the US really doesn’t have much influence on how governments get formed.

Unless we invade and overthrow, but I think we’re done with that for quite some time.

You are very correct, Agent Foxtrot, though it may be easier to describe what not to do, than what to do. There are several books about recent U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and especially Iraq which are quite painful to read. Iraq was operated for some years as an experiment in “creative destruction” by young Republican ideologues.

When American media hailed the “purple finger” election as a great triumph for democracy, I was saddened that so few saw this as the silly and nearly irrelevant sham that it was.

Agreed, but the State Department website clearly states that spreading democracy is part of its core foreign policy. That’s what needs to change.

Hold on a bit! Spreading democracy and overthrowing oppressive regimes and replacing them with democracies are two separate policies.

Americans believe basic rights (like free speech, freedom of movement, the right to choose one’s rulers, etc) are rights all people have. They are the basis of our independence and our way of life. We would be hypocritical if we did nothing to encourage them.

We can encourage democracy without directly overthrowing oppressive regimes. Things like privately pressuring states to allow more freedoms, giving indirect aid to pro-democracy movements, giving direct aid to humanitarian causes, etc.

If recent events prove anything, it’s that our old policy of supporting authoritarian regimes in order to maintain stability ultimately gains us neither stability nor freedom. We need to be doing more to encourage democracy and doing less to maintain regimes that provide some strategic benefit to us.

“Freedom” and “democracy” are two different things. True freedom means that people have a right to be governed how they wish to be governed. If a nation’s citizens prefer to live under an authoritarian regime, that’s their right.

In the United States, we define freedom as the right to do what we want, when we want, how we want (within reason). We often believe these to be universal freedoms everyone in the world wants and forget that true freedom is to be defined by each culture.

As for this:

I fail to see the difference given our track record.

We’ll have to disagree about that.

Maybe you missed the transformations of eastern Europe countries over the past twenty-some years.

Grand statements of intent aside, actual U.S. policy has been more motivated by real politik in an effort to first thwart the Soviets, and second, keep oil available. We overthrew a democracy in Iran, and supported dictators in Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and just about everywhere else in the ME. The only democracies in the area that we supported that I can think of are Israel and Turkey.

Prior to the second Iraq War, have we ever actually tried to set up a democracy in any of the countries we have been directly involved in? South Vietnam was a dictatorship, South Korea was a dictatorship until the 80s. I am not sure how we left Panama, or how Japan transitioned.

I think the OP is confused as to what US foreign policy has actually been. In fact the State Department since 1953 has usually eschewed pro-democracy activity in favor of “stability”–meaning autocrats friendly to US interests. So they’ve been taking your advice, really.

The State Department isn’t talking about writing a constitution for other countries. You are. Your proposal is much, much more interventionist than US foreign policy toward the region has been for decades.

(Again, excepting Iraq.)

How is their preference to be determined?

The U.S. policy in the Middle East should be to hand out as many portable internet devices as possible and as many small satellite dishes as possible and bypass local censorship by any means possible. Why waste time and energy overthrowing governments when access to Baywatch reruns and porn will get the locals to do it for you? There’s no point trying to tell them about democracy, just turn them against the governments that are trying to block their internet access.

Seriously, a million dinner-plate-size satellite dishes… that can’t possibly cost more than a squadron of F-22s.