Posted By lex, on March 8th, 2011
In this otherwise mundane article about the usual foreign policy tug of war within the Capital Beltway – Libya, this time – we find an interesting insight into President Obama’s grasp of history:
Of most concern to the president himself, one high-level aide said, is the perception that the United States would once again be meddling in the Middle East, where it has overturned many a leader, including Saddam Hussein. Some critics of the United States in the region — as well as some leaders — have already claimed that a Western conspiracy is stoking the revolutions that have overtaken the Middle East.
“He keeps reminding us that the best revolutions are completely organic,” the senior official said, quoting the president.
It’s actually fairly unusual for revolutions – best or worst – to be completely organic. In the shifting world of power politics, one neighbor always has a vested interest in the travails of another. And it’s very hard for even popular revolutions – as apart from military coups – to catch fire with complete spontaneity. After all, the fundamental characteristic of the state is monopoly of organized violence.
We had us quite a nice little revolution a little less than 235 years ago. It was partially funded by Spain and France, and the arms provided by the latter enabled Washington to negotiate an open alliance with France after his decisive victory over British General John Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga, the turning point of the war. That alliance culminated in the arrival of the Compte de Grasse’s fleet off Yorktown, which led in turn in the surrender of Cornwallis’ besieged force and the end of active hostilities.
If by “best revolutions”, the president means those wherein nobody apart from the engaged contestants gets hurt – physically or politically – I suppose the president has a point. But that sort of situation also leaves the non-contestants pretty much on the sidelines as things get sorted out. If the contested territory has any strategic importance, this represents an opportunity cost.
This isn’t an argument either for or against US military intervention in Libya. I just found it a strange thing for a Harvard law grad to really believe.