Octavio Paz once wrote that the United States was born as a nation intent on blazing its future independent of its past. Of course, I am paraphrasing what he wrote and his intent might have been different from how I am applying it today. However, in my opinion, it is this notion of the US blazing towards the future that has led to al-Qaeda and ISIS, or ISIL, if you prefer. History is replete with examples of the failure to apply the lessons of the past with today’s events. In its quest for world Democracy, US style the United States continues to fail in its state building foreign policy. The consequences of that failure is ISIS, but it could be any other terrorist group if state building isn’t curtailed in US foreign policy.
The “perfect dictatorship” was how Mexico’s PRI has been characterized by US politicians. It is the notion that Democracy requires US politics as its basis in order for it to be valid. Unfortunately, this thinking ignores a fundamental fact about ethnicity, tribal politics and cultural identity. The world is not the United States nor should it be. As such not every country should be modeled after the politics the US practices.
I have been watching the television series Tyrant recently. Ignoring the theatrical drama and artistic licenses buried deep in the series is the idea that certain countries require tyrants in order to remain viable states. The reasons for this are complex and requires a deep historical explanation too complex to layout on my blog. As an example, however, I will point you to the notion that certain countries are a conglomeration of differing ideals and backgrounds often in constant turmoil because of ideological differences. The Middle East, for example, is tribal-based national identities where often times one tribe imposes its will on the others. Sometimes power is shared by two or more tribes imposing a shared will over the others.
In the case of Mexico, its historical identity imposes limits on its drive to the future. Whether this is good or wrong is best left for a future blog. In the meantime, let us accept, for a moment, that historical perspectives limits Mexico’s goals for the future. Accepting this we can see that Mexico’s perspective is one driven by an identity striving to release the shackles of an oppressed people constantly at war to rid itself of invaders as it tries to cement its identity across the nation.
From the ashes of the Mexican Revolution arose a society tired of war tamed by a sense that the best equality that could be achieved had been achieved because the violence had killed the will to fight. From these ashes, the PRI emerged and for many years, it ruled the country. As Mexico embarked on reforming its society and securing its national identity, it began to look inward to recover while it attempted to ignore the rest of the world. Except for Word War II, where Mexico’s foreign policy peeked outwardly to the rest of the world, ever timidly, its national politics remained inwardly looking.
After World War II, the foreign policy of many nations focused on the East versus West Cold War with many countries becoming battlefield proxies to the two protagonists, the Union of Soviet Socialists Republics (USSR) and the United States. Although most, if not all Latin American countries suffered endless coups and civil wars, often at the behest of the US or USSR, Mexico remained stable.
Many will argue that Mexico’s proximity to the US was the catalyst for the stability while others will argue that Mexico should have been the largest proxy for the soviets as a foothold into the US. I, on the other hand, argue that it was the PRI that allowed Mexico to avoid the ideological conflicts being fought as a result of the Cold War. I believe Mexico needed a strong centralized “perfect dictatorship” in order to allow it to remain somewhat insulated. As with strong centralized power bases not all is perfect and there are many things that could have been done better. Keeping Mexico inward looking for many years is a significant reason for its struggle to grow as country in the world stage today.
However, the opposite could also be argued because had Mexico not had a strong-willed political system keeping it inward looking the results could have been catastrophic for a nation made up of at least three strong national ideologies. As humans, we always strive for a better life and as they say, the grass always looks greener next door. The United States, being next door, drove the notion of freedom and political multiplicity seemingly being a better option than the perfect dictatorship. After all, we tried the perfect dictatorship and it was time to end that experiment with a political change.
The PAN took power in 2000, delegating the PRI, not to second place but to third place in the ideological politics of the nation. By 2012, the PAN experiment was dead and the PRI was back on the national political stage. However, it is not the same PRI that had lost control 12 years earlier, it had evolved as a result of its loss. Personally, I believe the time for the “perfect dictatorship” has passed and Mexico is no longer an inward looking nation but an outward looking nation intent on continuing its path of national evolution. The perfect dictatorship allowed it to heal and build a strong national ideology.
The Middle East, on the other hand, is not ready to experiment in Democracy, US style. The Middle East has been dealing with centuries of tribal and ethnic warfare with multiple ideologies attempting to take control. This is precisely where the US is not resolving the problems of the Middle East but instead it is exasperating the problem and giving rise to greater violence and extreme ideology because the US refuses to learn from the past and accept that Democracy US style is not a solution to all problems.
This is not about Democrat versus Republican political ideology or the perceived failures of Bush or Obama but rather the notion that the US is the problem solver for the world. I started this piece with Paz’ notion that the US was born, as a country, always looking forward ignorant of its past. In many ways, this has led to innovations not possible by handicapping progress through the anchor of the past. Unfortunately, this race to the future has created a US notion that the United States knows what is best for everyone. This has led to a state-building or nation-building ideology that has resulted in ISIS.
US foreign policy has been driven by the notion that solving the problems of failed states or dictatorships are resolved through creating Democracies based on US style ideals. The notion that dictators have no place on the world stage has led to destabilizing policies by the US in an attempt to build Democracies. This was not always true, as the US perceived danger of the Soviet Union frequently tolerated dictatorships for the greater good of the country. Once the Cold War was over, the dictatorships could not be allowed to continue because their existence was unpalatable to the US ideologies and thus state building was expanded to rid the world of dictatorships.
As a result strong-handed power bases were destroyed or encouraged to dissolve leaving a vacuum for tribal and ideological warfare to manifest itself. As unpalatable as dictatorship are the alternative is worse not only for the people enduring endless criminality and warfare but also for the security of the United States.
Al-Qaeda was the result of US foreign policy focused on crippling soviet expansion. Al-Qaeda attacked the US and it needed to be dealt with militarily and destroyed. Unfortunately, it did not end there. The US policy then became one of dealing with the myriad of dictatorships in the Middle East. Politically it was the prudent thing to do for the US population. Most US citizens viewed Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi and others as monsters that needed to be exterminated. The result of the loss of those dictatorships is a power vacuum where a strong centralized power base is nonexistent.
This has led to the rise of sectarian violence that has created today’s ISIS.
Sometimes a dictatorship is exactly what is needed to tame ideological differences in order to avoid violence. Dictatorships may seem unpalatable to the US ideal of a Democracy but not all countries were born racing to the future. Many countries are hamstrung by their pasts to look beyond them and into the future. This is ideologically imprinted in the populations and it will take centuries to overcome. The only way to do that is through a strong centralized powerbase keeping the myriad of ideologies in check – a dictatorship, if you will.