American Overreach: Strategic Interests and Millennial Ambitions in the Middle East

Geopolitics, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 210-238, 2010

UCLA School of Law Research Paper No. 10-19

29 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2010 Last revised: 7 Jan 2013

Asli U. Bali

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law

Aziz Rana

Cornell Law School

Date Written: August 16, 2010

Abstract

This article argues that American actions in the Middle East designed to advance democracy and/or ‘moderation’ tend to yield perverse outcomes that frustrate the aspirations of local actors while undermining the values purportedly being promoted by the U.S. In order to explain these contradictions, we emphasize the linkage between policies of democracy promotion and long-standing American commitments both to millennialism and geographical omnipresence. As a result of these policies and geopolitical vision, we argue that ‘democracy promotion’ often devolves into a simple defense of American interest – by producing electoral outcomes designed to strengthen local agents seen as compliant with U.S. regional priorities. In this context, the shift from democracy promotion to a policy of pursuing ‘moderation’ in the region, understood as support for American policies, is entirely coherent. Commentators tend to present this shift (particularly in the wake of the Iraq War) as recognition by U.S. political actors of the imperial overtones embedded in more heavy-handed approaches to regime change. Yet, the call for moderation is itself profoundly intertwined with American millennial aspirations, while remaining remarkably devoid of clear content and thus equally amenable to manipulation for strategic ends. By way of conclusion, we suggest an alternative basis for a less intrusive American position in the region, one that rejects the need for an overstretched territorial presence and that is grounded in a substantive respect for local self-determination.

Keywords: Middle East, democracy promotion, foreign policy, self-determination, intervention

Suggested Citation

Bali, Asli U. and Rana, Aziz, American Overreach: Strategic Interests and Millennial Ambitions in the Middle East (August 16, 2010). Geopolitics, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 210-238, 2010; UCLA School of Law Research Paper No. 10-19. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1659975

Asli U. Bali (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )

385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Room 1242
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
United States

Aziz Rana

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States

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