First, some nominally good news: the President of Yemen says he’ll step down within 30 days. He apparently hasn’t promised to stop shooting protesters, but we can hope that will end once he steps down.
He will hopefully join the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt in the category of ‘leaders who left power having killed too many of their own people, but thankfully before killing any more.’ All three of these nations brought criticism to the United States, as people suddenly noticed that the US has been supporting decades-old dictatorial regimes; there were calls for Obama to show some nebulous sort of ‘leadership, dutifully upset both sides of the blogosphere by acting wih finesse and reason, supporting Democratic-leaning movements without ushering in chaos.
The other three countries? Iran, Libya, and Syria. Iran was really ahead of the curb – after all, they put down their own attempt at democratic protests brutally enough to discourage any future oppositions leaders, and when they saw oppositions rise up against US supported regimes, they publicly supported them while quietly detaining potential troublemakers in their own country.
Libya’s case is well known – Gaddafi is proving that if you have no concern for international opinion and your allies all see human rights as a neo-colonial scheme, you can get away with anything. Now Syria seems to be taking the same route.
The common theme? Countries that depend heavily on the US for aid and support skate on thinner ice than countries that fit into the loose matrix of ‘anti-imperialism’, countries like Venezuela, Iran, Zimbabwe, and tacit support from China and Russia. In addition to indicating some behind-the-scenes US involvement in these regime changes, this trend also suggests a strengthened ‘pariah support group’, where leaders like al-Bashir and Bashar al-Asad no longer have to worry about being totally isolated, because nothing will dissuade the champions of ‘national sovereignty’ from defending them. As China and Russia grow in influence, we can expect a strengthening of national sovereignty doctrines and a rolling back of human rights expectations that have developed in the last two decades.
What does this say for US foreign policy? While publicly it might all be smiles and handshakes, we already understand China to be our biggest rivals as well as our most important partners. But to a large extent the US has created this situation for itself, pushing countries like Iran or Venezuela out of our circle of potential friends because they failed to accept the Washington consensus, or whatever outrageous reason we decided Iran belonged on the Axis of Evil. Obama has thus far avoided making the same mistakes, but it will take some time to make up for the errors of the last eight years. Until then, much of the world’s population will be subject to tyranny disguised as anti-imperialism.