360° Analysis

Realpolitik: From the Palace to the Street


The United States Capitol Building in Washington, DC. American landmark at sunset © f11photo / shutterstock.com

September 04, 2012 19:27 EDT

The enduring languor of the American economy, the disillusionment with nation building, and the increasingly participative nature of governance in the Arab world are challenging traditional relationships between the US and the Middle East.

A scan of the current state of governance beyond the liberal democracies in the West reveals that the power to influence and make decisions is shifting from the Palace to the Street, albeit often in ‘fits and starts’, as the status quo reacts to progressive movements which in their initial stages are often fragmented and uncertain of eventual destinations.

The US and Mubarak

The dilemma for the United States and its allies has been and is to maintain existing working relations with the Palace for shared concerns on trade and security while recognizing that they will have to pay homage increasingly to citizen movements, which at their core demand more influence on the affairs of the State. The referential issue will be the internal debate at the White House surrounding the departure of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak alongside the uprising in Tahrir Square and the rest of Egypt.

Given the great distance between those around the table in Washington and what was beating in the hearts and minds of those ‘in the movement’ overseas, it is astonishing that the United States did indeed turn its back on Mubarak. One suspects that without Western media encamped amid the masses at Tahrir Square, the status quo in US-Egyptian relations would have prevailed.

Of course, elsewhere the status quo does continue to prevail. American relations with most of the countries on the Persian Gulf are at odds with the projection of American values as referenced in our own foundational documents. While this duplicity was routinely ignored by the American public over the last 60 years, presumably for reasons of national security during the Cold War, there is a growing anger among US citizens towards their tax dollars and soldiers being funnelled overseas in support of the Palace.

Realpolitik is slowly being redefined as ”working with the Street to effect governance which guarantees popular inclusion and participation.” The introduction of “Soft Power” as part of the current US administration’s vocabulary is part of that phenomenon.

Notwithstanding the evident shift across the globe from the Palace to the Street and the growing unease with American citizens funding the Palace, all too often, official policy is still captured by vested interests which have benefited enormously from the old way of doing business. These include first and foremost the defence industries, the energy and agricultural interests, the budgets of related Federal bureaucracies and the vast array of contractors which work for them.

At what point does America forfeit its ability to control/influence the global narrative because it ignores the shifting center of power overseas — shifting, we should add, in the way prescribed by our own Constitution and Bill of Rights. For how long do we sell sophisticated weaponry to autocrats, increase food dependency in nations struggling to ‘grow their own’ and treat official foreign assistance primarily as an incentive for geopolitical alignment in the war on terrorism?

Put in the current US election vernacular, how long can the official US triad of Defence, Diplomacy and Development dispense taxpayer largess from behind fortified perimeters to vestigial interests overseas in the face of widespread disenchantment with the Return on Investment back home? How long before US citizens cease ‘forgiving all in the purported war on terror’ and steer more often toward alliances with the aspirations of democratic movements overseas?

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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