Almost daily, the United States and Europe brandish threats to impose economic sanctions or cut off development assistance unless some vulnerable government accepts their political strictures. The most recent threats are towards the new Hamas-led government in Palestine. Other recent examples include threats vis-à-vis Chad, Ethiopia, Haiti, Kenya, Bolivia, Uganda, and long-standing sanctions against Myanmar.
Such tactics are misguided. The use of development aid as a political stick merely deepens the suffering of impoverished and unstable countries, without producing the political objectives sought by donors.
To understand why requires taking a long-term view of geopolitics, particularly the gradual decline of US and European global domination. Technology and economic development are proliferating across Asia and the developing world, while the spread of literacy and political awareness during the past century made national self-determination by far the dominant ideology of our age, leading to the end of colonialism. Nationalism continues to produce powerful political “antibodies” to American and European meddling in other countries’ internal affairs.
The failure to understand this lies behind repeated US foreign policy debacles in the Middle East, at least since the toppling of the Shah of Iran in 1979. The US naively continues to view the Middle East as an object of manipulation, whether for oil or for other purposes. In the Middle East, the Iraq war is widely interpreted as a war for US control of Persian Gulf oil – a rather plausible view given what we know about the war’s true origins. Only incredible hubris and naiveté could bring US (and UK) leaders to believe that Western troops would be greeted as liberators rather than as occupiers.