US President Barack Obama, who is considered fairly popular among foreigners, encountered hostilities during his visits to Britain and Saudi Arabia while he provoked tensions at home over the signing of the Climate Protection Treaty, also known as the Paris Agreement. Where the Obama Administration hoped to showcase its close ties with Britain by joining the ongoing commemoration of Queen Elizabeth’s ninetieth birthday, he sparked outrage by siding with Prime Minister David Cameron and special interests that oppose the so-called Brexit. Visiting the King of Saudi Arabia, President Obama highlighted rising tensions between the allies.
First, it is important to recognize Americans are uncomfortable with international governing bodies. Unlike European views that favor open borders in order to foster free and open societies, the European Union is seen as a threat to democracy. The reason Americans hold this view is that distance creates a lack of access to representation. The more layers of government that exist, the less responsive governments become to the needs of individuals and individual communities. The US, however, benefits from easier trade with the whole EU. By pushing Britain to stay in the EU, the Obama Administration reveals a high degree of self-serving hypocrisy.
Second, tensions between the US and Saudi Arabia have risen over the Iranian nuclear deal, Yemen, and the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which would allow 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government. These cases, however, stem from two inherent conflicts of interest that exist between the US and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia as a regional power with regional rivalries means the US, which is a global power, must eventually try to overcome grievances with other nations. Resolving grievances with the Kingdom’s enemies will always put the two allies at odd. As a monarchy, Saudi Arabia is also destined to conflict with democracies.
Unfortunately, many of the problems in the Middle East stem from a complex web of underhanded dealings and self-serving, unresponsive governments that sabotage each other and their own Peoples. As a prime example, state support for terrorist organizations has been a major factor in the creation of threats like al Qaeda and the Islamic State. By relying on the West to defeat the Islamic States, for example, regional powers are able to continue their traditional rivalries and their destabilizing support of militant groups. This means the US must confront Saudi Arabia in order to break the cycle of violence in the Middle East.
Furthermore, the Middle East is democratizing and globalizing, which means popular opinion throughout the region matters more than ever. Saudi Arabia under the rule of King Salman may not become a full-fledged democratic state, but it must become more sensitive to the interests and voices of its Peoples. The US must also do more to support democracy across the globe, which means Saudi Arabia and the US are guaranteed to conflict. That said, more traditional forms of governments, such as monarchies, can survive in the modern world if they adapt.
Clearly, the British, Spanish, and the Japanese have found a way of preserving their cultural inheritance while embracing democracy. Countries like Saudi Arabia, however, struggle, because their monarchies do not want to surrender the bulk of their power, which the British monarchy did. What makes this problematic is that forced transition of power leads to a great deal of conflict. Meanwhile, monarchs and emperors are not the only traditional form of governance struggling with the transition to democracy. “Tribal” leadership, for example, is extremely important in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, parts of the Americas, and elsewhere.
At the heart of all power is legitimacy. For democracy, it is the decision of a population to embrace a leader that gives that leader his, or her, legitimacy. Where it is far easier to say a group like the Islamic State lacks legitimacy, because they use force and fear to obtain power, it is not so easy when it comes to traditional leaders who enjoy power due to their family legacy. Certainly, it is strange for faithful followers of democracy to believe someone can inherit power, but those under the rule of traditional governance see the right to power as a characteristic of their culture, which makes their leaders the only legitimate rulers in their minds.
In the democratized world, monarchs and tribal leadership are socially analogous to the heads of families. Where age and relationship often determine “rank” in a family, birthright adds another level of power struggle to communities ruled by more traditional forms of governance. As the world democratizes, however, these traditional powers must recognize their legitimacy and claim to power will be increasingly dependent on their performance. Under democratic thinking, those who hold power do so only because they play a, more or less, constructive role in society.
Throughout much of human history, people were shielded by the powerful, who they served. Thanks to the United States, government now exists solely to serve the People. While stagnant and self-serving leaders are problematic for all forms of government, including democracy, the cyclic nature of democracy provides a built-in mechanism to shift away from ineffective leadership, so the interests of the People can be better balanced and addressed. As such, a real democratic government is more likely to remain more stable in the long-term.
On the other hand, unelected leadership can often get things done without much trouble or delay, because they do not answer to bureaucracies or popular sentiments. They simply issue commands for their staff to implement policy changes. If they are good, wise leaders, this is a benefit to their People. Over time, the tendency for self-serving and incompetent leaders to inherit power, however, leads to a failure to properly balance the interests of the population. All governments will, therefore, be judged based on how well they are serving their countries and the interests of Peoples.
If those who inherit their power wish to remain in power, they must, therefore, embrace their cultural legacy in order to serve their Peoples to the best of their ability, not themselves. The role of autocratic and tribal leadership in the modern world is changing, but the Peoples of the world have the right to choose their leaders and they will choose their traditional leaders, if that leadership serves their interests. How that is done will, of course, greatly depend upon the culture of a given People and what they need from their government.
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