Shadi Hamid Amazed Some Americans Think USA is an Evil Force

Context: This unrolled tweet came from Shadi Hamid on January 7, 2020, after Iran's retaliation to the killing of General Qasem Soleimani near Bagdad Airport. In retaliation, Iran fired 22 missiles at various Iraq military bases housing US troops. According to Iraq and United States, no one was killed.


I shouldn't be surprised, but it's sort of amazing to me how many Americans (on Twitter) seem to think America is a uniquely evil force in world affairs. Is it a white privilege thing? I don't know. But at some point it devolves from well deserved self-critique into pathology

For additional context, here's my thread on the "moral equivalency" question: 

1. The hundreds of thousands of Iranians in the streets mourning Soleimani's death is an odd thing for critics of the Trump administration to emphasize, since, in the absence of any additional context, it makes Iranians look bad 
2. Large-scale protests, particularly in a dictatorship, aren't exactly an accurate bellwether of public sentiment (that's the whole point of elections). Iran has 80 million people. That a million or so were protesting tells us that *some* people loved Soleimani. That's about it 
3. But let's say a majority of Iranians did, in fact, like Soleimani or feel some form of nationalist attachment to him after the fact. That doesn't mean there's anything "wrong" with Iranians. It does mean that dictatorship distorts both the human spirit and human behavior 
4. This is what makes authoritarianism, at a basic level, so pernicious. It makes us other than what we are (and, in that sense, is also an affront to God) 
5. This brings us to the moral equivalence issue. A majority of Americans have supported bad presidents and unjust wars. That doesn't reflect well on "us." But it's not comparable to honoring someone who orchestrated mass murder and sectarian cleansing on an epic scale 
6. All else being equal, democracies, by virtue of being democracies, are inherently more legitimate and just than authoritarian regimes. That we are a democracy, however flawed, means that there cannot be moral equivalency between the US and Iran, at least as political systems

Imagine for a moment if China or Russia had America's power, economic might, and military projection. All the people saying that America is uniquely evil would be in for a bit of a surprise 

It's no mistake that, when faced with repression, Arab protesters and democracy activists turn(ed) to the United States. Not because we were good, but because they believed we could be better

I wrote a @newrepublic essay on this in 2011: 

@newrepublic No one wonders out loud why Russia doesn't support democracy abroad. The notion itself is silly. In the Arab world, there is anger toward Russia but little, if any, *disappointment.* Namely, because no one expects Russia to be anything other than what it is 

@newrepublic I remember in February 2011, when Egyptian activists I was interviewing—secular and Islamist alike—were crying on the phone with me and pleading for the U.S. to act. They, quite literally, saw the U.S. as their last, and perhaps only, hope 

Perhaps those Egyptian protestors were misplaced in believing this, but there was something powerful about their perception of our moral authority despite our rather immoral record in the preceding decades 

When we talk about "getting out" of the Middle East and minding our own business, we Americans might like it, because it will help us feel virtuous and pure, but the ones who will suffer will be actual real life Arabs. But the narcissism of "America is evil" can't factor that in 


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