This article argues that American actions in the Middle East designed to advance democracy and/or ‘moderation’ tend to yield perverse outcomes that frustrate the aspirations of local actors while undermining the values purportedly being promoted by the US. In order to explain these contradictions, we emphasise the linkage between policies of democracy promotion and long-standing American commitments both to millennialism and geographical omnipresence. As a result of these policies and geopolitical vision, we argue that ‘democracy promotion’ often devolves into a simple defence of American interest – by producing electoral outcomes intended to strengthen local agents seen as compliant with US regional priorities. In this context, the shift from democracy promotion to a policy of pursuing ‘moderation’ in the region, understood as support for American policies, is entirely coherent. Commentators tend to present this shift (particularly in the wake of the Iraq War) as recognition by US political actors of the imperial overtones embedded in more heavy-handed approaches to regime change. Yet, the call for moderation is itself profoundly intertwined with American millennial aspirations, while remaining remarkably devoid of clear content and thus equally amenable to manipulation for strategic ends. By way of conclusion, we suggest an alternative basis for a less intrusive American position in the region, one that rejects the need for an overstretched territorial presence and that is grounded in a substantive respect for local self-determination
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