It is a universal truth that people want to run their own lives.
Hence, we in the West assume they want/need/prefer a democratic government. We’re wrong. There are many ways in which people can control their lives in what outwardly looks like an autocracy or plutocracy or bureaucracy; some of them work.
Similarly, we think we must therefore impose Western institutions on those benighted fools, whether they like it or not.
This skein of tangled thinking has tempted our last two Presidents into equally wrong and stupid declarations: Bush that he would destroy Al Qaeda, and Obama that he would destroy the Islamic State. Al Qaeda is still with us. I predict Obama’s promise will fare no better than Bush’s.
Why? Because trying to destroy Islamic terror groups is like playing Whack-a-Mole. They just pop up again somewhere else. What we really want is an international balance of power. We don’t want anyone (including, except when we’re drunk with victory, us) having a hegemony anywhere.
You see, we don’t need to destroy Al Qaeda or ISIL, we just need to reduce them to the point where they’re no longer a threat to their neighbors or ourselves. (That last part is especially tricky, so ignore it for the moment.) And that reduction is best done by peaceful, external measures like sanctions, trade and diplomacy.
When that doesn’t work, we should never threaten violence; we should seek consensus among the neighbors, if possible, then we should act. I’m partial to the “As I speak, the bombs are falling” tactic, but that approach worries the neighbors. (Unless we first got them quietly on board .)
So, letting people run their own lives doesn’t always look the same. It just shows respect for one’s neighbors and one’s citizens.
Respect which, along with humility, is in short supply at the top of both of our political parties.