Based on a comment I originally made here.
The US is at once both a revolutionary and a status quo Power.
It is a revolutionary Power in the straightforward sense that it is the only contemporary state seriously trying to export its revolution, apart from the Islamic Republic of Iran.
It is also a revolutionary Power in a somewhat more subtle sense, in that it produces so much of the technology that continues to transform the world. Which puts the US in a similar situation during its Pax Americana, as Britain during the Pax Britannica: being the premier source of transforming technology while trying to foster international stability.
But the US is also a status quo Power, in that the current arrangement of world affairs suits its interests–as the major economic, financial, trading and military Power. It tends to act as the central manager of the international system–its performance as such is very much affected by its own interests, because that’s what Powers do. But precisely because the US has a bigger stake in international stability than any other polity else, it tends to be more active in trying to maintain that stability.
But being a status quo Power is not very compatible with being a revolutionary Power. And even more so, vice versa. It would be hard to argue that its attempts to export its Revolution to Mesopotamia and the Hindu Kush have been exactly stabilising, even as it sought to create a (new) stability.
A hardy perennial in (failed) US policies has been ignorance of history. Both the US as status quo Power and US as revolutionary Power tend to encourage history-fails. A status quo Power has a tendency to live in an eternal now. A revolutionary Power has a tendency to fixate on its own framing of social patterns and desirable outcomes. Add to that American exceptionalism, and you have a recipe for serial history-fails.
As has been particularly obvious in US interventions in the Middle East.
As Somaliland shows (the successful, formerly British, bit of the former Somalia), a House of Elders (in other words, a House of Lords) would very likely have been sensible policy in both Iraq and Afghanistan, as it would have connected government into traditional social structures. But hereditary and religious legislators, can’t have that! Because we’re Americans and we don’t think like that! Our Revolution is explicitly about no hereditary government, and separation of church and state, so a House of Elders (or Shura Council, or whatever) becomes unthinkable and unthought.
And holding a vote on whether to restore the king in Afghanistan (pdf) would also have been sensible policy. But we’re Americans and we don’t think like that!
Yes, but those folk you’re trying to help: they’re not Americans and they don’t think like you. Alas, American exceptionalism and the US-as-revolutionary-Power trumps trying to understand the local societies in their own terms and building something that might work for them.
Similarly, Iraq should have been divided into three, as any “Iraqi” identity was too shallow to survive any serious stress. But the US is a too much of a status quo power (and a little too ignorant of Middle Eastern history) to think like that either.
Being at the same time a status quo and a revolutionary power is a difficult double. Alas, it is also very well set up to create serial policy failure.
[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]