Video: James Baker on Syria

“We don’t know these people…” has become a much-used line in recent months, and it’s true. But it needs to be put in perspective.

One of the reasons U.S. governments have such a long history of backing dictatorships is because it provides Washington with the illusion that it’s sufficient to know what’s happening in Egypt, or Saudi Arabia, or wherever, through its ties to an individual or small group of individuals. Americans so often like to reduce foreign relations to personal relations and think that if those relations are with leaders perceived as loyal friends, then the U.S. can remain largely ignorant about the countries and populations they control.

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