Yet such a realist, U.S. interests-based policy has worked for decades. True, there are times when a revolutionary situation exists but these are relatively few and far between. For example, Egyptian dictatorships ruled from 1952 to 2010 without facing a single serious internal revolutionary threat. So how America handles those brief crisis periods help determine what happens for decades into the future.
By the way, Bush speaks of “supporting the flawed leaders,” so does that imply the alternative leaders aren’t flawed, perhaps even more flawed? Perhaps the “flawed leaders they know” do not number among their flaws a tendency to sponsor terrorism, commit aggression against their neighbors, and do everything they can to hurt the United States.
The czar, the Weimar republic, the Batista dictatorship in Cuba, the regime of Prince Sihanouk in Cambodia, and the shah, for example, were all deeply flawed. Now what about the regimes that replaced them?
It would be better to make a distinction in setting policy: overthrow anti-American dictatorships (Iran, Syria, Gaza Strip) and support indispensable pro-American ones that are less oppressive than their counterparts (formerly Egypt, formerly Lebanon, and still Jordan and Saudi Arabia). Remember that a high percentage of those in the Middle East who don’t like U.S. policy also hate the United States (and are not assuaged by America helping them gain power) and want Islamist dictatorship, or at least will vote for it for various reasons.
“But in the long run, this foreign policy approach is not realistic….”
Why? Suddenly revolution is inevitable in every Arab country and nothing is going to stop it? Ridiculous.
Consider the following:
–In Algeria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Bahrain, opposition movements were suppressed with relative ease. The same would have happened in Libya if not for NATO taking over the war and running it.
–In Egypt and Tunisia revolutions didn’t take place not because the people united can never be defeated but because the armies sided with the opposition. Once you have the entire armed forces on your side revolution becomes a lot more likely.
“The years of transition that follow can be difficult. People forget that this was true in Central Europe, where democratic institutions and attitudes did not spring up overnight.”
Well, actually in Central Europe “democratic institutions and attitudes” did “spring up overnight.” Why? It was because these concepts were deeply imbedded in the culture and revived quickly when given the opportunity to do so. It’s the difference between a rich humus soil in which seeds lie dormant awaiting the first rain and a sandy soil that has only ever known drought The people in Central Europe were not about to vote for fascist-style movements as alternatives to the old dictatorships. And this situation has nothing to do with Middle Eastern realities.
Finally, what is quite amazing is how little backing the United States has given to moderate democratic oppositions to Islamist forces. That certainly has not happened in Lebanon, Turkey, or Iran, while in Egypt and Syria, U.S. policy has been friendlier to Islamists than to moderates.
And that’s the saddest irony. When the Obama Administration, to quote Bush’s phrase, gets “to choose what side we are on,” it picks the wrong one. It argues, again, to quote Bush, that Ameica “should be content with supporting…flawed leaders…in the name of stability.” But these new Islamist dictators would deliver internal stability only at the price of freedom and will dismantle regional stability altogether. The alternative that provides some hope of stopping the Islamists, as both Iraq and Egypt show, is politicians who seem at best more like the old-style flawed leaders with whom America allied in past decades.Barry Rubin
About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.
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