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31 January 2011

From Tunisia to Egypt [and beyond?]-American Perspective

A couple of weeks ago, the human rights group Freedom House rated the Middle East … the most repressed region of the planet. But that was a couple of weeks ago.At the moment, opposition to dictators is spreading fast and putting authoritarian governments in peril.…
There is no doubt, of course, that Americans favor the spread of democracy. But in many Arab countries, that preference sometimes comes into conflict with other goals, such as protecting our security interests. Egypt was the first Arab government to sign a peace accord with Israel, and Mubarak has been a helpful ally of Washington.
Jordan supported the war against Saddam Hussein and has been a moderate force in Arab-Israeli matters. So the Obama administration has to exercise caution in what it says and does about opposition to governments that have often been key partners on grave issues….
So far … the administration hasn’t thrown its wholehearted support to the opposition. That course is unsatisfying, but it is sensible, for two obvious reasons. The first is that the collapse of dictatorships may not lead to progress. A lot of Americans rooted for the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979 — which brought to power a radical Islamist regime. More recently, the Bush administration pressed for Palestinian elections, only to see victory go to the terrorist Hamas party. [comments: so democracy only if suits USA, if doesn't, them support dictators, hypocracy ]
Another reason for caution is that even if the US wants to help opposition movements, it can do them as much harm as good.
The Obama administration earned criticism for not strongly endorsing the anti-government forces in Iran’s failed ‘Green Revolution’. But the president saw that … an American blessing might backfire. Elsewhere as well, close identification with the US can be a stain.
In the long run, everyone agrees, the spread of democracy in the Middle East would be a generally positive thing for both the people of the region and for US interests. But in the short run, toppling autocrats is a chancy business. It can lead to democracy and respect for human rights. Or it can produce chaos, extremism and regional instability…