Picking and choosing among authoritarian regimes—heavily pressuring Iran and Syria while going lightly on Egypt and Saudi Arabia—suggests that we seek not a universal democratization of the Middle East but rather compliant governments of any autocratic or monarchic kind that will share and serve American interests, so long as they do not overtly support terror. In a war of ideas, such perceived hypocrisy—a major theme of Osama bin Laden’s infomercials damning U.S. support for the Saudi royal family—can be extremely detrimental.
Nor is inconsistency the only problem. Tens of thousands of American soldiers are fighting in the belief that replacing dictators with democrats is not only smart for America but good for the people of the Middle East. How can we go on asking them to die for freedom in the Sunni Triangle while their government subsidizes dictatorship in Egypt and Pakistan—the former a weak heartbeat away from a populist revolt, the latter a bullet away from theocracy?
The President’s bold plan appears to be based on a model of democratic contagion. We have seen such infectious outbreaks of popular government in Latin America and Eastern Europe, so we know the prognosis is not fanciful. But in the Muslim and Arab Middle East, democracy has no real pedigree and few stalwart proponents. Thus, recalcitrant autocracies will inevitably serve as sanctuaries and strongpoints for those trying to reverse the verdict in an Afghanistan, an Iraq, or a Lebanon; the idea that these same anti-democratic societies are supported by the U.S. is presently embarrassing and eventually unsustainable.
I completely agree with this position. The time has come to stop supporting the tyrants who run these countries and start applying the same bold demands with resultant consequences that we did in Afghanistan and Iraq. Going around holding hands with a Saudi prince does not inspire much confidence that such action is forthcoming, but it is necessary to maintain the dynamic processes already begun in that part of the world.
Come on, Mr. President. Now is not the time to get cold feet. Just Do It.