The United States faces a dilemma of its own making in the Egyptian crisis. Despite expressing sentiments over the years for greater democratization in the Middle East and, for that matter, in other parts of the world, the U.S. has possessed a history over the course of the 20th century and into this century of supporting dictatorships and oppressive military regimes.
We support democracy only up to the point that it does not interfere with our economic, political, and strategic objectives.
In the Middle East, access to oil has trumped the promotion of democracy and human rights. Some argue that this is only an expression of a realistic foreign policy rather than an idealistic one. The debate between these two approaches to the conduct of foreign policy goes back many years. President Woodrow Wilson, for example, was criticized for pursing an unrealistic and idealistic policy in promoting the League of Nations and calling for self-determination of colonial territories at least those controlled by European nations. But for the most part the United States has followed a policy that rhetorically is democratic but in action and application is not. As long as U.S. interests are protected, we have stood by dictators and authoritarian regimes.
This is the dilemma that the Obama administration finds itself in. President Obama went to Egypt earlier in his first year to present a new face to the Arab world and called for new and more open governments that would respect the rights of their people. Now, while still echoing the same words, the administration, at the same time, is scrambling for how to ensure U.S. interests in a transitional period following the inevitable fall of Mubarak.
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It seems to me that a country, just like an individual, cannot pursue a hypocritical path. We are either supporters of democracy or we are not. I am not saying that there aren’t nuances in any foreign policy, but a nation is best served when it adheres to its stated principles and values. This is what will appeal to the masses of people who struggle for the same rights that we say we are for. We cannot abandon them just as we cannot and should not abandon our principles and values.
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