With a longtime dictator gone from Egypt, another headed in the same direction in Libya and mass protests in Yemen, Bahrain and Algeria, among others, it’s about time to figure out what exactly U.S. policy is when it comes to domestic uprisings in the Middle East.
So far, our foreign policy has been nothing short of pure realpolitik — politics that focus on practical factors rather than ethical or ideological ones.
The Obama administration should abandon its overly pragmatic approach to foreign policy and start responding as a leader of the free world.
Recently, we have been waiting until the last moment to take a definitive position. Only once it was clear the protests in Egypt could not be quelled did the United States call for a peaceful transition, and only once it was clear the protesters would accept nothing short of former President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation did the United States finally turn its back on him.
The government’s stance on the protests in the Middle East has also been inconsistent.
For example, as the protests in Tahrir grew stronger, the Obama administration exerted increased pressure on Mubarak to answer to his citizens.
But when similar protests gathered steam in Iran shortly thereafter, the Obama administration issued an underwhelming condemnation, despite the fact that the brutality with which the Iranian security forces operated made their Egyptian counterparts look like a group of unwieldy boy scouts.
So why has United States’ response varied so widely? Again, realpolitik. Mubarak was bound to fall, so although he had been a committed ally of the United States for 30 years, we jumped on the bandwagon with the protesters.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, appeared poised to crush the Iranian protesters at any cost, and yet, although his regime is nothing short of state-sponsored terror diametrically opposed to nearly every U.S. interest in the region, we held back our criticism.
Likewise, everything thus far indicates that Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi would rather murder thousands of his own people than give up power, but, given Libya’s position as a key player in the oil market, the United States has stayed relatively mum.
This is pragmatism and realpolitik at its best. It is not, however, policy. This discrepancy sheds light on a larger issue, one that fundamentally affects how we view the Middle East. The reason why we have no set policy is because we never expected this.
Conventional wisdom has always assumed the transition to democracy in the Arab world would occur through gradual concessions and persistent international support. For example, Lebanon was formerly on the path to democratization after years of support from the United States and international community, which helped build civil society and the institutions necessary for democracy.
The idea that the citizens themselves, with little or no support, could overthrow a dictator and establish something other than another repressive regime was unfathomable.
U.S. policy with respect to the turmoil in the Middle East is essentially straight-jacketed, caught between what we espouse as our highest values, in freedom and democracy, on one side and the need to stand by our regional allies and assure our national interests on the other.
Justin Davidoff is a sophomore majoring in business administration.