The measure of success of the nation in international affairs is in our ability to change with the times and by doing so protect our own interests. In this I agree with many conservatives that say we must treat differently each country in the Middle East that is exploding. On the other hand I find it highly hypocritical that conservatives supported our invasion in Iraq by resorting to the old “make the world safe for democracy” rhetoric, but in the same breath say that we should support oppressive regimes and worry about Al Qaeda emerging in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain or Yemen. On the other hand I have little to no sympathy for the the view that we should be withdrawing our support from any oppressive regime and support the right of the people no matter what. This has been a democratic refrain, never a realistic policy, for ages. The fact that at certain times each side happens to be right comes under the heading of “even a blind squirrel can find some nuts.”
United States policy in the Middle East needs to change and become less myopic regarding the relationship between Islam, Al Qaeda, terrorism, Israel and the popular views of the largely youthful population there. The instant information age has changed, for the better, the equation. The anti-American, anti-Israel violence in the Middle East stems from a number of factors 1) History – violence begets violence, 2) Ignorance – information and education about the outside world uncolored by local prejudice (or at least where an alternative view is considered) was non-existent even 5 years ago, 3) Prejudice – stemming from history and ignorance and fostered by the older generation and by the oppressive regimes of the past. The information age can take all of these issues out of the equation if we let it. Young people can understand, not just rant about, the history and all of its nuances. Young people can gain knowledge that was inaccessible to their elders and to them a few short years ago. Young people can rebel against prejudice and celebrate learning. All of this will help destroy the foundations on which our terrorist enemies have built their houses of cards. Fundamentalism, extremism and prejudice are less likely to take hold if people who want information have access to it and if we support governments that grant such access.
Does that mean we should support the overthrow of all oppressive regimes on the basis of moral imperative. No. It means we should adjust failing policies to take into account new realities. Smart (yet oppressive) regimes will provide a carrot and stick (as Saudi Arabia seems to be doing). They won’t shut off the internet, they will spend money on their people and they will provide them with education and opportunity. History demonstrates that such “benevolent” monarchies are very successful despite their dark side and as long as they are willing to make minor adjustments in their treatment of people, they can maintain their security apparatus and their rulers’ positions of power. The truth is that such regimes tend to be stable for long periods of time, but must be wary of the corruption that can infiltrate their benevolence and destroy it and its benefits.
The liberals would tell you that we have a moral imperative to take down such oppressive, dictatorial or monarchist regimes throughout the world. Why? Foreign Relations is not about what is morally correct. It is, should be, and must only be about what is good for the United States. The President is not bound to support moral goodness throughout the world. He is bound to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. It turns out that what is best for the United States in the Middle East is to support transition to more open and democratic governments (or at least more open ones). It is not bad to side with regimes who understand how to maintain their power and stability by giving the people much of what they want. But, just because we are afraid of what changes may come, we need not show loyalty to oppressive regimes merely because we supported them in the past, if they are now not acting in our best interests and opening up their countries. Openness and free expression cuts off the life blood of ignorance and frustration on which terrorist, fundamentalists and oppressive enemies thrive.