Tunisia, Egypt, Arab world need bold US support for democracy, not mixed messages
The Tunisia uprising exposed the faulty assumption of US policy in the Middle East – that stability can be bought at the cost of freedom. Even as the domestic political climate pulls Obama away from foreign involvement, US support for democracy in the Arab world is more important than ever.
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Interestingly, when neoconservatives did finally take to hailing Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution,” warnings of growing Islamist influence were often interspersed with democratic optimism. The exiled Islamist leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, was planning his return to Tunis, and Islamists, after decades of near total suppression, were ripe for resurgence. This is the same old US dilemma: wanting democracy but not necessarily its outcomes. (And in this case, the outcomes in Tunisia and the rest of the region are likely to make Americans uncomfortable.)Skip to next paragraph
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Democratic changes need US support
Some might argue that this is not about America, but about Tunisians fighting for Tunisia and Egyptians fighting for Egypt. Accordingly, Obama, the neoconservatives, and anyone else should just “stay out of it.” But the notion of democratic transitions as organic and homegrown – a post-Bush platitude – while technically true, is also misleading. Democratic transitions are incredibly difficult. But they are even more difficult without the support of the international community.
Western assistance can sometimes be decisive, as it was during the Color Revolutions in Eastern Europe. Youth movements like Otpor in Serbia and Pora in Ukraine received millions of dollars, extensive technical assistance, and moral support from Western governments.
This support for democracy would not have happened without the agitation of activists and policymakers in Washington who shared an ideological commitment to the vigorous support of democracy abroad. Sometimes, political will, more than anything else, can have a dramatic impact in forcing stagnant US policies in a new direction.
America doesn’t need neoconservatives. What it does need is a diverse constituency, on both the left and right, committed to human rights and democracy as an animating force in US foreign policy. Perhaps now more than ever, Arab democracy needs advocates. Oddly, they’ve become more difficult to find.