Some will contend that this focus on human rights at the expense of defense will make the US less secure. But this is a false premise. Security comes from creating environments where threats from susceptible populations are held at bay because residents have access to respectable jobs and income, a life with dignity, or political outlets to address grievances and frustrated aspirations. Long-term security has not and will never come at the expense of poor governance and human rights. For this reason, dictators have never been ideal partners for fighting extremists.
Moreover, democratic movements have started, and going back now would be dangerous. Weak support would seem duplicitous, undermine our standing, and give space to violent actors looking to exploit disappointment following heightened expectations.
Influence in the region must come through new means, and actions matter. It is time for the US to create allies amongst citizens who increasingly pressure governments, and enhance authority by being the global power that consistently supports the rights of local citizens. Being on the wrong side of values that our country was built upon is not only hypocritical policy, but makes us less secure.