Friday, February 4, 2011

America's Useful Tyrants

Gene Robinson states the unpalatable truth that few Americans want to hear:
No one should be shocked to learn that Mubarak is, in fact, a dictator. He has been a dictator since the moment he assumed power following the assassination of Anwar Sadat. But the United States and its allies have taken the position that despotism is acceptable in the Middle East, as long as the despots in question provide useful services.

You will recall that even Saddam Hussein was once in the "useful tyrant" category, partly because of Iraq's huge oil reserves and partly because he had been considerate enough to launch a war against Iran. Only after invading Kuwait and threatening Saudi Arabia did he move to the top of the U.S. enemies list; the despotic royal families that rule the oil-rich kingdoms and sheikdoms lining the Persian Gulf are more useful than Hussein ever was.

There was a time when U.S. officials thought nothing of cozying up to murderous dictatorships throughout Latin America. As long as they were anti-communist, we could work with them - even if they rounded up thousands of suspected leftists, subjected them to unspeakable torture and finally threw them out of helicopters to their deaths, as was the practice of the sadistic military junta in Argentina.

Today's despots get a similar pass from U.S. policymakers by being anti-terrorist. There are other factors, too, depending on the dictator in question. Mubarak faithfully observed the peace treaty that Sadat negotiated with Israel. The royals who hold absolute sway in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the other Persian Gulf monarchies guarantee the supply of oil that fuels the global economy. But the "with us or against us" acid test is whether the repressive government in question cooperates in the fight against al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

If the Egyptian regime can be challenged by ordinary citizens demanding freedom and democracy, any regime in the Arab world can be so challenged. The United States will not be able to dictate events, but neither will it be able to stand idly by - not where our non-democratic allies are concerned.

When push comes to shove, American officials must uphold American values.

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