If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that I frequently question U.S. foreign policy – both its objectives and its involvements. For examples see here and here. U.S. foreign policy seems to be guided by a list of priorities that starts with 1. maintaining stability (even in the case of undemocratic, corrupt and repressive regimes – all the better for economic exploitation); 2. curbing the rise of Islam as a guiding principle of national governments; 3. enduring entanglements resulting from past foreign policy mistakes.
While you won’t find the news front and center on the websites of fox news, cnn and even the ny times, over the past several days normal citizens in Tunisia and Egypt have mounted mass demonstrations – calling for democratic regime change, greater economic equality and other freedoms currently denied them. The U.S. has had working relationships with the governments that have been challenged. In Lebanon, a more fraught coalition of political forces has led to the dissolution of the government.
How should the U.S. respond to these challenges to governments with which it has established effective and economically beneficial working relationships? According to this article, “[The U.S.] is proceeding gingerly, balancing the democratic aspirations of young Arabs with cold-eyed strategic and commercial interests. That sometimes involves supporting autocratic and unpopular governments…” No! I say dispense with our knee-jerk reaction to propping up despots at the expense of democracy and leave them alone – with the request, of course, that all sides try to avoid violence. Yes, sure, it is difficult to relinquish our (limited) influence and we will likely witness the expression of some anti-American sentiment that will be bad for business. I suggest some new priorities: 1. trust the people and support human rights; 2. hold U.S. corporations to U.S. standards for worker and environmental protections; 3. reinvest in the United Nations as the most effective means of international intervention.