Sunday 17 December 2017

A departure from old-school foreign policy doctrine of toppling the dictators

Saddam Hussein. Photo: Getty Images
Saddam Hussein. Photo: Getty Images
Colonel Muammar Gadaffi

Eli Lake in Washington

REMEMBER when Republicans opposed dictators? It was 2005. Netflix only sent DVDs by mail, everyone seemed to have a blog and George W. Bush was president. Saddam Hussein was in the dock in Baghdad.

In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak was under pressure from the State Department to allow members of the Muslim Brotherhood to run for parliament. Even Saudi Arabia was being pushed to let people vote in local elections.

In his second inaugural address that January, Mr Bush said his foreign policy would support democratic movements all over the world "with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world".

Well, those days are gone. Today most Republicans (with the exception of Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain) don't want to squeeze dictators such as Egypt's General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.

But this sentiment has largely been kept in the background. After all, what politician wants to say that alliances with the jailers of journalists should be a key pillar of US foreign policy?

It turns out that Senator Ted Cruz does. Speaking before the Heritage Foundation last week, Mr Cruz argued that Mr Bush's freedom agenda is a chimera, that there are times when America's values and interests are not one in the same.

"Would it be nice if the progress of liberal democracy was an inevitable, linear evolution in human affairs?" he asked.

"Indeed, it would. But even a cursory glance at the history of democracy in the some two and a half millennia since the experiment was first attempted in ancient Athens reveals this is far from the case, and the reality is that in order to preserve and strengthen the United States, we cannot treat democracy-promotion as an absolute directive; but rather as a highly desirable ideal - one that can be reached most effectively through the promotion of the security and interests of the United States."

Mr Cruz here was clearly drawing from a seminal 1979 essay by Jeane Kirkpatrick, called 'Dictatorships and Double Standards'. In it, she eviscerated President Jimmy Carter for trying to fashion a human rights agenda that was incapable of distinguishing between anti-communist authoritarians and communist totalitarians.

Ms Kirkpatrick, who went on to become the US ambassador to the United Nations under President Ronald Reagan, argued that Mr Carter should have stood by America's allied dictators such as the Shah of Iran, instead of doing nothing in the face of the country's Islamic revolution. Today, Ms Kirkpatrick's policy would apply to the Gulf monarchies and Egypt, where Mr Cruz argues that undemocratic leaders are preferable to the prospect of jihadists who would unseat them in revolution.

Ms Kirkpatrick is for Mr Cruz a lodestar. After nearly 15 years of war since 9/11, one thing is clear: Jihadists will fill the ungoverned spaces of the Islamic world.

As brutal as Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi were, the chaos that followed their fall was worse.

"The intervention in Libya was, in a word, a disaster," Mr Cruz said.

"And the argument that Republicans had to in principle support what might have been a democratic uprising against Gaddafi but that the Obama administration botched the job is revisionist history."

The weaknesses of Mr Cruz's worldview become most apparent when he explains his approach to Syria.

He said the US has no side in the Syrian civil war and that leaving Bashar al-Assad in power is better than letting Isil take over.

But Mr Cruz doesn't acknowledge how Assad and his allies target the more moderate Syrian rebels, and for years left Isil alone to consolidate its position - Assad historically has had no objection to jihadists.

Irish Independent

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