The United States has an image problem in the Middle East. Years of supporting regional dictators and occupying Iraq have undermined influence. The current upheaval provides a rare opportunity for the US to reset regional relations.
For years, US strategic interests, such as securing access to oil, counting allies in the fight against terror, or countering Iranian influence, trumped anemic calls in Washington for reform. But it is actually a US strategic interest to stand up for democracy, as open countries are inherently more prosperous, capable of upholding rule of law, and stable in the long-term.
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Stop treating residents of Arab nations like they were blind to US policies. Although stifled for decades, these citizens know of America’s support for their oppressive autocrats. Blanket statements today in support of liberty ring hollow and sound like opportunism. Worse yet, supporting dictators abroad and democracy at home has made us look hypocritical and undermines our standing in the Arab world.
President Obama should acknowledge that cold war struggles often dictated support for leaders who fell short of our ideals. He should also state clearly that such an era is over and that we now stand with those seeking freedom everywhere.
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