How Should the US Respond to the Protests in the Middle East?

There are three choices on foreign policy at any given time: to lead, to react or to be indifferent. When it comes to the question of human freedom, the Obama administration (and, before it, the Bush administration in its latter years) chose indifference. That is how we now find ourselves on the wrong side of history, watching the people of the Middle East as they stand against American-financed and -supported dictators. We have always had the chance to right our ways and to use our great moral, diplomatic and economic suasion to push for increased openness in the region, but other priorities-and the establishment's love affair with "stability"-have taken precedence.

Proponents of indifference (the proto-statesmen of the Foreign Service and their allies) like to posit a binary sort of choice between armed intervention in favor of democracy and the status quo, but that has never been the choice. Rather, we should be educating people about their rights, teaching consistently about the creation of political parties, working to free political prisoners and building the foundations of freedom. That, and not budgetary support and cash-transfer programs, is the proper role for American aid.

Some say that a freedom agenda only opens the door to Islamists; the truth is that our support for secular dictators does more for Islamists than democracy promotion ever did. We have an opportunity to right our ways and stand with the people of the Middle East-not forgetting Iran-in their quest for basic freedom. But it's going to take more than bland statements and White House hand-wringing. The president himself needs to stand up and unequivocally make clear America's position: in favor of the people over their oppressors. Suspend aid to the Egyptian government. Initiate an immediate review of all programs in the Middle East. Get the word out to our diplomats. Now.

Danielle Pletka is the vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at AEI.

Photo Credit: Flickr user future15pic/Creative Commons

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