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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

After Egypt: Dems Should Review Human Rights Policy

Neither political party has much to gain by engaging in “Who lost Egypt?” finger-pointing, since both parties have demonstrated a high tolerance for Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship for 27 years. Such are the realpolitik considerations of mideast diplomacy.
Of course that didn’t stop Max Boot from waxing nostalgic in Commentary about Ronald Reagan’s supposed confronting Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Boot’s less than subtle suggestion that the GOP has a superior record in confronting abusive regimes and would somehow be doing better than President Obama in addressing the events in Egypt falls flat. Smart Republicans don’t want to subject their human rights policy toward South Africa, China, Nicaragua and a dozen other abusive dictatorships to comparative scrutiny. Not that Dems have all that much to brag about, other than Democratic congressional leadership’s passage of some significant human rights measures like anti-apartheid legislation.
What Dems should rethink is the nature of our means of confronting abusive regimes. Clearly, we can no longer afford open-ended, large-scale military occupation of nations, nor multi-billion dollar budgets to subsidize repressive governments. We should more assertively question the value of subsidizing abusive regimes just because they serve our geopolitical interests, while abusing the human rights of their citizens. It’s always been wrong; Now it’s a bad investment as well.
President Obama gave a great speech in Cairo in 2009, challenging Arab nations to embrace Democracy, and offering them hope and opportunity in return. Democrats should now rally around his vision with a new focus on our policy towards Arab nations. What we can escalate instead is our efforts to educate “at-risk” populations about the benefits of tolerance, secular government, free speech and democracy. Let a stronger engagement in the effort to win hearts and minds replace military force. That’s the kind of nation-building that merits our sustained support, and it’s a lot more cost-effective in the long run than squandering billions every week on military operations that win temporary victories at best.
It’s highly unlikely that the uprising in Egypt will do much to directly influence voters in the U.S. to support one party or the other. But the protests in Egypt do provide a timely reminder that the days when subsidizing repressive dictatorships were a sound investment are coming to a close. We need a new grand strategy to win respect, instead of fear, in the strife-torn nations of the middle east, and Democrats should lead the way.

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