06 February 2011

Who Says We Lack Bi-Partisanship? Or, Batista, Pahlavi, and Marcos, Oh My!

Occasionally, the folks at The New York Times get things right. Today, they published this story about U.S. foreign policy toward authoritarian tyrants. Here are some of the good bits:
"If the United States is, as so many presidents have said in so many speeches, the world’s pre-eminent champion of democracy, then why does the drama unfolding in Cairo seem so familiar?

A Washington-friendly dictator, propped up for decades by lavish American aid as he oversees a regime noted for brutality, corruption and stagnation, finally faces the wrath of his people. An American administration struggles over what to say, what to do and what to expect if the strongman is toppled.

Every country has both values and interests. Sometimes they coincide — for example, promoting human rights can help combat terrorism — and sometimes they conflict. What makes the United States stand out, perhaps, is how frequently American officials proclaim their values to the world, setting themselves up for charges of hypocrisy when a policy is expedient rather than idealistic.

History is rich with precedents. ... Since World War II, the White House, under the management of both parties, has smiled on at least a couple of dozen despots."
The report is brief, hence leaves out some especially deadly clients (Pinochet, Hussein - yes, the very same Saddam - Somoza, Suharto, etc.) but basically hits the nail on the head. Of course, it is unclear whether The Times would encourage support for the values over the interests here. Are they concerned about the hypocrisy? Or are they concerned that the bi-partisan American consensus is to back a dictator more or less whenever given the chance?

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