The situation in Egypt has put U.S. policy around the world under the microscope once again. People are rallying in the streets, demanding freedom and democracy. Surely, the land of the free and the home of the brave must support that. But wait, the current autocratic leader has been a good friend to the U.S. for thirty years. In return we helped them build a very formidable military machine. The waters are quite muddy.
Some argue that we should tread lightly. If true democracy comes to Egypt, we may wind up with a regime similar to that in Iran or Gaza. The problem with those comparisons is that Iran is far from a true democracy and the thugs in Gaza still rule largely through intimidation.
Free democracy is about more than one citizen; one vote. Freedom of assembly, speech, freedom of the press and rule of law are all absolute requirements. These are the freedoms that guarantee that even if good ideas are put down today and bad ideas are implemented, the good will be back and the bad will fall by the wayside. The power of the people to communicate, observe, evaluate and speak out is what keeps a society moving forward.
We should not be concerned about who might come to power in a free and fair election in countries like Egypt. We should concern ourselves with whether or not their next election and the one after that, and the one after that will also be free and fair and whether the people will be able to interact and speak freely in between.
The United States is at its best when it is a beacon of freedom and hope, not simply an instrument of preserving order. It should always be our position that governments, including their militaries, are servants of the people and that church and state be separate. We may not be able to dictate these things, but we can voice and promote them at every opportunity. The separation of church and state is not ant-religion, it’s anti-autocracy. After all, if someone who claims to speak for God or Allah, is in charge, what’s the check on his or her power? The rule of law must apply equally to all citizens of all religions or no religion. It is not the role of government to determine God’s or Allah’s will, but to protect the rights of individuals on Earth.
We need not be hostile toward countries or populations that don’t exhibit our values, but neither need we be shy or apologetic about what our values and beliefs are. As for me, I don’t believe that the people of the Middle East or Northern Africa or anywhere else are genetically pre-disposed to autocracy and/or theocracy. It may take them generations to work it out, but if we help them keep free, open, honest conversation going, they will work it out. In the tug-o-war between freedom and order, order has been vastly over-rated I think. I hope that U.S. foreign policy starts trending more American in the future.