Hindu Vivek Kendra
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Dancing With Dictators

Dancing With Dictators

Author: Editorial
Publication: The New York Times
Date: September 1, 2002
URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/09/01/opinion/01SUN1.html

For a nation that honors democracy and freedom, the United States has a nasty habit of embracing foreign dictators when they seem to serve American interests. It is one of the least appealing traits of American foreign policy. Like his predecessors, President Bush is falling for the illusion that tyrants make great allies. If Mr. Bush is not careful, Washington will be mopping up for years from the inevitable foreign policy disasters that come of befriending autocrats who maintain a stranglehold on their own people.

When unsavory governments control strategic locations or resources, the impulse to join hands with them can be irresistible. In some cases, there may appear to be no practical alternative. It would have been much more difficult to dislodge the Taliban and Al Qaeda from Afghanistan without the cooperation of Pakistan's military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Washington's longstanding ties to the Saudi royal family have ensured a steady flow of oil to the West for most of the last 60 years.

But there is a difference between making alliances of convenience and uncritically working with dictators. Washington should not repeat the mistake it has made so often in the past by muting its support for democracy and human rights in these societies. General Musharraf, the Saudis and other autocratic allies like President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt rule repressive societies that become a breeding ground for anti-American hostility. Terrorism will retreat where democracy advances, not where autocrats muzzle political expression or buy peace at home by financing violence abroad.

When Washington preaches democracy while tolerating the tyranny of allies, America looks double-faced. That's certainly the unflattering picture the world sees today. Mr. Bush has ordered the government to dry up the funding of Islamic terrorism, but Saudi Arabia is the principal financier of groups that promote such terrorism. The White House is pressing the Palestinians to establish democratic institutions while largely condoning the undemocratic actions of Mr. Mubarak. Vice President Dick Cheney's recent calls for bringing democracy to Iraq ring hollow as long as Washington is silent about General Musharraf's arbitrary rule in Pakistan.

A long, unhappy history illustrates the cost of cozying up to dictators. America still pays for its blind support of the Shah of Iran. The blank checks Washington wrote to Gen. Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan in the 1980's helped nurture what later became Al Qaeda. Decades of misguided American support for Gen. Suharto in Indonesia and Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, now Congo, left both countries a legacy of debt, violent ethnic conflict and weak institutions. Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines was another painful embarrassment.

The Bush administration seems to have learned little from these costly mistakes. Meeting America's short-term military and diplomatic needs should not require abandoning its democratic principles.

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