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Seriously interested in defeating tyranny?


Some basic questions about the U.S.'s inconsistent, and sometimes very supportive, relationships with autocratic regimes in the Middle East.

By Stephen Zunes



Q. Assuming that America's national security would indeed be enhanced by eliminating the conditions that lead to the rise of extremist groups like Al-Qaeda, why has the Bush administration not stressed the need for greater freedom in Saudi Arabia, the home country of 16 of the 19 9/11 hijackers and most of Al-Qaeda's leadership?  Why has the Bush administration instead emphasized democratization primarily in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Syria -- none of which is the home country of any of the 9/11 hijackers or any prominent Al-Qaeda leader?


Q. The U.S. spends six times as much on military aid to governments in the Middle East as it does on economic aid. Arms sales constitute our nation's primary export to the region, making the United States the chief arms supplier to that part of the world.  Given that autocratic regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere maintain power in large part through military force, is the Bush administration willing to take major steps to reduce arms transfers to the region?


Q. The United States has justified its arms transfers and other security assistance to a number of autocratic regimes in the Middle East and Central Asia on the grounds that maintaining such close relationships could somehow help facilitate these governments' paths toward democratization.  In light of reports from reputable human rights groups that repression by these governments continues, and in some cases has worsened, what evidence does the administration have that such a policy is actually working?  Would the Bush administration consider dropping sanctions and developing similar security cooperation with Iran and Syria in the hope that they might democratize as well?


Q.  A number of prominent pro-democracy activists in the Middle East have expressed a fear -- given the history of U.S. intervention in the region as well as support for Israel and some of the Middle East's most autocratic regimes -- that U.S. pronouncements in support of democracy are actually counter-productive to their cause, effectively giving democracy a bad name.  Given that the successful democratic revolutions in recent years -- such as those in the Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia, the Philippines, and elsewhere -- have come not about from foreign military conquests but from grassroots nonviolent movements from within, is the United States willing to allow comparable movements in the Middle East to take the lead, offering help only if requested?


Q. A major focus of the Bush administration's calls for greater freedom and democracy has been Iran's autocratic Islamic regime. Given that the last democratic government in Iran was overthrown in a CIA-sponsored coup in 1953 and that the United States was the primary backer of the Shah's brutally repressive rule over the next quarter century, do United States pronouncements on democracy have any credibility with Iranians? Is President Bush willing to address America's role in ending Iran's democratic experiment and support of the Shah?

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