Sunday, October 11, 2009

Puppet Dictators for Sale

Despite the weak economy, apparently people have enough money to buy an "Arab puppet dictator kit" for sale on Ebay (h/t Arabist). The kit includes "tools" that will help, among other things, to "give green light to any US agency for regional hegemony," steal natural resources, crush the people's "aspiration for true freedom" with "absolute brutality," and "respond very well to CNN and other tools of imperial propaganda." All for a current bid of $20.50!

Putting President Obama's Nobel prize aside, clearly the United States faces anti-Americanism throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Some of the problem stems from image issues. You and I know the United States isn't out to crush freedom, but unfortunately that's not so obvious to many Arabs and Muslims who often have access to either incomplete, biased and even invented information.

But perceptions are only half the problem. While many Arabs were delighted by Obama's election (it's no coincidence the Ebay site features a picture of President Bush wielding a scimitar laughing), they are also quick to point out that they are waiting for tangible action. Sadly, we don't exactly have the best record when it comes to supporting dictators in the Middle East. Take, for instance, our plot to overthrow a democratically elected leader to install the Shah of Iran.

We must find a way to convince the Arab and Muslim world that - fifty years after that mistake - we're no longer in the nefarious business of CIA coups. Words won't suffice. So what actions can we take? We can begin by consistently supporting democratic reform and human rights rhetorically, diplomatically, technically and financially.

Should democracy be our only concern in the region? No. Solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting extremism and securing our energy supply all require the cooperation of the region's autocratic leaders for the short-term. But for the long-term, only a democratic Middle East will lead to stability and prosperity. And only a stable, prosperous Middle East can keep America secure.

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