In Thursday evening’s Democratic Presidential debate, several candidates were asked which is more important, human rights or U.S. national security. Here is how Barack Obama answered:
Mr. Obama responded, “The concepts are not contradictory, they are complementary.”
“Pakistan’s democracy would strengthen our battle against extremists,” he said. “The more we see repression, the more there are no outlets for how people can express themselves and their aspirations, the worse off we’re going to be and the more anti-American sentiment there’s going to be in the Middle East. We keep on making this mistake.”
“If we simply prop up anti-democratic practices, that feeds the sense that America is only concerned about us and that our fates are not tied to these other folks,” he said. “And that’s going to make us less safe.”
Several other Democrats voiced similar sentiments, but Obama’s chief rivals pounced on his answer, suggesting that it sounded weak. What they should have said is that it sounded like George Bush. It is President Bush who has has been saying since 2002 that the longstanding Western policy of accommodating corrupt dictatorships in the Arab world has contributed to the rise of terrorism, and that the only long-term solution to the problem of Islamic terrorism is our effort to bring modernity, including democracy, to the Muslim world. This was the chief reason for overthrowing Saddam Hussein, and those who share Bush’s view of the matter are conventionally called, for no very good reason, “neocons.”
What is weird about Obama and other Democrats who pay lip service, at least, to the value of democracy is that they seem willing to apply the principle to every country in the world except Iraq. If democracy in Pakistan will make us safer by providing an antidote to extremism, why isn’t the same true of democracy in Iraq? Or Iran? Conversely, if democracy has proved hard to export to Iraq, why would it not be at least as difficult, if not more so, to promote it in Pakistan?
Writing in Haaretz, Shmuel Rosner makes some of these same observations in a blog post titled On Pakistan, Democratic candidates sound like neocons:
[T]he even more amazing thing about the Pakistan chapter of the debate was the extent to which the Democratic candidates sounded almost like — well — neocons.
Consider their praise for democracy and their insistence that the Bush administration should be pushing Pakistan’s President to allow elections in Pakistan to move forward. Consider the talk about how democracy in countries like Pakistan contributes to America’s national security (Clinton). Consider their practical dismissal of the danger attached to a destabilized Pakistan (Dodd was the exception…)
Consider all their statements and you’ll reach one of two conclusions: Either everything is politics, and when Bush does A (avoids pushing the Pakistani President) the Democrats must say B no matter what; or, as much as the Democrats want to deny it, the Bush years did influence the way they think about the world.
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