The current administration may not believe in American exceptionalism, but it has been handed a golden opportunity to make America exceptional.
A good first step was putting Egypt’s $1.5 billion U.S. aid package on the table, insisting that, if Hosni Mubarak expects to cash that check, “there must be reform—political, social and economic reforms that meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people,” adding that the Egyptian president “has a responsibility to give meaning to” his recently promised reforms.
The same thing, however, holds true for the Washington ultimatum.
Actually, the government is only saying what every administration since Eisenhower should have been saying and acting upon.
Unlike any other country, America was founded on a Constitution that ensures basic human rights. Yet, for more than half a century, America and the West have turned a blind eye and deaf ear to flagrant human rights abuses in Egypt and other countries they support. Tyrants loot and torture their own people, yet we maintain an uninterrupted flow of aid dollars to ensure low gas prices and protect favorable trade agreements.
Even today, as clouds of black smoke choke much of the Middle East, Western eyes are glued to pump prices, when our hearts should be broken over decades of needless human suffering. And what did we get by compromising our principles? Next week, we will still pay $4 a gallon. And the Middle East is unraveling.
Whether Mubarak stays or follows his family to London, the Muslim Brotherhood has gained ground in Cairo. And Cairo controls the border with Israel, which determines the flow of Iranian weapons to Hamas, the daughter of the Brotherhood. Cairo controls the Suez Canal, the global passageway for oil distribution, which affects the economy of every oil-producer in the Middle East, as well as the schizophrenic world economy.
Hezbollah has taken Lebanon. If no one intervenes, Jordan will follow Egypt. And Pakistan will not be far down the line with its prize of nuclear weapons.
The Middle East has become a jungle. Rage and revenge are the driving forces. No one can guess what will happen next. Politicians and pundits are turning themselves inside out trying to get their heads around every new, unforeseen development. Trying to connect dots, construct scenarios, predict direction and momentum, prepare for an endgame that no one can envision . . . or dares to imagine.
Oppressed people have discovered that the Tunisia Effect is exportable.
But Mubarak is not the only object of Egyptian wrath. The United States is viewed as his co-conspirator, the muscle that enabled him to hold onto his dictatorship for 30 years.
The mobs hate him. They hate us.
They Tweet anger and revenge and fan the flames on Facebook, forgetting that it was the United States that gave them the social network that overthrew Ben Ali and has Mubarak on the defensive. Forgetting that the $1.5 billion is for them, that we are the givers, not the thieves. They want change, jobs, education. They want to be able to afford food for their families—all of which we want for them. They need to remember, as they struggle to throw off their oppressors, that we are their friends, not their enemies. They enjoy the benefits of inventions and discoveries in medicine, housing, education, energy, transportation and agriculture that came from the West.
Yes, our governments have made wrong choices. But they don’t imprison and torture us. The streets of our cities are not clogged with tanks and troops. Our newspapers print whatever they want. We worship any way we want, read what we want, say what we want, come and go freely, provide for our families. And we are the first to show up with help at the scene of any disaster, anywhere in the world.
Nevertheless, Western governments need to stop compromising their values for the bottom line. We must stop supporting regimes that are guilty of systemic human rights abuses.
Diplomacy is unlikely to turn the tide in the Middle East. One of the most effective things we can do now is go to our keyboards and engage the Egyptian people. Assure them, one on one, that we are with them. If the social network can help bring down governments, it can help to rebuild them. If it can spread hatred, it can spread hope.
Crazy is to let evil triumph while good men do nothing. Because the truth is that America is filled with good men and women. America is exceptional.
And despite the self-serving decisions and failed policies of the past five decades, it is not yet too late for the West to serve as an architect of a stable and perhaps even democratic Middle East.