Conservatives often act as if the United States is a bystander to history. For example, they say that we’ll have to wait and see what happens in Egypt and Libya, the Middle East and North Africa. If the revolutionary uprisings there turn out well, great. But if not, well, we told you so!
This is no way for Ronald Reagan’s political children to behave. Reagan, after all, understood that the United States can and should shape history, and in a decidedly democratic direction. Thus he aided the freedom fighters in Poland, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Angola, and elsewhere.
But no prospective GOP presidential candidate — except Donald Trump — has advocated similar assistance for the people now taking to the streets in the Islamic world.
That’s a shame, because aside from being the right thing to do morally and the necessary thing to do strategically, this is fertile political ground for the Republican Party. Charles Krauthammer, for instance, notes in his column today that the Obama administration has foolishly turned its back on George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda.” It began on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s first Asia trip, Krauthammer writes, “when she publicly played down human rights concerns in China. The administration also cut aid for democracy promotion in Egypt by 50 percent. And [it] cut civil society funds — money for precisely the organizations we now need to help Egyptian democracy — by 70 percent.”
And, worse yet, reports The Washington Post, Obama and Clinton haven’t even spent the money ($30 million) that Congress allocated for Internet freedom 16 months ago. And in the intervening period, “the Internet landscape has shifted dramatically. Sixteen months ago, there were no iPads. The number of Twitter users was orders of magnitude smaller. And scarcely 10 percent of phone users had smartphones.”
What is the Obama administration waiting for? As the Post rightly points out, while the administration dithers, “oppressive regimes the world over are acting in real time to stifle dissent, strengthen firewalls and threaten online activists — most recently in the Middle East.”
One of America’s greatest comparative advantages is our technological edge, which is the envy of the world. At the very least, the United States should be using this edge to empower and buck up democrats and dissidents in the Middle East and North Africa.
After all, the Internet and new social media networking technologies — including Facebook, Google and Twitter — have proven to be potent tools for democratic change and transformation.
Which is why dictators and tyrants in Iran, China, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere have tried to shut down and suppress Internet use. Tyrants understand that the free exchange of ideas threatens their stranglehold on political power.
Instead of looking askance at the winds of change now sweeping the world, American conservatives would do well to try and figure out how to help direct and guide these currents to a safe and democratic harbor. They should start by demanding that the Obama administration finally spends the $30 million that Congress already has appropriated for Internet freedom.
But even that is not enough. Given the historical significance of what’s at stake — liberty or tyranny in the Middle East and North Africa, a place with vast geostrategic interest to the United States — our government should be doing much more than it is now.
For example, Congress should approve a $2.5 billion aid package to Egyptian civil society elements. The aid would help jumpstart democratic institution-building in Egypt.
The point is to tangibly demonstrate to the world, and to our friends and allies overseas, that the United States is not impartial when it comes to liberty — that we are fierce advocates of freedom for all people, everywhere.
John R. Guardiano is a writer and analyst in Arlington, Virginia. He writes and blogs for a variety of publications, including FrumForum, the American Spectator and The Daily Caller. Follow him at his personal blog, ResoluteCon.com, and on Twitter @JohnRGuardiano.