Supporting despots and their oppressive regimes has been the name of the game in US politics for decades. This is especially prevalent in the Middle East, where holding the hand of those you hate most is the easiest way to keep the interests of the US intact in the region. In recent times, America’s open support for the Arab Spring has changed the balancing act that maintained security in the region with varying results. The domino effect of falling dictators and angry protests caused the US and its allies to reassess their support for these regimes. Nearly two years and several revolutions later, the US is still wavering on its support for these fallen regimes and shaky democracies. It raises the question of whether security and stability are more important than the unstaunched support for democratization in the politically scarred Middle East.
The central examples of the stability-versus-democracy debate fall on the nations of Libya and Syria. These harshly ruled countries have become the main act in the fight for freedom and quest for security on the region. The recent events in Benghazi, Libya – after the deaths of the US Ambassador Chris Stevens and other US personnel – have caused America to question the cost of instability in the region. The once-strong confidence in the democratization of the north African nation by the US and European states has begun to wane. The NATO-backed initiative to support the rebellion was strongly favored a year ago but now the US seems to ponder whether it is worth the trouble. This brings into question the relative value of supporting an unstable democratic government over the oppressive-yet-stable regimes of the past.
In the case of Libya, the US should keep in mind its democratic initiatives within the Middle East and be somewhat thankful for its limited involvement in toppling of the previous regime. The ongoing failure of Iraq should be its reminder of what its goals were and how they were never achieved: to, in the words of George W. Bush, “free the Iraqi people.” Under the Obama administration, the US has made efforts to boost the reputation of the country and its policies towards the Middle East. This is visible after the carefully constructed US-backed coalition strikes against forces loyal to the Gaddafi regime. This support for the democratization of the Middle East is ultimately in favor of US interests because it boosts the esteem of a nation with a reputation of invasion and political bullying. This should be America’s ultimate goal. By changing the way the Middle East thinks about America’s policies for the better, the aim of increased US security will be achieved. The benefits of supporting a Libyan democracy born from homegrown revolution outweigh the cost of interim instability.
Currently, the US is asking itself similar questions about the civil war within Syria. The anti-government protest that evolved into an armed conflict within the country has caused the international community to revisit the cost of intervention. The state of Syria’s conflict has dramatically evolved since its start in March 2011. As months have passed, so have ripe opportunities for conflict resolution. The hesitation of the international community has made the solution to the ever-developing conflict more difficult. Yet, the same question remains. Is it worth the fight? Because of the fragile state of the sectarian conflict in Syria and the proxy state and non-state actors that are involved, the solution is more complex. Despite the difficulties, the humanitarian crisis that this war has caused makes the need to intervene even more dire. Due to circumstance, the reluctance of the United States in understandable. Yet, intervening in Syria for the sake of a grave humanitarian crisis might be the just the action the US must take to further increase its reputation in an ever changing Middle East.