America’s Unsavory Allies
The U.S. caught a lot of flak this year for having partnered with Tunisia’s Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, and Libya’s Muammar al-Qaddafi before uprisings rocked the Middle East. But in his speech on the Arab Spring in May, President Barack Obama suggested that the days of America narrowly pursuing its interests in the region without the broader priority of promoting reform and democracy were over. “We have embraced the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator,” Obama declared.
Not entirely. Sometimes, it’s difficult to reconcile that revamped formulation of American foreign policy with diplomatic realities. Take two events this week. On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that the U.S. is operating a drone base in Ethiopia, a country Freedom House recently downgraded to “Not Free” because of “national elections that were thoroughly tainted by intimidation of opposition supporters and candidates.” Only days earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the autocratic Central Asian leaders Islam Karimov and Emomali Rakhmon to discuss how they can help with the war in Afghanistan. “If you have no contact you will have no influence, and other countries will fill that vacuum who do not care about human rights,” Clinton explained ahead of her visit, adding that “it’s a balancing act.”
In fact, even with its post-Arab Spring foreign policy, the U.S. is still engaged in that controversial “balancing act” with a number of repressive leaders. Let’s take a look at eight of the worst offenders…