It is time for Washington to change the parameters of the debate on its foreign policy toward the greater Middle East. It is not a choice between human rights and security — rather, the two goals should go hand in hand.
The United States does not need to lose its longtime allies in the Middle East and beyond in order to promote human rights and democracy. In fact, U.S. allies will be more likely to undertake political reform if they feel that Washington is a close partner.
A number of U.S. allies in the Middle East have recently expressed concern regarding Washington’s frequent flips in policies toward the region. The Obama administration’s policy toward the challenges arising from the Middle East has indeed been a series of zigzags: bold moves and initiatives, accompanied by retreats and withdrawals.
This vacillation derives from a perceived clash between the goal of promoting democratization and human rights as well as preserving the regimes of U.S. allies in the region.
This dichotomy is deeply flawed, however. Protection of human rights is not necessarily better under illiberal elected regimes and is most endangered in failed states — which are often the outcome when Washington withdraws its support for a regime.