America’s record in crises of democratization, moreover, is more complicated, and more admirable, than Obama seems to recognize. His apparent view that our support for a dictatorship hobbles us in our support for a democracy, and disqualifies us from a proud and active role in transforming a closed society into an open one, is belied by the splendid precedents of the Philippines, South Korea, and Chile, where the United States wisely and agilely pivoted from cosseting a tyrannical regime to helping to replace it. It was a great day in 1986 when Ronald Reagan dispatched Paul Laxalt to Manila to tell Ferdinand Marcos that his time was up—and it was precisely our previous support for Marcos that made Reagan’s message so credible and so decisive. Reagan was not inhibited by our past (I understand that in his view there had been nothing shameful in our support of an anti-communist dictator, but that is another matter) from demonstrating the flexibility necessary for political and strategic progress. Maybe Frank Wisner is Obama’s Paul Laxalt. We will know soon enough.
It appears that we now know, and Obama has finally given Mubarak an official push.
See also David Brooks, who argues:
The experiences of these years teach us a few lessons. First, the foreign policy realists who say they tolerate authoritarian government for the sake of stability are ill informed. Autocracies are more fragile than any other form of government, by far…. [T]he United States usually gets everything wrong. There have been dozens of democratic uprisings over the years, but the government always reacts like it’s the first one. There seem to be no protocols for these situations, no preset questions to be asked….
[But] there’s no need to be continually wrong-footed. If you start with a healthy respect for the quest for dignity, if you see autocracies as fragile and democratic revolts as opportunities, then you’ll find it much easier to anticipate events.