The Realist Prism: Middle East Democracies Can Be U.S. Friends

The Realist Prism: Middle East Democracies Can Be U.S. Friends

As waves of unrest continue to roil the Middle East, there is a great deal of uncertainty as to what the future might bring. Will a successor to former President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt maintain the peace treaty with Israel, cooperate in isolating Hamas in the Gaza strip and maintain the intelligence relationship with the United States? And should a revolutionary regime overthrow the Khalifas in Bahrain, will it reject the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet from the island?

Most prognostications on the region's future assume that revolutions that depose status quo governments automatically reverse the policies of their predecessors. One of the criticisms being directed at the Obama administration, for instance, is that the continued embrace of Mubarak right up to his resignation has made it more difficult for any subsequent democratically elected Egyptian government to work closely with the United States, especially if its leaders were imprisoned or otherwise oppressed by the ancien regime.

But the assertion that U.S. support for undemocratic regimes ensures that democratic successors will be enemies of the U.S. has been called into question by events in Asia over the past 30 years. As a series of pro-American East Asian states democratized, the pro-democracy activists who came to power -- who in some cases had been jailed by their authoritarian predecessors -- maintained ties with the U.S., a pattern most noticeable in Korea and Taiwan. This is because while governments changed, fundamental interests did not. South Korean democrats may have retained lingering resentments against Washington for doing too little on their behalf during the period of dictatorship -- but facing a hostile North Korea, and with the country's economic prosperity linked to its good relations with the United States, they were not going to burn bridges with Washington out of spite.

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