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The Freedom Agenda After Egypt

The Washington Post editorial-page editor, Fred Hiatt, has joined others in pointing out that the situation in Egypt is a vindication of President Bush’s freedom agenda. He also notes that Hillary Clinton has indicated that democracy promotion may play a bigger role in the administration’s foreign policy.

But what would that mean beyond Egypt? Hiatt points to Azerbaijan and China, where the Obama administration has turned a blind eye to human-rights issues in order to pursue other strategic interests:

In Azerbaijan, another secular Muslim dictator, Ilham Aliyev, plays on U.S. fears of Islamic radicalism and the U.S. need for oil to win indulgence when he rigs elections and locks up journalists. Will U.S. officials tell him the status quo is not sustainable?

In China, the Communist Party imprisons or exiles anyone who advocates pluralism in the political system, but the administration has tried to keep human rights issues from interfering with discussions on Iran, currency or trade. Will President Obama be more likely to raise the case of imprisoned Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo the next time he meets with President Hu Jintao?

It’s a great sign that the Obama administration is showing a willingness to evolve its foreign-policy strategies based on the situation in Egypt. But the U.S. needs to adopt these changes even in situations where it may be difficult. As Hiatt writes, under Bush, democracy promotion was viewed by some as simply a “feel good” policy. Now, after Egypt, the Obama administration needs to begin to view it as a strategic interest.


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