Ron Paul and Secretary Clinton Spar Over US Support for Mideast Strongmen

Mar 1, 2011 4:12pm

ABC News' Kirit Radia reports:

Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex, has made a career out of being the contrarian in Congress, and with uprisings sweeping across the Middle East he took the opportunity today to point out one of the inconvenient truths of American foreign policy: its support across successive administrations for key Middle East leaders who ally themselves with the United States in a difficult region, yet do not respect basic human rights and democracy in their own countries.

“A lot of people in this country have come to the conclusion that our policy overhaul has been inconsistent; that sometimes we support the bad guys and the bad guys become our enemies,” Paul told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Rep. Paul pointed to America’s support for Osama bin Laden when he was fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, its collaboration with Saddam Hussein against Iran in the 1980s, and its propping up the Shah in Iran for decades before that.

“But we keep supporting Algeria, Morocco, Yemen, all these dictators, and yet we pretend that as soon as, well, it looks like the dictator might fall, we're all for democracy and we're for freedom and we're against these dictators,” he said.

Indeed, Egypt’s longtime strongman President Hosni Mubarak was a close US ally, and someone Secretary Clinton once called a close friend, but as it became clear the protestors were gaining the upper hand last month, the Obama administration began urging him to embrace reforms and eventually supported a transition to democracy.

Clinton was quick to point out the complexity of a region where the United States has numerous, often conflicting, priorities.

“Congressman, you make a very passionate argument, and my response is that, you know, the United States, over the course of its entire diplomatic history, has had to make some very difficult decisions,” she said.

“We try to balance what we believe to be in our interests.  Sometimes, and I would argue most times, we get it right.  Sometimes we don't,” America’s top diplomat conceded.

However, she used the case of Egypt as an example of when US support for a government is necessary, regardless of how imperfect it is.

“I believe that it was in America's interest and in Israel's interest to support Egypt following the Camp David Accords.  Thirty years of peace between Egypt and Israel — albeit, you know, not a warm and fuzzy peace, but nevertheless a peace — was an essential element of Israel's ability to develop and continue to strengthen itself in a very tough neighborhood.  The fact that we did have those relationships in Egypt made it possible for us to have very frank conversations and prevent what we now see going on in Libya,” she said.

Rep. Paul is not the first person to notice this contradiction. Secretary Clinton’s predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, actually argued a similar point during a seminal speech on democracy in Cairo in 2005.

“For 60 years, the United States pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East — and we achieved neither,” Rice said.

- Kirit Radia

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