Authoritarian Allies & the Myth of U.S. ‘Leverage’

FireShot Screen Capture #444 - 'The Washington Post' - thewashingtonpost_newspaperdirect_com_epaper_viewer_aspxThe Washington Post‘s Craig Whitlock has an interesting piece (4/15/13) about the alliances the United States has made in the name of combating terrorism. The government maintains ties, and even continues to supply arms, to governments in Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia.

The most notable part of the article is the fact that Whitlock has a U.S. official essentially agreeing with a damning critique of U.S. foreign policy: 

“The countries that cooperate with us get at least a free pass,” acknowledged a senior U.S. official who specializes in Africa but spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retribution. “Whereas other countries that don’t cooperate, we ream them as best we can.”

The official said the administration of former president George W. Bush took the same approach in Africa. Many U.S. diplomats and human-rights groups had hoped Obama would shift his emphasis in Africa from security to democracy, but that has not happened, the official added.

“There’s pretty much been no change at all,” the official said. “In the end, it was an almost seamless transition from Bush to Obama.”

 It was strange, though, to see the Post write that

the U.S. government has become dependent on several countries with checkered democratic records. That in turn has lessened Washington’s leverage to push those countries to practice free elections and the rule of law.

The record of the U.S. government’s support for authoritarian, corrupt and/or murderous regimes is not really up for debate. The only question is whether one believes that the U.S. continuously suspends its its deep-seated preference for democratic rule and human rights in order to pursue certain policy goals, or whether the historic record suggests that there is little such preference at all.

We have a media system that strains to argue the former, and that’s why you wind up reading reports about how the U.S. has mysteriously forfeited its “leverage.” But it’s not really leverage if you don’t intend to use it in the first place.


About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.