As the United States and its allies consider military action to punish the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Iranian regime media have made hay of new evidence that Washington enabled Saddam Hussein’s chemical attacks on Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, writes Freedom House’s Tyler Roylance.
Readers are also reminded that the United States used weapons like napalm and toxic chemical defoliants in Vietnam, among other historical infractions. In other words, America is accused of glaring hypocrisy. But inconsistent behavior should be condemned only when the swerve in question is toward error or wrongdoing. When the change is from bad to good, it should be welcomed.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, the U.S. government has declared its support for democratic change and free elections in places like Tunisia and Egypt, while also maintaining alliances with thoroughly antidemocratic regimes like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The United States also maintains close military ties with, and arms sales to, Bahrain despite that kingdom’s relentless repression of protesters and activists calling for political reform, notably through the especially vicious use of a less-lethal chemical weapon: tear gas.
All of these inconsistencies are deeply regrettable, and there are many more gaps between U.S. rhetoric and actions regarding democracy and human rights. However, no government is completely consistent in its policies or completely faithful to its ideological tenets in practice. It is therefore important to draw distinctions of degree and kind.
It is one thing to fall short of admirable democratic ideals, and another to act according to despotic values that assign little worth to human life or freedom, or to have no ideals at all.
The point to emphasize is that the implementation of democratic values can be regarded unambiguously as progress for humanity. The same cannot be said for the likes of fascism or Maoism. Left unchecked and unreformed, authoritarian regimes inevitably foster violence and instability, either through outward aggression, domestic repression, or their proclivity to sudden implosion.
Democracies, by contrast, have a great capacity for promoting long-term stability through open debate and self-correction, which typically comes when a country returns to its central ideals.
This extract is taken from a longer must-read post on the Freedom House blog.