For decades, the United States undermined Arab democracy through its consistent support of Arab autocrats. But the Arab uprisings have changed that basic calculus and upended our Faustian bargains with the region's despots (well, at least with some of them). In countries like Egypt, Tunisia, and of course Libya, interests and values are not fully aligned -- they never will be -- but they are as closely aligned as one can hope. And that is not an opportunity that should be squandered. In all three countries, the United States is finally playing a positive, even crucial, role in supporting the economic recovery of democratically elected governments that, while deeply flawed, enjoy popular legitimacy.
Our commitment to these transitions has at times been tepid -- but there are those who would like the United States and Europe to dial down their efforts even more. Such calls must be resisted.
The White House must redouble its commitment to the Arab Spring. Across the region, Salafist extremists and other unsavory characters are trying to fill the power vacuum left by a weak and confused international community. Americans, now more than ever, need to hear a clear narrative of why Arab democrats need our support in their struggle against radicals. To put it more bluntly, what the Obama administration may need -- both to turn the tables on its critics at home and its enemies abroad -- is to opt for a "don't let the terrorists win" response. To be sure, it's a crude sentiment -- and one that can be used to justify nearly anything, as it was under the Bush administration. But today it actually makes sense. It has the added virtue of being not only good policy for the Arab world, but good politics back home.