Lawrence Haas
Lawrence Haas - 
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Lawrence Haas: We should finally retire the idea of "Arab exceptionalism" -- the belief that people in that region do not want democracy or are not ready for it.

Kai Ryssdal: Commentator Lawrence Haas.

Haas: They want it, they're ready for it, and we should help them get it. America has lots of ways to promote freedom and democracy, not the least of which is with foreign aid. These days, we spend upwards of $50 billion a year on foreign aid, which we send to more than 100 nations and to global institutions like the World Bank.

But, all too often, we use foreign aid to support dictators who may be our allies, but who are also very unpopular with their own people.

After World War II, we focused our foreign aid largely around the Cold War. We sent aid to support our allies and to help groups in other nations overthrow their communist leaders. We didn't worry much about the human rights records of those recipients, who included Latin American dictators.

Since September 11th, we have re-focused foreign aid largely around the war on terror. We have sent aid to nations that are fighting terrorists and to help groups overthrow governments that support terrorism. We don't worry much about the human rights record of, let's say, Pakistan.

Unfortunately, all of that puts us on the wrong side of our values -- the values of freedom and democracy. It also makes us the enemy of the very people we should be supporting. They include the brave students and labor leaders and journalists and opposition figures -- in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Jordan and elsewhere -- who are trying to bring democracy to their own countries.

We have to fight the war on terror, just like we had to fight the Cold War.

But the people of the Middle East want more freedom, and we can allocate more of our foreign aid budget to helping them get it. That will make the world a safer place, and make America a more secure nation.

Ryssdal: Lawrence Haas is senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington. Take a second to share your thoughts. Click on the contact link.