Once upon a time, Republican leaders said the United States should push the Middle East toward democracy because Arab dictators were breeding Arab terrorists. Not anymore. In the party George W. Bush once ran, his fight-terrorism-with-democratization thesis has been largely orphaned. The new buzzword is “stability.” Donald Trump publicly bemoans the fall of Saddam Hussein and Muammar al-Qaddafi. Ted Cruz attacks the Obama administration for not doing more to keep Hosni Mubarak in power and urges it to emulate Egypt’s current dictator, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Bush’s former vice president, Dick Cheney, insists that, “The Egyptian people are delighted that the military stepped in,” in a brutal coup d’état. And W.’s own brother, Jeb, whose Super PAC has received donations from at least two lobbyists for Saudi Arabia, says the next president must “restore trust” and “work more closely” with America’s “important partner” in Riyadh.
It’s easy to see why GOP candidates have rediscovered the virtues of Arab dictatorships. America’s toppling of Saddam and Qaddafi has left failed states that are now partially controlled by ISIS. Much of the territory Bashar al-Assad has lost in Syria is under ISIS control too. After Mubarak stepped down, Egyptians voted for the Muslim Brotherhood. What’s more, the most powerful Arab autocrats still standing—Sisi and Saudi King Salman—loathe and fear Iran, which wins them points among Republican presidential contenders seeking to appeal to hawkish American Jews.