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Who's your dictator?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson declared, “The world must be made safe for democracy.”

In the century that followed, hundreds of thousands of American sons and daughters paid the ultimate price — and suffered other “expensive” consequences in blood and treasure and peace of mind — pursuing all manner of missions connected directly or ever-so-tenuously to this cause. Today, in Iraq and Afghanistan, my fellow citizens continue to fight and die to uphold that proclamation.

Too bad our leaders couldn’t tell democracy from tyranny if our lives depended on it.

Which, of course, they do.

What would any reasonable person call a leader who has held power for 30 years under an enforced state of emergency? Who wins sham elections wherein his challengers are arrested and opposition parties forcibly disbanded? Who has had his son waiting in the wings to snatch the reins of power as if “divine right” had returned in vogue?

“Dictator!” is the answer.

But what would our nation’s political leaders term this boss-for-life of a government so rife with corruption that his nation’s economy remains a stagnant sewer of structural double-digit unemployment, where friends of the leader get richer and everyone else gets poorer? Who imprisons bloggers daring to question his policies and now turns off the Internet and cell phone communications like we flip a light switch? Who stays in power by employing the various T’s of tyranny: The truncheon, thugs, torture, tanks and a general state of terror?

“Trusted ally.”

Which is it: Is Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek a dictator or a trusted ally?

Asked days ago, if, finally, it wasn’t “time” for Mr. Mubarek to step down, Vice-President Joe Biden told the world, “No.” He went on to offer, “I would not refer to him as a dictator.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton originally pronounced Mubarek’s government “stable” and disingenuously said it was “looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.”

He may be a dictator, but he’s our dictator?

The American state funds the Mubarek regime, and has for decades. In the 2011 budget, President Omaha requests $1.5 billion in aid to the Egyptian government. That’s less than in 2006, when Mubarek took $1.8 billion.

The head honcho of the most populous country in North Africa ranks a respectable fourth on the list of world rulers graciously accepting the $58 billion in foreign aid fleeced annually from American taxpayers. (Would you be surprised to learn that taxpayers are sending $12.9 million annually in aid to China? Or $68.7 million to Russia? Or $20 million to Cuba?)

Now, as the protests swell and there’s more than a whiff of revolution, President Obama and Mrs. Clinton scramble to “look busy” and pontificate on the unfolding situation. Yesterday’s Washington Post played along, headlining one story “Obama warns against violence, urges Cairo to institute reforms.”

No call for the dictator to step down, mind you, but the Egyptian crowds facing water cannons, Billy-clubs, bullets and tear gas — with canisters labeled “Made in the USA” — are no doubt inspired by these rhetorical flourishes.

Soon, if evil finds its deserved comeuppance, Mubarek will be gone. And yet some Americans will claim surprise if the new Egyptian government sees the United States as an enemy.

Others Arab dictatorships funded and supported by the U.S. will and should fall. The sooner the better. And we are likely to have more enemies.

So in order to make the world safe for democracy, to see American interests prevail, shall we hope that the jackboot stamps down the voice of the blogger and the student for years to come . . . forever?

Strange that Mr. Obama hasn’t recognized this as a teachable moment. Now that we’re broke, shouldn’t we stop going deeper into debt to finance dictatorships of the right, left and in-between?

Some argue that Americans must support despots to block more serious threats. They forget that freedom and democracy must continually win the hearts and minds of the world’s people. To constantly wed our foreign policy to the thumb-screw can only breed enemies from people who should be our friends. Empowering the lesser of two apparent evils in every instance means that America’s face to the world can appear most clearly as one thing: Evil.

Talk about the wrong message, the wrong stance.

American entrepreneurs deserve enormous credit for the tools — the Internet, the cell phone and social media — by which Egyptians have been organizing their rebellion . . . that is, until the regime pulled the plug days ago. It’s too bad these free enterprise innovations are overshadowed by our official national policy of supporting dictatorship. May the Egyptian people be forgiving of the U.S. government role in their current suffering.

Let’s hope this is a revolution in Egypt. For their sake. And for our sake, we need a new and far less costly foreign policy of not aiding and abetting tyranny.

And we need political leaders with the eye-sight and courage to recognize a dictator when they see one.

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