Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers believed that America would stand throughout history as a shining example of what a free, self-governing people could do if liberated from the shackles of despotism. He would be very pleased to see that, nearly a century-and-a-half after he wrote the Declaration of Independence, representative democracies are now the norm rather than the exception throughout the world.
But, sadly, there remain many parts of the world untouched by the democratic revolution, where monarchies and dictatorships continue to oppress their people. This would have no doubt disappointed Jefferson, but what would have shocked him even more would be the fact that many of these undemocratic regimes are being armed to the teeth with American military equipment.
The United States is the world's largest arms exporter. Every year, it sells billions of dollars worth of military equipment to nations all over the world. This is perhaps justified in some cases; it sells weapons to countries like Taiwan, South Korea, and Israel, which are democracies seeking to defend themselves against countries with decidedly undemocratic regimes. But in many cases, we sell weapons to countries which are ruled by tyrannies far more severe than that which the American Founders rebelled against.
Saudi Arabia is still a medieval-style monarchy, with all the power concentrated in the hands of the sickeningly corrupt Al-Saud family. Freedom of religion is completely absent, women have no rights at all, and the ordinary people of the country have no way whatsoever in how the country is run. People who peacefully call for political reforms are arrested and imprisoned. In terms of human rights, the country is still in the Dark Ages. But the Saudi Air Force is equipped with American-made F-15 fighters, the Saudi Army fields hundreds of American-made M1A2 and M60 tanks, as well as hundred of M-109 self-propelled artillery pieces. Annual sales of American arms to Saudi Arabia add up to billions of dollars.
Egypt is effectively a military dictatorship, ruled by President Hosni Mubarak. His last "election" was characterized by harassment and arrest of opposition political figures, vote-rigging, and other methods designed to ensure his reelection. He is also grooming his son Gamal to take over the presidency upon his death. Reporters Without Borders ranks Egyptian press freedom as 146th out of 169 nations, a dismal record, indeed. If this isn't a dictatorship, I don't know what is. But according to the 2008 budget for international aid, the United States is providing $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt "to foster a modern, well-trained Egyptian military." American tanks form the backbone of the Egyptian Army, and American aircraft form the backbone of the Egyptian Air Force.
The country of Azerbaijan is run virtually as a medieval fiefdom by the Aliyev family. Heydar Aliyev seized power in a military coup in 1993. Ten years later, his son Ilham took power after an election denounced by international observers for innumerable irregularities. Azerbaijan has been routinely criticized by the State Department for human rights abuses and lack of democratic reforms. Despite this, Azerbaijan is the recipient of millions of dollars worth of American military aid.
Uzbekistan is ruled by a ruthless dictator named Islom Karimov. According to the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, the Karimov government routinely subjects political dissidents to torture, there even being credible reports of some dissidents being boiled alive. The media is strictly under the control of the Karimov government and the people possess no right to engage in political activity. According to eye witness accounts, hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators were killed in 2005 in the town of Andijan. Nevertheless, Uzbekistan has received military equipment and training worth hundreds of millions of dollars since 2001.
The fact that the United States provides military assistance to these undemocratic and even tyrannical regimes is a stain upon American honor. Thomas Jefferson probably would not have approved the selling of weapons to anyone, but he certainly would be appalled at the sight of America selling arms to despotic regimes such as these. At the very least, rules should be put into place ensuring that any nation that receives American military equipment or military assistance meets certain standards of democracy, freedom of the press, religious freedom, gender equality, and so forth.
People calling themselves pragmatists will say that the proposal that we stop supplying these undemocratic regimes with military equipment is dangerously naive and that it will threaten the American strategic position in the Middle East and elsewhere. America needs these alliances, it is maintained, to ensure its access to oil supplies. But America should be reducing its dependence on oil in any case. Rationally speaking, the less America has to do with these countries, the better. And from a purely moral perspective, America should not assist tyrants in holding down their own people.