Part 2 is here.
Like all of you in the last few weeks, I have been glued to CNN regarding Egypt. It is pretty inspiring, and I can only hope that Mubarak leaves and something more genuinely liberal and democratic takes his places. Here are a few thoughts.
1. Regarding the video selected above, I did plan to post a good pic from Egypt, but you’ve seen that a lot already, so that would not have added much new value. This you probably haven’t seen though, and it is ‘important’ for the sheer insanity about US conservatives’ foreign policy concerns in the ME it reveals. Apparently the Egyptian revolution is an islamist plot that will turn the Mediterranean into an Islamic lake, allow Russia to control Northern Europe, and China to control India and Pakistan. Don’t believe me? Beck’s sweeping hand movements will explain all… h/t: Center for a New American Security.
2. This is one of those critical junctures when observers should to go on the record about what to do. If all this somehow goes wrong, everyone will blame Obama in 20/20 hindsight. That will inevitably be partisan and unfair, because the Obama administration is making decisions under huge uncertainty. Credibility requires one to go on record now, when information is limited and we all have to make our best guess.
That US conservatives are badly split signals this huge uncertainty. Absolute moral certainty is a central pose of the American right’s self-image (tax hikes are always bad, Iraq 2 was a good idea no matter what), so if even the Right - which IMO takes foreign policy more seriously than domestic-focused US liberals – is divided, that tells you just how confused everyone really is. For the neo-con take that this really is about democracy, try Gerecht (excellent); for the gloomy realism that we should hew to the Egyptian military, try Krauthammer (depressing, but also good). And for the downright bizarre conspiratorial stuff, watch the above vid.
So here’s my line: I’ll say that Krauthammer and the realists are wrong. The Iran parallel is inaccurate; this will not lead to a Muslim Brothers’ dictatorship. Further, the support of democracy is, in itself, an important value. Even if there was a serious risk of an islamist takeover, we should still pressure Mubarak to get out, nor support a military oligarchy (Krauthammer). Who wants to look back in 10 years and say we supported yet another authoritarian in one of the worst governed places on earth, that we didn’t take the chance to push for something better, even if it was risky? How awful and embarrassing for the US; what a betrayal of all those heroic people we’ve seen on TV. And if they want islamists in the government, well, it is ultimately their country. So long as it remains a democracy (the difference between Turkey’s islamists’ participation, and Hamas’ budding oligarchy), then we have to allow them to disagree with us as is their right. Risking fanatics in government is part of democracy (witness, ahem, Sarah Palin). If we believe in it for ourselves, then we must be true to it for them. So, no, this is not a result of George Bush’s foreign policy, but we should support it anyway.
3. Israel should not drive our policy toward Egypt. Has anyone else noticed how much of this discussion has gotten hijacked by the ‘what-will-happen-to-Israel’ externality? (Try here, here, here, here, and here.) This is embarrassing and almost sycophantic. You can’t blame the Arabs for disbelieving we’re an honest broker when the fate of 6 million people in a different country outweighs the 85 million of the country that is actually the center of the story. Really? Should the US point of origin for yet another Middle East event be Israel’s benefit? We are two separate countries, right? Maybe we should care about the Egyptians themselves, right? Israel does have the finest military in the region, nuclear weapons, and a take-no-prisoners lobby in the US Congress, right? Don’t misunderstand me. I realize that Israel’s security is important for the US and that it is the only democracy in the region (although that is increasingly under question). I want Israel to be secure too; I’ve traveled there 3 times and unconditionally support its right to exist. If it would help, usher them into NATO or the EU, or extend formal US deterrence guarantees, even nuclear. But it’s long-overdue time that we break the habit looking over our shoulder to Israel on ME issues, and it’s extremely immoral to support continued Egyptian authoritarianism on the (likely correct) premise that a democratic Egypt will push Israel harder. That sells out the admirable sacrifice of 85 million for 6 million who voted for an openly provocative right-wing government.