31 January 2011

Crisis in Cairo

The Chairman remarked to me yesterday that of all the foreign policy crises of the past five years, the upheaval in Egypt is probably the most difficult to navigate.

As a purely theoretical matter, I'm sympathetic to the Bushian ideal of imposing democracy the world over. But what Bushians, compassionate conservatives, neocons and the idealist Left seems to ignore is that, where democracy has taken hold in the Middle East, the results have been directly adverse to America's interests. In Lebanon, Hezbollah has been in power for years. When Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were afforded free elections in 2006, they chose Hamas -- a legitimate terrorist organization -- as their ruling party. In Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadenijhad still enjoys strong support among the poor, the uneducated and the deeply religious. In Iraq, Mutdaqa al-Sadr -- an enormously popular opposition figure who rose to prominence in the wake of the American invasion -- has ordered attacks that have killed hundreds of American servicemen, not to mention thousands of innocent Iraqis. The Taliban is still well-represented in the Afghani parliament.

Democracy has consequences. And the most likely consequence in the event of a Mubarak exit is that the Muslim Brotherhood -- elements of which are highly threatening to Israel and avowedly anti-American -- would fill the power vacuum. Because the Brotherhood has done its work underground during the repressive Mubarak regime, it has by far the best-organzied opposition group.

At this stage, backing Mubarak is fool's errand. If the Obama administration does this, it will both inflame the Arab street and prop up a regime that is likely to fall anyway. Mubarak has sent his family to England, disbanded almost the entire Egyptian cabinet and does not have sufficient control over the military to quell the unrest in his streets. The better course of action is to privately express appreciation for Mubarak's allegiance to the United States over the past three decades, work to ensure his public yet uninhibited exit, begin negotiating with Mohamed ElBaradei and other key opposition figures, and move quietly to help an interim government -- helmed by ElBaradei or someone else -- set up some sort of election scheme in 6-12 months.

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