Posted on | January 28, 2011 | 45 Comments
Question of the day, asked by Blake Hounshell of Foreign Policy in response to the latest eruption of Bidenism.
“Asked if he would characterize Mubarak as a dictator Biden responded: ‘Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing relationship with — with Israel. … I would not refer to him as a dictator.’ “
Remember how in 2008 we were told that Biden was such a brilliant choice as running mate and that Obama would benefit enormously from this guy’s vast experience in foreign policy?
“I can see Cairo from my house!”
Tobin Harshaw at the New York Times rounds up a number of blog reactions to the Egyptian situation, including Donald Douglas at American Power saying “this administration is the unrivaled champion of reactionary forces in the Middle East.” In regard to Egypt, I’m not entirely sure that “reactionary forces” are the worst to be feared, or whether the protesters in the streets are less “reactionary” than Mubarak’s regime. Thursday night, I voiced a note of Burkean caution toward the incipient Egyptian revolution, which will not help anyone — not the Egyptians, not the cause of Middle East peace, and certainly not the United States — if it ends up empowering Islamist radicals.
Israel reportedly is worried about “regime change” in Egypt, and I think rightly so. Yet what is better for Israel: A corrupt authoritarian regime in Egypt constantly struggling to suppress an outlaw terrorist subculture or that terrorist subculture seizing power in Egypt and declaring itself an open enemy of Israel? I trust if the latter scenario were to play out, the Israeli military would prove itself abundantly capable of meeting any attack that an Islamist Egyptian regime might make. So having the Egyptian radicals seize power might actually make matters simpler for Israel, militarily and diplomatically.
Meanwhile, much of the media commentary is less focused on what the unrest in Cairo means for Egyptians or Israelis than what it means for the prestige of the Obama administration. “Never let a crisis go to waste,” et cetera, and the administration’s sycophants in the press corps — which is to say, just about the entire press corps — seem to be interested primarily in whether the Egyptian crisis will offer them the opportunity to credit the president with a foreign-policy success.
The administration, it appears, is trying to have it both ways so as to be able to claim victory whether Mubarak maintains power or is overthrown. Thus the facing-both-ways caution of Robert Gibbs’s Friday press conference. As I said on Twitter, “If this was 1939, Gibbs would condemn violence on both sides of Germany-Poland conflict.”
If the administration is smart, it will see the writing on the wall and realize that the old order in Egypt, and conceivably the rest of the Middle East, is gone forever. When the smoke clears, Washington will want to be on the right side of history. The United States must now withdraw its support, both financial and symbolic, from the Mubarak regime and avoid any further ties to its oppression.
Arguments based on being “on the right side of history” don’t necessarily persuade a Burkean. Weren’t the Soviets supposed to be “on the right side of history”?
Does the situation in Egypt evoke the distinctions Jeanne Kirkpatrick famously made in “Dictatorships & Double Standards”? If, as we are told, radical Islam is an existential threat comparable to Soviet communism, and if Mubarak has been a valuable U.S. ally in the fight against radicaL Islam, is it not in our interest to support him? But those two “ifs” represent hypotheticals that I don’t have the expertise to address.
What is certain is that the administration cannot vacillate forever. It must either decide to support Mubarak or else decide to support the Egyptian uprising. Eliot Abrams sees the uprising as vindication of Bush’s advocacy of democracy in the Middle East:
Ruling under an endless emergency law, [Mubarak] has crushed the moderate opposition while the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood has thrived underground and in the mosques. Mubarak in effect created a two-party system – his ruling National Democratic Party and the Brotherhood – and then defended the lack of democracy by saying a free election would bring the Islamists to power. . . .
[W]e do know for sure that regimes that make moderate politics impossible make extremism far more likely.
Abrams thus argues that it is Mubarak’s repression that has spurred the growth of jihadist radicalism in Egypt, which may well be true, but that doesn’t mean that ending the repression will eliminate the danger. Nevertheless, if Republicans like Abrams are making the argument against Mubarak, that makes Obama’s choice easier: Side with the Cairo protesters and tout this stance as an example of bipartisan consensus.
Of course, the “bipartisan consensus” will only last as long as the policy is successful. If Obama throws Mubarak under the bus and then Egypt descends into anarchy Somalia-style, the president won’t escape blame by saying, “But Eliot Abrams told me it was OK!”
UPDATE II: Welcome, Instapundit readers!
UPDATE III: Thanks to Reaganite Republicanan for calling attention to this interview with John Bolton: “It is not inevitable that street demonstrations lead to Jeffersonian democracy.”
UPDATE IV: The Lonely Conservative notes that Iran’s state-run media are celebrating the Egyptian uprising, a fact that would tend to reinforce Bolton’s concerns. If the mullahs in Tehran think these Cairo riots are a good idea . . .
UPDATE V: Allahpundit on the risk that democracy in Egypt might bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power: “After 9/11 and the Iranian revolution in ’79, how could any American president gamble on backing reforms that might produce a net outcome that’s more Islamist? It’s political suicide.”