I liked Daniel Larison’s comments on Egypt (which is not surprising) and also David Ignatius’s recent op-ed on the topic (which surprised me). These are cool headed responses by grown-ups to the crisis — in contrast to the never-ending orgasmic vibrations that we’ve been getting from all our pseudo-laptop/iPad revolutionaries on the left and on the right who are just dying to watch live 24/7 blood flowing in the streets of Cairo, Sana’a Beirut, etc. and are urging Washington to force Mubarak and the rest of our friendly Mideast autocrats out of power. And after getting rid of them have — the wet dream of our Democracy Promoters — free and open elections, the sure cure for all of humanity’s ills and the common baldness.
Last time we’ve tried doing that was in Iran in 1979 with the Shah — Jimmy Carter pressing the Iranian military to desert the Pahlavis. And later on we actually tried to do “regime change” in the region, and ended up helping wacky pro-Iran Shiite groups win elections in Iraq and Lebanon (and then have the Hamas getting elected in Palestine). In all these cases we became responsible — in practical and moral terms — for the election of characters that are not members of our fan club (which is understandable) — but who also hate women, Christians, Jews, gays, etc. and who are as ruthless and corrupt as their predecessors (surprise!). All things considered, if you were member of any of the above groups and others, you would probably rather be in the Shah’s Iran and in Saddam’s Iraq.
But, hey, our Democracy Promoters are so, so certain that the “good guys” will eventually win in Tunisia or Egypt (if they’re so smart, why can’t they tell us who is going win the next presidential election here). And when a Muslim Middle Eastern country does have a free and open election (Turkey), they don’t seem to like the guys who win.
As some who you are aware, I’ve been a long-time critic of the interventionist U.S. policy in the Middle East (including towards Egypt) and have called for a U.S. strategy of “constructive disengagement” from the region (including from Egypt). But my guess is that trying to get directly involved and taking active role in the current political turmoil in Egypt and elsewhere in the Mideast is a bad idea. It could actually raise the costs of U.S. intervention in the future (like being forced to free the hostages in the U.S. Embassy in post-revolution Sana’a and Cairo). So what to do? Let’s try exercising some benign neglect, say, a mix of a wait-and-see approach and quiet diplomacy, as we also start a major reassessment of long-term U.S. policy in the Middle East, ensuring that we won’t be subsidizing and protecting the Mubaraks of the future.