Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Analytical Realism: Political Stability in Egypt is Cardinal Israeli Interest

Readers following my analysis of Egypt have noted my optimism on the prospects for democratization. While I don't for a minute doubt the possibility of the most dangerous outcome (an Islamist regime committed to the destruction of American interests in the Middle East, and to eradication of Israel), I've focused rather idealistically on the notion of universal change toward Western-style freedom. The more I think about it, I could be wrong. And I'm becoming more pessimistic, against my inclinations to human goodness. So, I probably should be giving more weight to analytical realism, and especially to Israeli security interests. And thus, don't be surprised as my commentaries appear more hard-headed as events continue to unfold. The euphoria is fading.

The headline at top borrows from the Jerusalem Post's editorial, "An orderly transition of power in Egypt":
Relations with Egypt since the signing of the Camp David Peace Treaty in March, 1979 have been cold, yet even a tepid peace with Egypt is of utmost importance.

The quiet along our mutual border has allowed the IDF to redirect military resources to other potentially inflammatory locations – south Lebanon, the Gaza Strip – while reducing the strain on reserve soldiers.

Since the Hamas takeover of Gaza, the IDF and Egypt have quietly coordinated efforts against Iranian-supplied arms smuggling.

Egypt under Muslim Brotherhood rule would not only put an end to all this, but a sometimes reluctant ally, with the largest and (Israel-excepted) strongest armed forces in the Mideast, based on the most advanced American-made technologies, would be transformed into a bellicose foe.

To cover all the borders as potential military fronts for the first time since the years following the Yom Kippur War, the IDF would need to undergo major structural changes, spreading its already limited resources even thinner.

ANYONE WHO cherishes liberty inevitably sympathizes with the aspirations of Egypt’s men and women, young and old, secular and religious, educated and not, who have taken to the streets in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and other sites across the country, demanding an end to Mubarak’s oppressive government. Those rare blog entries in praise of freedom that managed to skirt Mubarak’s Internet blackout were truly moving. Justice is on the side of the legions of young Egyptians blocked from getting ahead by a corrupt and mismanaged economy and a system in which who you know is more important than what you have to offer.

It would be comforting to believe that there is a third way – that when the dust has settled, Egyptians could find themselves led neither by a radical Islamist regime headed by the Muslim Brotherhood, nor by more Mubarak-style repression under Suleiman or someone else. One would like to believe that Nobel Peace laureate Muhammad ElBaradei, leader of the reformist movement, is right when he argues that it is only Mubarak’s propaganda that has convinced the West that Egyptians must choose between just two options – the status quo authoritarian regime, or “the likes of bin Laden’s al-Qaida.”

Yet the sad fact is that an overwhelming proportion of Egypt’s populace supports Islamic fundamentalists.
There's more at the link above, but the main point is that a transitional regime under Suleiman will more likely promote the best approximations of freedom in Eygpt. But it's Caroline Glick's piece that's most shaking me out of my euphoric daze. She offers a brilliant, nuanced piece of analysis, and is critical of both the neoconservative vision represented by the Bush administration and the post-colonial progressivism represented by the Obama administration. And she concludes that's there's really no third way beyond these. First principles of statecraft caution against dramatic change in Egypt, and as much as we hope upon hope, I'm now convinced this is the correct analysis. See, "Clueless in Washington":
What has most confounded Israeli officials and commentators alike has not been the strength of the anti-regime protests, but the American response to them. Outside the far Left, commentators from all major newspapers, radio and television stations have variously characterized the US response to events in Egypt as irrational, irresponsible, catastrophic, stupid, blind, treacherous, and terrifying.

They have pointed out that the Obama administration’s behavior – as well as that of many of its prominent conservative critics – is liable to have disastrous consequences for the US’s other authoritarian Arab allies, for Israel and for the US itself.

The question most Israelis are asking is why are the Americans behaving so destructively? Why are President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton charting a course that will necessarily lead to the transformation of Egypt into the first Salafist Islamic theocracy? And why are conservative commentators and Republican politicians urging them to be even more outspoken in their support for the rioters in the streets?

Does the US not understand what will happen in the region as a result of its actions? Does the US really fail to understand what will happen to its strategic interests in the Middle East if the Muslim Brotherhood either forms the next regime or is the power behind the throne of the next regime in Cairo?

Distressingly, the answer is that indeed, the US has no idea what it is doing. The reason the world’s only (quickly declining) superpower is riding blind is because its leaders are trapped between two irrational, narcissistic policy paradigms and they can’t see their way past them.

The first paradigm is former president George W. Bush’s democracy agenda and its concomitant support for open elections.

Bush supporters and former administration officials have spent the last month since the riots began in Tunisia crowing that events prove Bush’s push for democratization in the Arab world is the correct approach.

The problem is that while Bush’s diagnosis of the dangers of the democracy deficit in the Arab world was correct, his antidote for solving this problem was completely wrong.

Bush was right that tyranny breeds radicalism and instability and is therefore dangerous for the US.

But his belief that free elections would solve the problem of Arab radicalism and instability was completely wrong. At base, Bush’s belief was based on a narcissistic view of Western values as universal.

When, due to US pressure, the Palestinians were given the opportunity to vote in open and free elections in 2006, they voted for Hamas and its totalitarian agenda. When due to US pressure, the Egyptians were given limited freedom to choose their legislators in 2005, where they could they elected the totalitarian Muslim Brotherhood to lead them.

The failure of his elections policy convinced Bush to end his support for elections in his last two years in office.

Frustratingly, Bush’s push for elections was rarely criticized on its merits. Under the spell of the other policy paradigm captivating American foreign policy elites – anti-colonialism – Bush’s leftist opponents never argued that the problem with his policy is that it falsely assumes that Western values are universal values. Blinded by their anti-Western dogma, they claimed that his bid for freedom was nothing more than a modern-day version of Christian missionary imperialism.

It is this anti-colonialist paradigm, with its foundational assumption that that the US has no right to criticize non-Westerners that has informed the Obama administration’s foreign policy. It was the anti-colonialist paradigm that caused Obama not to support the pro-Western protesters seeking the overthrow of the Iranian regime in the wake of the stolen 2009 presidential elections.

As Obama put it at the time, “It’s not productive, given the history of US-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling, the US president meddling in the Iranian elections.”

And it is this anti-colonialist paradigm that has guided Obama’s courtship of the Syrian, Turkish and Iranian regimes and his unwillingness to lift a hand to help the March 14 movement in Lebanon.

MOREOVER, SINCE the paradigm claims that the non-Western world’s grievances towards the West are legitimate, Obama’s Middle East policy is based on the view that the best way to impact the Arab world is by joining its campaign against Israel. This was the central theme of Obama’s speech before an audience dominated by Muslim Brotherhood members in Cairo in June 2009.
There's more at the link above.

And I'll have more later.


Mr. Mcgranor said...

I'll 'keep an eye' on the commies myself.

Jason Pappas said...

Keep the thoughts flowing. It's painful to watch because we are an empathetic people.

Glad to see you're bringing us sober debate from people who've given this much thought.

One scenario I've heard is that the military, who now have popular support, will just pick a replacement for Mubarak. I believe the STRATFOR fellow mentioned that last night on Charlie Rose. Also see Daniel Pipes.

To bad we can't (or won't) put pressure on their military leaders for economic reform. Hernando DeSoto tried to give advice to Mubarak years ago but he wouldn't implement these measures. (Of course our leaders need some economic advice first!)

Bruce Hall said...

The Arab/Persian world is caught in an unsustainable dichotomy of 7th century superstition and 21st century technology. The masses of uneducated poor who cling to their superstitions are the basis for the unprincipled "leaders" who would use them to grab power and achieve political domination of the Middle East. Calling that democracy is like calling cancer the will of the body.

Should Egypt fall to those unprincipled manipulators, the likelihood of a general Middle East war is greatly increased. One could envision a repeat of the 1967 war, except that Israel would be the target of 21st century technology from all directions. Israel would be destroyed, but so would the nations that attacked. The final blow would be Israel deploying its 200 nuclear weapons in a final "goodbye."

The genie would be out of the bottle, the Arab world would get its wish and return to the 7th century, and the world economies would implode.

Obama, yes we can.

AmPowerBlog said...

Whitey: Your earlier comments were deleted by accident. What are your commitments?

AmPowerBlog said...

Thanks for reading, Jason. I'll have more thoughts coming up a bit later. I'm afraid some of the declared academic "realists" are acting more like progressives, so I'm inclined to fall back on Glick's analysis, which is rarely if ever off base.

AmPowerBlog said...

That's a sharp analysis, Bruce, especially about the technology and elite exploitation.

I'll have more later.

Kenneth Davenport said...

Donald -- from my perspective the 30 year detente between Egypt and Israel was the product of a grand bargain between Mubarak and the U.S. WIth Mubarak gone, the forces of the Muslim Brotherhood will be free to roam the streets in search of their Caliphate utopia. While well-meaning Egyptians see Mubarak as the enemy, they are unwittingly making it possible for Egypt to follow in Iran's footsteps. In comparison to the MB, Mubarak will look like Thomas Jefferson in comparison. And don't be fooled -- ElBaradei is a weak tool the MB will use to gain power. He will be a puppet, with Islam pulling the strings behind the curtain.

Glick is totally correct: those who call for Mubarak's head don't understand what awaits Egypt -- and the world -- in his place. Obama is weak -- and given the criticism he took last year after the Tehran demonstrations, he's reflexively trying to appease his progressive base. And in the end, Israel will pay the ultimate price for his pandering.

AmPowerBlog said...

Ken: You're right ... that's why I've dropped the idealism. I'll have more analysis later. Thanks.