Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Egypt - Different Obvious Lessons

Matthew Yglesias, writing in The American Prospect online, advocates for the United States to be on “the right side of history” and reconsider our support of at least un-democratic and at worst authoritarian regimes in the Middle East.  “The status quo in the Middle East is not sustainable and won’t be sustained,” Yglesias declares.  I think the sentiment is right, but the rose-colored glasses with which he reviews the region and revolution gives an incomplete picture.

The first issue is a matter of perspective.  I agree, the status quo is not sustainable and the U.S. concern is what comes next.  Don’t we still fear what will happen in Egypt?  Aren’t we still concerned that of an Islamist emergence a la Iran 1979 will take hold?  I think Yglesias discounts those concerns because he believes, “the longer the U.S. government stays in bed with kleptocrats, the more severe popular discontent against the United States becomes.”  I would contend there are limits to enmity, and a few decades of support to Middle Eastern autocrats builds a level of enmity that takes a long time to erase.  I subscribe to the “in for a penny, in for a pound” approach.  This would seem to conflicts with my post on reevaluating our alliances in the Middle East, but as I said in that post, we can’t turn our backs on these alliances.  From the perspective of the United States, autocrats give stability until they don’t. If the situation changes we will need to recalibrate our allegiances.  I would argue our most recent experience in Egypt is a strong example of the recalibration we can execute if we find a country at its tipping point.

Secondly, we have to work with the countries that are in power now.  Mr. Yglesias would have us side with the dissidents, causing immeasurable harm to our national security projections in some of the hottest corners of the world.  Mr. Yglesias might argue that it is our patronage of the governments in the region that makes them so hot, and I would not entirely disagree, but to my first point, ceasing that patronage would create good will, yes, but also undermine current stability, and limit our force projection in the region.  The cost-benefit analysis just doesn’t add up to a full-scale reversal of decades of U.S. foreign policy.

I’ll end by saying this: what happened in Egypt over the past three weeks may prove to be the turning point for the land of the pharaohs, but the jury is still out.  It’s a momentous thing to see people break the shackles of authoritarianism.  Regardless of the brotherhood I feel with the Egyptian people, from the perspective of the United States we can’t hop on the bandwagon of every protest or every dissident group.

The United States, by most accounts, managed the revolution in Egypt quite well.  I actually have confidence we can manage a similar situation as well, if not better, in the future.  I would like nothing more then to stick it to all the strongmen and monarchs that limit the freedom of their people in the Middle East, but the ideal and the practical are not one in the same.

1 comment:

Anjali said...

I would have to agree...it is a tight rope to walk to balance democracy and national/world security and stability.