Daniel Larison at the American Conservative suggests my views about Egypt are deeply unrealistic. I'm a bit puzzled by this: It's hardly as if I've been swept up in the romance of these events; I'm the one pointing out everything that could go wrong, no?
I'll address these comments to him directly in the hope of a reply. Daniel, I'm not sure exactly where you're arguing with me. I'm not looking for a pointless faux-debate where we both stake out an exaggerated claim out of irritated pundit-pride, I'm just trying to understand what you're saying so better to understand the disagreement.
On January 19, you wrote:
... the Tunisian uprising isn’t going to lead to regional transformation. As Josef Joffe argues, Tunisia was just prosperous enough, and most other Arab countries are either too poor and their peoples too poorly-educated, or they are so rich on account of oil wealth that their peoples will not follow the Tunisian example.
I don't think we quite know what the Tunisian example is yet, but definitely something about that event is triggering off a massive chain reaction in the region. Do you still think the possibility of regional transformation remote? I'd say by definition the fall of Mubarak means massive regional transformation, and at this point it seems to me--and most observers, I think--more likely than not.
Now, you wrote in response to me,
The administration could tell Mubarak that. Instead of the increased criticism it has already promised, the administration could threaten Mubarak with its “wrath.” Would this entail merely the suspension of aid, or would it involve more serious penalties? In other words, what exactly should the administration be threatening to do to Mubarak and his allies if they do not comply?
You answered this question yourself three days ago:
The administration should urge the Egyptian government to avoid violence, and it should be willing to withdraw aid if Mubarak uses excessive force against protesters.
Let me clarify my position: Suspending aid would be no "mere" expression--that's the crux of it. Again, that aid amounts to an astronomical sum; Egypt is the second-largest recipient of US military aid in the world. I'm not suggesting a more severe expression of wrath than that, if that's what you're wondering--I'm not proposing that we start bombing Mubarak. I don't think any reasonable person would read my comments that way. Cutting off the funding would be quite sufficiently wrathful, as would a strong statement that the people of the United States are disgusted and furious to see this government brutalizing its own people.
If I understand you correctly, Daniel, you think we should not say this, because "publicly backing the protesters simply contributes to an escalating confrontation that cannot end well for the protesters or the U.S.-Egyptian relationship." My position is that the confrontation is escalating whether we like it or not--and surely you can see the likelihood that backing the regime won't end well for the protesters or the U.S.-Egyptian relationship, either. Leaving aside all moral sentiment, this seems obvious as a pure Realpolitik calculation.
You then note your concerns about the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt:
By the end of the week, it looks as if the Brotherhood will have officially joined the protests as well. The protesters cannot be neatly separated into the “good” secular democrats here and the unacceptable Islamists over there. For that matter, there is as yet no evidence that any of the protesters object to the Brotherhood’s participation.
That significantly undermines the claim that Berlinski is fully in favor of Egyptian democracy, because she is clearly (and I think correctly) opposed to the consequences of empowering the Muslim Brotherhood, which will almost certainly be the result of the realization of a democratic Egyptian government.
Whose claim was this? Not mine. My point precisely was to beware those who would exploit democracy to end democracy. But you seem to think there are only two alternatives in Egypt: Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood. That's Mubarak's line, for sure, but is it right? If it is, we're in trouble, but it is not by any means necessarily true. There is a real risk of making it true if we demonstrate our perfect indifference to the brutalization of the protesters. Certainly, we are doing ourselves no favors when we officially deny the abundantly obvious: The Egyptians hate Mubarak--and it is not just the Islamists who hate him.
That comment from Biden is directly from Minitrue. Mubarak's a dictator. We can't win by lying and denying this. Such comments simply make the United States appear craven.
Our policy should be to state the truth. Mubarak is a miserable tyrant. The Muslim Brotherhood should not be given any opportunity to take power because it too would impose a miserable tyranny. There are people--probably the majority--in Egypt who want genuine democracy. They're the ones we support. We should support them in our rhetoric and with our money. One point three billion dollars--Egyptian democrats, come and get it, it's yours.
A statement like this from our President would not go amiss:
I urge the Egyptian Government and its allies to consider the consequences of their actions. How can they possibly justify using naked force to crush a people who ask for nothing more than the right to lead their own lives in freedom and dignity? Brute force may intimidate, but it cannot form the basis of an enduring society, and the ailing Egyptian economy cannot be rebuilt with terror tactics.
I want emphatically to state tonight that if the outrages in Egypt do not cease, we cannot and will not conduct "business as usual'' with the perpetrators and those who aid and abet them. Make no mistake, their crime will cost them dearly in their future dealings with America and free peoples everywhere. I do not make this statement lightly or without serious reflection.
That was actually Ronald Reagan, speaking of Poland--I just changed the country. The Poles are now great friends of America. There's a reason for that.
Do you mean to tell me that the country that supported the Solidarity movement is too stupid to figure out how to do this in Egypt? If so, we're too stupid to survive.