Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Posted by Jacob S.
What you are hearing from Washington insiders regarding the uprising, or revolution, in Egypt is that Pres. Obama is in a very tough spot. Republicans are surprisingly supportive of this view and are standing behind the president as he tries to figure out what to do. It's tricky because we've been supporting, through billions of dollars in aid, Mubarak for decades, this despite the fact that he is an undemocratic autocrat who excludes his people from legitimate public debate and involvement. But the US is okay with that because he has been friendly with Israel, he has been moderate in keeping fundamentalism at bay in Egypt, and the country has been stable under his rule.
This is the classic foreign policy realism point of view. Realism is not concerned with right or wrong, moral or immoral, and the like. Realism is concerned with who has power and how does that effect me? The paramount concern for a foreign policy realist is one's own security and self-interest. From the realist's point of view, Mubarak has been perfectly acceptable. The idea of a revolution in Egypt, with the possibility of chaos or fundamentalism taking hold as a counter-weight to the possibility of real democracy taking hold, is a risk probably not worth taking. So the establishment is treading very carefully, not really sure what to do about it. Of course a stable democracy is the very best thing for America's self-interest, but the cost/benefit analysis is tricky. This is why the Obama administration is making wishy-washy statements and being blamed for being one step behind the situation, and why Republicans are supportive.
And it's all wrong.
America's self-interest is second to the inherent right of all people to live under conditions of democracy, peace, and human rights. This is called foreign policy idealism, that our foreign policy is led by our internal philosophies, and America was founded on the ideals of freedom, democracy, and human rights (well, we got there eventually, anyway). These are, for the most part, peaceful demonstrations of people who are throwing off an oppressive dictator and they should have nothing but our full support, and should have had it from the beginning. The same is true of the recent protests in Tunisia, Iran, Jordan, and Yemen.
"Stability in lieu of freedom," as a recent Wall Street Journal editorial stated, was the long-time realist approach to the Middle East, but that is changing now. Even the realists are seeing some value in a democratic and free Egypt. In this case, the realists are on the wrong side of history, flat-footed as they realize that the old conventional wisdom that democracy could not take root naturally in the Middle East was nothing more than haughty American exceptionalism at its worst. The Bush Doctrine of spreading democracy through war has been trounced and we now realize, more than ever before, that peaceful democracy and Islam are not mutually exclusive.
I'm not saying that Pres. Obama's famous Cairo Speech prompted this organic revolution, but as has been noted, the president put himself in the best position possible to support it when he said these words: "America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments -- provided they govern with respect for all their people."
Pres. Obama has not always backed those words with concrete actions, and he has been slow to react correctly to the political upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa, but he at least staked out the correct amount of foreign policy idealism and gave America the flexibility to reject a stable Middle Eastern dictator when the people chose to overthrow him.
For too long America has supported dictators in the Middle East, even Saddam Hussein at one time, in the name of foreign policy realism, and it has left us weaker and more vulnerable, and morally bankrupt. It is now time for America to support democracy and human-rights in the name of foreign policy idealism. Next stop, by the way, must be Palestine.