John Bolton has written an article suggesting ways in which liberal democracy (rather than the siren song of “one person, one vote, one time,” or Islamiscist control) could come to Egypt, and perhaps even other countries in the Middle East.
Neocon thought is often ridiculed as being the simplistic idea that all you need is the right to vote, and all will be well. That’s not it at all, as I’ve devoted quite a few words to explaining. Bolton offers quite a few more:
…[T]oday’s pressing question for Egypt is what steps the new military rulers should take. First, there should not be a rush to elections. It was a fatal mistake for Palestinians when the Bush Administration, reading supposedly irrefutable polls that Hamas could not win, scheduled elections in 2006 that allowed Hamas to do just that. Democracy is a culture, a way of life, as Mill and Kirkpatrick recognised, not simply the counting of votes. Any realistic assessment of Egypt’s “opposition” shows it to be weak, disorganised, and indifferently led. Moving to early elections, as the Muslim Brotherhood wants, will not bring the Age of Aquarius, but only benefit those factions with existing political infrastructures, which is a formula for domination by the Brotherhood. Far better to proceed when the true democrats are ready, which may not be soon enough for some, but which is unambiguously the more pro-democratic course.
Second, participation in the elections, whenever scheduled, should be limited to real political parties. From Mussolini to Putin, from Hamas to Hezbollah, terrorists, totalitarians and their ilk masquerading as political parties do not really believe in representative government. Banning such faux-democrats from participating in the legitimate political process until they become true political parties is entirely legitimate, and may well be critical to avert disaster. America did so for decades by outlawing the Communist Party, as post-World War II Germany did with the National Socialists. Thus, for President Obama to say, as he did, that the transition “must bring all of Egypt’s voices to the table” is not only naive, but fundamentally dangerous.
Third, the West should provide material assistance to those truly committed to a free and open society. In days of yore, the United States supplied extensive clandestine assistance to prevent communist takeovers in post-World War II elections in France, Italy and elsewhere. Undoubtedly, the Obama Administration is too fastidious for such Cold War-style behaviour, but perhaps overt, democratic institution-building assistance is not too much to ask. Advocates of doing nothing will argue that Western assistance, overt or covert, will “taint” the real democrats, and should therefore be avoided. Of course, there are always excuses for doing nothing. At a minimum, we should let Egyptians themselves decide whether they will be “tainted” with outside assistance; if they can live with the taint, so should we.
Fourth, Egypt’s military must restore and extend stability, setting an example throughout the Middle East, thereby allowing whatever progress toward a truly democratic culture to emerge. Egypt’s military will require political space in the months ahead. The Pentagon’s continuing close relationship with Egypt’s military should give us confidence that the right message about civilian control over the military is getting through. One of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ first announcements was that it would honour Egypt’s international obligations, presumably including Camp David. This is important and reassuring internationally, but hardly dispositive of what future governments will do.
None of this is at all easy (even with behind-the-scenes pressure and influence), and none is bound to succeed. What’s more, Egypt is probably a walk in the park compared to Libya if the rebels manage to depose Qaddafi. Paradoxically, if the Iranian opposition were somehow successful in getting rid of the mullahs, Iran might even have the best chance of becoming the closest thing to a liberal democracy in a Muslim country in the region (including the nascent and tenuous democracy in Iraq), simply because its people have had such a long and gut-wrenching experience of enduring the opposite after a revolution that briefly promised otherwise.