July 6th, 2013

The options in Egypt

Shorter Caroline Glick: There are no good options in Egypt.

Unfortunately, it seems to have the ring of truth:

As was the case in 2011, the voices of liberal democracy in Egypt are so few and far between that they have no chance whatsoever of gaining power, today or for the foreseeable future. At this point it is hard to know what the balance of power is between the Islamists who won 74 percent of the vote in the 2011 parliamentary elections and their opponents. But it is clear that their opponents are not liberal democrats. They are a mix of neo-Nasserist fascists, communists and other not particularly palatable groups.

None of them share Western conceptions of freedom and limited government. None of them are particularly pro-American. None of them like Jews. And none of them support maintaining Egypt’s cold peace with Israel…

There are only three things that are knowable about the future of Egypt. First it will be poor. Egypt is a failed state. It cannot feed its people. It has failed to educate its people. It has no private sector to speak of. It has no foreign investment.

Second, Egypt will be politically unstable.

Mubarak was able to maintain power for 29 years because he ran a police state that the people feared. That fear was dissipated in 2011. This absence of fear will bring Egyptians to the street to topple any government they feel is failing to deliver on its promises – as they did this week.

Given Egypt’s dire economic plight, it is impossible to see how any government will be able to deliver on any promises – large or small – that its politicians will make during electoral campaigns.

And so government after government will share the fates of Mubarak and Morsi.

Beyond economic deprivation, today tens of millions of Egyptians feel they were unlawfully and unjustly ousted from power on Wednesday.

The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists won big in elections hailed as free by the West. They have millions of supporters who are just as fanatical today as they were last week. They will not go gently into that good night.

Finally, given the utter irrelevance of liberal democratic forces in Egypt today, it is clear enough that whoever is able to rise to power in the coming years will be anti-American, anti- Israel and anti-democratic, (in the liberal democratic sense of the word). They might be nicer to the Copts than the Muslim Brotherhood has been. But they won’t be more pro-Western.

It is difficult to argue with any of that, so I won’t even try. Of course, miracles do happen, and I would applaud the sudden emergence of a force in Egypt for liberal democracy that’s more than a few people deep, but nothing has led me to believe it likely or even possible at this point, or at any easily foreseeable point.

You may ask: how can you, a neocon, say that? Isn’t that against the neocon philosophy?

My reply is to suggest that you read my previous posts on neocons. But if you don’t want to spend time doing that, I’ll just summarize and say that (a) I chose the name “neo-neocon” primarily to indicate the fact that I was a new (“neo”) conservative at the time I started this blog, and (b) the neoconism I support neither advocates overthrowing governments by force nor believes any movement towards liberal democracy in the Middle East would be the least bit easy or quick.

I refer you, for example, to this essay of mine for a summary written many years ago. To that I will add that Egypt is most definitely not a good candidate for becoming a liberal democracy, to say the least. Nor was Mubarak a tyrant on the order of Saddam Hussein, or in defiance of UN sanctions or mandatory weapons inspections like Hussein was. Mubarak’s regime was bad, but what replaces him has every likelihood of being just as bad or worse.

When we invaded Iraq in order to depose a tyrant who was defying UN sanctions and whom we thought had WMDs, we were left with the task of what to do afterward, an undertaking far more difficult than the initial war. We have all seen how hard it was to sustain our strength of will and commitment there, and no one is advocating a repeat performance in Egypt or any other country at the moment. Egypt, as I said, presents a completely different picture anyway, and lacks almost all of the ingredients that motivated our invasion of Iraq.

But if you stop to think about it—despite the serious problems Iraq continues to face—considering Iraq’s previous state, and the state of practically all the other nations in the region except Israel, Iraq isn’t doing so bad. It’s a cliche to regard the Iraq war as having been a disaster, but the real question is: compared to what?

18 Responses to “The options in Egypt”

  1. sdferr Says:

    What would a good option even look like? Is there an Egyptian political philosopher on the order of a Nicolo Machiavelli, possessed of the requisite passion for his nation, knowledge of man and his state, vision of the possible with the patience and cunning to achieve it to prescribe a way out of their misery? Certainly there is none that we can see from this great distance and ignorant remove. Yet equally, we cannot say that such a man will not arise one day, discovering for himself and his fellow nationals that sole path between their Scylla and Charybdis, that good option out of the thicket of confusion and sadness in which matters churn today.

    In the meantime, we can only wish them well as fellow humans and rue with them their loss, for we too have a political crisis to confront at home. And we too appear equally bereft of the good option.

  2. neo-neocon Says:

    sdferr:

    At least we have much better institutions and political structure, as well as traditions, to fall back on. In theory, that is; unfortunately, these things are now poorly remembered and poorly understood, and many of our leaders, educators, and the MSM are working hard to make sure that is so.

  3. sdferr Says:

    I very much agree with you neo-neocon as to the relative strength of our inherited political order(s) being the better of the two. Yet even this strength, this one time greatness is a problem, as it seems to me, for our own crisis comes about only due to the inadequacies of that very strength. And our passionate devotion to that greatness appears, at least on many occasions, to prevent our own ability to evaluate our situation with the necessary completeness. We tend to falter, as I think
    it, out of love, and not from malice.

    Then too, it is precisely the failure to educate ourselves adequately, a thing seemingly done with the particular intention to achieve these results which robs us of the means to come to terms with our crisis. So it is we too are in need of either a new or recovered path. From whence it may come, I know not. Yet, I trust eventually, come it will. People, it seems to me, will only put up with being ground to powder for so long.

  4. Eric Says:

    Regarding Iraq, I’ll add that we had no stand-off distance and plausibility deniability like we do with other trouble spots like Egypt. Our last realistic chance to pull out of Iraq was in 1995. After that, the US was inextricably tied to and actively engaged with the Saddam regime in a downward – at best unstably stalemated – spiral. We were going to crash land with Saddam in one way or another. The choice for Bush, as it was for Clinton before him, was either to try to control our crash landing with Iraq on our terms or allow Saddam to control it on his terms. Neither Bush nor Clinton was willing, all else being equal, to make the hard choice to resolve the Iraq problem, but then, 9/11 forced our hand.

    Clinton, 2004:

    Noting that Bush had to be “reeling” in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, Clinton said Bush’s first priority was to keep al Qaeda and other terrorist networks from obtaining “chemical and biological weapons or small amounts of fissile material.”

    “That’s why I supported the Iraq thing. There was a lot of stuff unaccounted for,” Clinton said in reference to Iraq and the fact that U.N. weapons inspectors left the country in 1998.

    “So I thought the president had an absolute responsibility to go to the U.N. and say, ‘Look, guys, after 9/11, you have got to demand that Saddam Hussein lets us finish the inspection process.’ You couldn’t responsibly ignore [the possibility that] a tyrant had these stocks,” Clinton said.

    The causes of our primary role with Iraq go back to at least the Carter administration. There were multiple reasons for our Iraq intervention, which the Democrats understood as well as the Republicans, which makes their propaganda use of the mission for partisan gain unforgivable. Bush didn’t declare a new war on Iraq in 2002-2003. He completed the police action on Iraq that Clinton had determined in both action and policy by 1998.

    The best short answer to the question of ‘Why Iraq?’ is ‘All of the above’.

    You’re right that the conditions for our Iraq intervention were special to Iraq. It was a one-off. Now, we can only speculate what difference would have been made by Iraq the Model and Bush’s broader Freedom Agenda had it been stably supported by the West and consistently followed through here and over there. It’s underestimated how much of the conspiracy theory over there about our role in the Middle East is derived from propaganda that’s produced in the West. Bush’s revolutionary liberal gambit was contained at home before it was given a fair chance to work over there, then cut off entirely by Obama.

    With all that, our mission in Iraq had stabilized and was trending in the right direction, and it appeared Iraq had turned a corner. Iraq the Model was back on track. But then Obama failed (accidently on purpose?) to negotiate a new SOFA. Our record of modern nation-building projects in less volatile areas says we failed to stay a minimum length in Iraq. Moynihan said reform requires a 30 year commitment and that was for specific measures within our own established political culture and system.

    It’s popular to claim now that we have definitive proof that liberal aspirations for the Middle East are impossible, but the thing is, we didn’t make an honest attempt at a liberal intervention either. Bush tried to make an attempt but We the People undermined it before we could fairly determine whether it would or could work.

    Even if the West fixed itself, could we try again over there? I don’t know. It may well have been a one-off opportunity and we screwed it up.

    What if … Oh well.

  5. Eric Says:

    * plausible deniability

  6. Steve Says:

    I am trying to see what is so bad about the military-led coup. The people of Egypt were facing starvation and economic collapse. They know they were better off under military rule than under islamist mob rule. Democracy does not automatically mean more freedom, but a constitutional republic with a small (weak) central government might be a better option. The 2012 electoral map shows how the different Egyptian ‘states’ might vote:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_presidential_election,_2012

  7. neo-neocon Says:

    Steve:

    The military coup is not necessarily bad. But it probably won’t be a whole lot better, or maybe not even better at all. And certainly not a good option. Egypt is a very very messed up country, and all the powerful factions are pretty bad. That’s the point of the article.

  8. Don Carlos Says:

    It strikes me that the essence of conservatism is to be found in the Serenity Prayer, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serenity_Prayer
    which, in one form or another, has been around for a long time.

    The “deliver us from evil” of the Lord’s Prayer si there, to my mind, because it is not in human power to defeat it.

    Perhaps the Left thinks merging with evil is the solution.

  9. vanderleun Says:

    What will it take to “stablize” Egypt? Exactly what stabilized it before, a police state. At this point that will take a stunning amount of killing, but that’s what will have to be done. And, I’m sure, what will be done. After all, it’s working in Syria and sooner or later that will be applied here.

    The softer hearts of the West won’t like it and will bemoan it, but harder hearts in the West will lean from it.

    “If I had ten divisions of those men, our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral… and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling… without passion… without judgment… without judgment! Because it’s judgment that defeats us.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OTB8WdGro0

  10. parker Says:

    I think the biggest problem in Egypt is Islam. The same goes for other areas in turmoil such as Nigeria. Yes, Egypt has its own particular problems as noted above, but I contend that Islam is the problem in almost every troubled Islamic nation.

    Islam is at war with Western Civilization, the west pretends otherwise, but that seems apparent to me. So while not all moslems are terrorists, most terrorists are moslems. Please take note NSA.

  11. expat Says:

    I just saw that el Baradei will be the “interim” PM. Is it possible that Obama’s current green agenda might be his way of offering friendship to the new powers that be. Obama probably had some inkling that the former IPCC head could replace Morsi. I’ll put my tinfoil hat on and think about this some more.

    Eric, your comment was fantastic. Yes, Bush’s attempt to stabilize Iraq was done in by our own people and their anti-American European counterparts.

  12. Steve Says:

    McCain has decided the MB should not have been overthrown:

    http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2013/07/06/McCain-calls-for-suspension-of-U-S-military-aid-to-Egypt.html

    He is thick as a plank. I’d recommend Andrew McCarthy’s article as an antidote:

    http://www.nationalreview.com/article/352778/elections-are-not-democracy-andrew-c-mccarthy

  13. Don Carlos Says:

    The truly terrible thing about McCain is that had he won, we would only be modestly better off.

  14. J.J. formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    Egypt has some potential. It has decent farmland in the Nile Valley. It has a lot of cheap labor. It could have a thriving tourist industry. It might be able to eke out a living, poor though it might be, for its people. But Islam stands in the way. Islam is anti prosperity. The Islamic countries that have oil can feed themselves. Those that don’t will always struggle. When the oil is gone, the whole ME will be like Egypt……….unless they change.

    Iraq could have been the model for change, but that “good idea” (and I did support it) is now apparently down the crapper. Well, we tried.

    Many of the Iraq and Afghani vets are probably going to be like me. After Congress abandoned South Vietnam I realized that my service and the deaths of my friends had all been in vain. My bitterness about that still lingers. I doubt it will be different for our younger vets.

    IMO, what we see in the ME is a different version of Cambodia’s “killing fields.” Eventually the blood lust will ease and the poor buggers will ease back into a life of misery and hate of the Joos and infidels. Which is why we need to stay strong and vigilant.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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