Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The need to remember


As the events of the past few days have spun into political chaos in Egypt, I have noted that the tradition of knee-jerk reactionism in American politics has continued. Last night President Obama essentially threw Egypt's President Mubarak under the bus when he spoke to the American people and advocated for change there. Perhaps a bit too idealistically, the President suggested the overthrow of Mubarak might be seen as a cry from the masses for political change and that the outcome might be a democratic republic patterned after our own government. Such was the hope for Iran when the United States advocated for the people to overthrow the unpopular Shah in the late 1970s. This fueled a power vacuum that was used to great advantage by the Islamic fundamentalists and resulted in the theocratic form of government we know today. The fact is popular revolts rarely result in the kind of democracies we appreciate here in the United States, but more often than not result in more repressive forms of government that ultimately oppose American interests in those countries. Remember that the precursor to the Bolshevik revolution was an attempt to install a democracy in Russia in 1917. When Hitler's thugs rose in Germany, many misguided Americans thought to applaud the dictator for what they thought might be simply a charismatic leader answering the call of popular opinion. We all know how wrong that turned out to be. Time and time again American foreign policy has been impotent in being able to bet on the right horse and come out unscathed when a popular revolt or civil war has shaken a government to its foundations. We were unable to predict the rise of Castro and the rapid diminution of power by the corrupt Battista administration in Cuba. That myopic vision has characterized our foreign policy decision making for decades. While gunboat diplomacy is no longer wise or considered politically correct, it has often proven the better of choices for the short term. When Grenada was a problem, President Reagan sent in the Marines. End of story. Even the British learned that diplomacy has its limitations and when Argentina absorbed the Falkland Islands and renamed them the Maldives Islands, the time for rhetoric was over. While I am in no way advocating for the United States to interfere with the internal political struggles of another nation directly, I am stating that oftentimes a more direct approach can achieve better results than by wishing and hoping things will turn out right. The United States failed to deal with Ho Chi Minh when it had opportunities decades before hostilities inflamed Viet Nam and the region there. The current crisis began when a popular uprising in Tunisia spilled over to Egypt and Yemen. Even Jordan's king has been forced to sack his government in a pre-emptive strike against unrest there. What should be feared is that the hoped for replacement of the government in Egypt might be more friendly towards Islamic fundamentalists like the Muslim Brotherhood, whose expressed intentions are to implement an Islamic republic in Egypt and break off friendly relations with Israel. The cornerstone of our teetering Middle East policy for the past three decades has been the continued cessation of hostilities in the area between Egypt, Israel and Jordan. Should the most populous Arab country in the world with the largest army, equipped by the United States, be overthrown by a weak or fledgling form of government, the Islamic fundamentalists will not be slow to take advantage of the situation. I am not sure if the decision by the Obama administration to speak out against Mubarak was wise or called for. By distancing ourselves from one of our most powerful allies in the region, we could be sending the wrong message to other world leaders, to wit: Don't count on America for support because when the tough gets going, so too will your American support. I am disquieted at the prospects for peace in the region, but most fearful that the actions of today will have wide-ranging consequences for the future. I hope the Egyptian people will remember what it was like to live under the threat of war and how their nationalism under Gamal Adbul Nasser was also disastrous to their economy. The changes in Egypt and potential changes in other Arab countries could take a terrible toll on the Israeli economy, which has soared in the past three decades when the threat of invasion from Egypt was lessened. A change in the government in Egypt to one that is opposed to the existence of Israel could have long-term effects for the Jewish State and, coupled with the existing Palestinian problem, might result in a downward economy marked by preparations for war rather than continued progress and prosperity. Now that we have abandoned Mubarak and distanced ourselves from him while the demands for his ouster continue, we need to look to our tentative allies in the region and to those already opposed to us (as is the case in Syria) and think about where we can do the most good in the short term. We need to know that as far as our word is considered, we don't have the most sterling of reputations. Perhaps our actions will now speak louder than our words.

1 comment:

Rick said...

The parallels between Jimmy Carter and Obama continue. Is it naivete or incompetence? Either way world peace and stability are jeopardized by our current president and State Department alienating proven, true allies such as Israel and Britain and mishandling the current crisis in Egypt as Jimmy Carter did in Iran. Let's hope the current unrest in Egypt is resolved more successfully than in Iran. Let's also hope that Obama follows Carter as a one-term embarrassment.