Is the Right Turning Its Back on Egypt?

February 16th, 2011 at 11:48 am | 21 Comments |

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A sign of political health: other influential voices are noticing that too many conservatives are singing off key when it comes to Egypt and the Middle East.

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, for instance asks in his most recent column: “Why don’t conservatives love freedom?” He notes that conservative sentiment about the Egyptian uprising has “ranged from silent to grumpy.”

Worse yet, reports Robinson, the leading GOP presidential candidates have all struck, it seems, a decidedly sour note on Egypt.

Mitt Romney, perhaps the leading Republican presidential contender, gave a speech without once mentioning the upheaval in Cairo that may signal the most important geopolitical shift since the end of the Cold War. You’d think that anyone who wanted to be president would be paying attention and might have an opinion or two.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, also believed to be considering a presidential run, likewise seemed not to have noticed that the world was changing.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty confined himself to criticizing President Obama for somehow appeasing ‘Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.’

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who won the CPAC presidential straw poll, was at least forthright: He said the United States has no ‘moral responsibility to spread our goodness around the world’ and urged the administration ‘to do a lot less a lot sooner, not only in Egypt but around the world.’

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was all over the map. At CPAC, he mentioned ‘what’s happening in Egypt’ without commenting further.

On Saturday, he told the Associated Press that Mubarak’s resignation was ‘good for the future’ but criticized Obama for publicly supporting the dictator’s ouster.

On Sunday, Gingrich explained on ABC’s ‘This Week’ that Obama was right to side with the freedom-loving protesters in Tahrir Square, but should have done so privately — as if whispered encouragement, of which there was plenty, had a prayer of making a difference.

I don’t typically agree with left-wing columnist Eugene Robinson; but he’s absolutely right about the Republicans’ stunning — and seriously disconcerting — lack of strategic vision and apparent indifference to the momentous events that are now rocking Egypt, North Africa and the Middle East.

In fact, I’m more afraid of the GOP’s cluelessness about, and studied lack of interest in, the world than I am of the Islamists and the Jihadists.

After all, given strong American leadership and preemptive efforts, the Islamists and the Jihadists will fail and fade into the ashbin of history. But if the conservative movement and the Republican Party fail to understand and to articulate the need for American leadership, then America and the West may be doomed.

Sean Hannity said last night that there is no cause for optimism about Egypt because opinion polls show that the Egyptian people harbor decidedly illiberal attitudes and beliefs.

“I think it was on the FrumForum that [John Guardiano wrote] I’m obsessed with the Muslim Brotherhood… We don’t know what will happen [in Egypt]. But we do know the opinions of the Egyptian people.

They support Sharia; they support Islam as part of the new government that is gonna be formed. And, as a result, I don’t hold out a lot of optimism.’

Democracy skeptic Mona Charen, by contrast, seems at least to have been moved by what has happened in Egypt. “On behalf of skeptical conservatives everywhere,” she writes, “here are two cheers for the Egyptian revolution:”

(1)  The protesters in Tahrir Square and elsewhere might so easily have resorted to violence when their demands that Mubarak leave went unmet. They might have marched on the presidential palace and initiated a blood bath.

They refrained. Through days upon days of demonstrations — running short on essentials and withstanding the rain and wind — they kept their vigil almost entirely peaceful.

(2)  Since Mubarak’s ouster, there have been few calls for revenge or witch-hunts.

“There is a good deal to admire about the way Egyptians have behaved during this tumultuous time,” Charen concludes. “But there are also good and sufficient reasons to keep our enthusiasm corked for now.

Like Hannity, Charen cites opinion polls that suggest the Egyptian people harbor disturbingly regressive political attitudes and beliefs. For example, she notes:

A 2009 World Public Opinion poll found that 64 percent of Egyptians have favorable views of the Muslim Brotherhood, 75 percent agree with the Muslim Brotherhood’s idea that a body of religious scholars should have veto power over laws it believes contravene the Koran. Only 36 percent said a non-Muslim should be able to run for president.

But public opinion polls in an autocratic society where people are jailed and punished for expressing unpopular ideas, or ideas that the government believes are inimical to the state, are notoriously unreliable.

Moreover, as I have observed here at FrumForum, public attitudes and beliefs — especially in a poor and developing country that is just throwing off the shackles of autocratic rule — are hardly inscribed in stone. To the contrary: public sentiment is in flux and thus subject to change.

That, in fact, is the great thing about democracy: It gives the citizenry the right to discuss and debate issues. It gives them the right to try and change people’s minds. It gives them the opportunity to fix and remedy their mistakes.

Democracy also exposes people to outside, Western influences and ideas. And it gives these outside, Western influences a window — and often an intimate window — into what is happening inside countries that are transitioning toward democracy.

Especially today, thanks to Twitter, Facebook and the Internet, this exposure can help to hasten the political maturation and liberalization process

But more to the point, what is the alternative? What do conservative skeptics such as Charen and Hannity propose instead?

That we tell the Egyptian people to shut up and sit down because we, the white men of the West, have decided they’re not “ready” for democracy? Would they have America prop up another dictator in the name of “stability”?

In truth, there is no alternative in Egypt to liberal democracy, or, to be more precise, a democratizing Egypt. And what is true of Egypt will soon become true throughout the Middle East, as the autocratic dominoes fall.

Part of political maturity, and part of political wisdom, is accepting the world as it is. And, in the world in which we now live, the autocrats’ days are numbered.

Instead of wringing their hands and shaking their heads about this, conservative scribes and talkers should roll up their sleeves and get to work.

The question now is: how can the United States assist the Egyptian people as they make their historic transition toward liberal democracy?

How can we help to ensure that the Egyptian people enjoy guaranteed rights and liberties that won’t be overturned after their first election? And how can we hasten similar awakenings in other places such as Iran and Syria?

John Guardiano blogs at www.ResoluteCon.Com, and you can follow him on Twitter: @JohnRGuardiano.


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21 Comments so far ↓

  • Gypsum Fantastic

    Did you and Frum have some kind of wacky, Freaky Friday-like brain swap recently? You’re sounding reasonable, open-minded and willing to stick it to your own side when you need to. He’s writing a series of increasingly desperate, craven posts in which he argues that American presidents shouldn’t be subject to international law, even when they order torture.

    This is very disconcerting. Messes up my whole cosmology.

  • DFL

    Countries with $ 1.5 trillion deficits can’t afford to pry into the affairs of distant countries, especially one that has little oil, little of economic interest to America, tens of millions of semi-literate peasants, and a few pyramids for American geriatrics to visit on tours.

  • dafyd

    Good article.

    John stop it. Your making me like you again, Its like Gypsum Fantastic pointed out, this is very weird.

    Now if you could stop with the negative talk about Mitch Daniels please. If you could endorse Christine O’Donnell, Why the hell not endorse someone who is an actual credible, Intelligent person like Mr. Daniels.

  • talkradiosucks.com

    John endorsed Christine O’Donnell?

    Man, I *really* wish I didn’t know that. I was just starting to like the guy. ;)

  • lessadoabouteverything

    Gypsum +1 as well.

    Great article, but I think Guardiano is overstating things a bit, there are plenty of old school neo-Cons, people like Bill Kristol, who feel the same way. And being wary of how this will affect Israel is not to be in favor of continued repression in Egypt, it is just being wary.

    I think it is Fox that is far more to blame, not Conservatism. Sadly the loudmouths get the attention.
    As to the GOP, they are pandering to Fox. The sorry state is making me actually miss Bush, they (his admin.) would have rained fire on this kind of nonsense having prevented the GOP from going off the rails against Muslims 10 years ago.

  • lessadoabouteverything

    The saddest thing is these very same Conservatives are cheering on the young in Iran even though we have zero influence there and many will be killed by the thugocracy of Ahmeddouchebag.

    Of course I hope and pray the young win in Iran, but I fear for them far more than I have ever feared for the young in Egypt.

  • MSheridan

    I don’t believe we should run the world, but far more important, we cannot. If we had the influence or power to infallibly dictate events, dictators we ally with would never be overthrown and democracies would never make decisions contrary to our interests. We will inevitably face situations in which our short-to medium-term interests are at odds with our professed values. For decades, we have seen Egypt in this light. The alternative to Mubarak was too uncertain and frightening to us for us to desist from propping him up with aid and support. I’m not saying we were unwise to do so. Once we’d stuck our hand into the Middle East pot, we were stuck with the consequences of that decision, once of which was the need for allies there. And allies have zero incentive to become or stay allies if they see us abandon others to whom we have pledged friendship.

    However, Mubarak’s usefulness was already nearly at an end. The man is in his eighties, after all. Once he was roundly rejected by Egyptians and his grip was slipping, principles and pragmatism both dictated that we cut him loose.

    Loyalty to a failed regime makes zero sense from any perspective, making me feel that most criticism of our recent policy there has been for partisan reasons alone. It’s not as if our former support was a new policy developed under our current President, and I haven’t seen many calls for us to reject and denounce all the other strongmen we have friendly relations with.

  • pnwguy

    Once again John, you’re taking a refreshing tact here. Keep up the repentance…..lol.

    I think here again, this is a favorable outcome for the US (though still way too soon to tell the full story). Therefore what is currently passing for “conservative leadership” feels they can’t praise something positive ON OBAMA’S WATCH. “If our tribe didn’t do it, it must be evil” seems to be the mode we’re in from the right at the moment. But thanks for taking a principled stand and calling those blowhards out.

  • lessadoabouteverything

    pwnguy: Once again John, you’re taking a refreshing tact here. Keep up the repentance…..lol.

    With all due respect I don’t think John is changing his stripes at all, it is the Republican party (the loudmouths in any event) that has. You can not possibly support nation building in nations if you think the nation is hopelessly contaminated by religion or culture or what have you. It has been apparent for years the John, and other neo-cons like GWB or Bill Kristol, don’t believe this. My argument with the neo cons has never been ideology but incompetence and arrogance. But Egypt, like Tunisia, hopefully Iran, Libya, etc. are the neo-cons dream.
    I am not a neo con, I am a Liberal internationalist, but it pretty much comes down to the same thing in my book, support of Liberal Democracy everywhere, even if it seems to be against our short term interest (like in the Philippines, Marcos being thrown out meant the end of Subic and Clark, but so be it)
    I also don’t think Obama deserves credit for Egypt anymore than Reagan would have deserved credit for what happened in the Philippines. Both Reagan and Obama, after some initial waffling, recognized the dictator had to go and helped facilitate it, but lets not shine glory on him.

    • ottovbvs

      “I also don’t think Obama deserves credit for Egypt anymore than Reagan would have deserved credit for what happened in the Philippines.”

      As must be obvious to most people it was a massively more complex situation than the Phillipines and remains so, and with far more dangerous strategic implications for the US. Obama handled it with his customary deftness. It could still all go wrong of course but no need for now to withold credit where credit is due.

    • pnwguy

      lessado:

      I’m only comparing this piece by John as a well expressed essay, as opposed to some of the other overly militaristic pieces he’s provided the forum. That was the reference for repentance I was using.

      I’d agree with your analogy to Reagan and Marcos. It’s not so much that either one deserved big heaping praise on how they were handled. Both presidents were just competently doing their job, not grandstanding about the situation, and handled things (so far) with diplomatic steadiness. What likely irks Obama’s opponents is that it didn’t all unravel on his watch, so they have one less club to beat him with. They feel robbed of another opportunity to gin up outrage. That’s how I view their relative silence.

  • ottovbvs

    John, I’ve got news for you, the American right’s concern with “freedom” begins and ends with Israel. OK?

  • lessadoabouteverything

    otto, I am not withholding credit, I just don’t want anyone to say Obama was the catalyst or without Obama it wouldn’t have happened, it is not about him…or us, it is about the Egyptians, lets not lose sight of that.

    And I don’t agree that Egypt is “massively more complex situation” than the Philippines. I don’t even know what you mean. Are you saying Filippinos are simple? The Philippines had Clark and Subic bases, which was believed to be a necessary counterweight to Russian and Chinese influence in the region. It ended up not being the case, but it was a very strong concern at the time. The Philippines were also once a part of the United States, which in itself made it an incredibly complex situation for us.
    What makes Egypt strategic is the Suez, but no government will shut that down and plunge the country into desperate poverty, lets be realistic.
    As to the treaty with Israel, I do not foresee the Egyptian military giving up the advantages it has bestown upon them (billions per year, all nice and new hardware)

    Of course Egypt is very much more complex NOW, but I was only making a historical analogy, not equating them at their present states.

    • ottovbvs

      “And I don’t agree that Egypt is “massively more complex situation” than the Philippines.”

      Well then you’re betraying a lack of knowledge I’m afraid. I’m not saying the Filipinos are simple but as anyone with an ounce of knowledge knows, the Phillipines is essentially an economic and cultural satellite of the US and has been for generations. We’re pretty much joined at the hip in fact.There isn’t the faintest chance of a change in their basic foreign policy stance or of them attemptiong to eject us from Clark or Subic bay. Egypt is none of these things. And Egypt’s strategic importance to the US does NOT lie in the canal which while an important communications link is much less significant than it used to be. Their importance lies in the fact they are a)the most numerous Arab nation in the region by a long chalk b) their historic leadership role amongst Arabs c) proximity to Israel

    • ottovbvs

      Btw I’m not saying that Obama was the catalyst for events in Egypt, never did, I just said he handled a potentially dangerous situation for US interests with a fair degree of skill.

  • lessadoabouteverything

    “There isn’t the faintest chance of a change in their basic foreign policy stance or of them attemptiong to eject us from Clark or Subic bay.”

    Um…Otto, we have been ejected from Clark and Subic for years now, in fact since 1991 when the base closed due to the refusal by the Philippine Government to renew the lease on the base, so…um…who exactly is betraying their lack of knowledge here?

    I don’t disagree with what you say about the strategic importance of Egypt, just that as I mentioned above the Suez won’t be closed and I do not believe the Egyptian military will allow the treaty with Israel to fall apart.

    As to its influence, well no other nations followed Egypts lead in recognizing Israel, so their leadership role is a tad overstated. Certainly they have a good deal, but a lot of it is remnants of Nasserism.
    I am not disagreeing with your main contention though that Egypt is a very complex situation, and I admit historical analogies are inexact, of course the Philippines and Egypt are not the same, but it is not a competition and my only point was Reagan initially dithered but helped push Marcos out (behind the scenes) and Obama initially dithered but helped push Mubarak out (behind the scenes), and at the time the Philippines itself was considered a very complex situation for us (Marcos was an ally for many years, allowed us to have the two bases, etc.) and people worried what would happen if he was overthrown, which happened because he killed Benigno Aquino, which led to the revolt and the assumption of power by his wife Corazon, after Marcos ignored the results of the elections (which he fraudently claimed he won). In Egypt the catalyst was Tunisia.

  • jakester

    The right actually care about the masses of people in Egypt as much as they professed they cared about the masses in Iraq. In reality, as long as there is a pro US government and no one is making trouble against us, they could care less about the people.

  • lessadoabouteverything

    otto: Btw I’m not saying that Obama was the catalyst for events in Egypt, never did, I just said he handled a potentially dangerous situation for US interests with a fair degree of skill.

    And I am not saying you are wrong, but the jury is still out on this. We will have to see how much it was due to backdoor pressure by us and the Europeans and how much it was due to the US trained Military high command reluctance to pull the trigger on the protesters. For all we know it might have made zero difference what Obama did, or it could have been critical, but I am not ready to make snap judgments except on his public face, which was he dithered at first but seemingly realized the way things were going and got on the right side of it.

  • Traveler

    John:

    I had to go back to the byline to believe this was you. First post of yours I didn’t skim. Thanks for raising your game. Lessado, always a pleasure to see civil disagreement. (Clark and Subic did go a long time ago). Now all we need is to see Easton’s perspectives….

  • lessadoabouteverything

    traveller, I am Easton. I just changed my sobriquet because Easton is boring, I figured a nice play on words with regards to Shakespeares “Much ado about nothing” seems to be a bit more fun, if longwinded as a moniker. Sadly, “green eggs and hamlet” “A midsummers night scream” “Julius Caesar salad” and “Romeo ate Juliet” have all been taken. I googled less ado about everything and there was…nothing, and to be honest it was a surprise since it seems pretty obvious. Little ado about everything is too long.
    Anyway, it is nice to hear Easton was remembered.
    (Frum forum gives you a screen name and a nickname, your nickname can be changed whenever you want)

    • Traveler

      Less,

      From the way you described yourself, I was pretty sure you were. Was just an artifice to make sure. Easton was a little staid, even though that’s near my turf so I have a little feel for the setting. Now all we need is to have CD-Host reemerge from his delusions about she who must not be named. Frankly, I think Christie is far more interesting in terms of triangulating the various factions he so aptly observed. Stay tuned for that one.

      Cheers mate!