And so I ask, whither the United States?
The Israeli government, top to bottom, left to right, is in a quandary too. There exists great anxiety about the events and the outcome of the Egyptian crisis. Israel does not just live in a hostile neighborhood, Israel could become Fort Apache, surrounded and under constant siege.
Regarding Middle Eastern peace? Dialogue is quaint, but the overwhelming forces are on a collision course and dialogue will not be fruitful in achieving long-term peace. Not at this time, although maybe later.
Let’s start with this: The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is not your friend, though they act friendly—in English. They are, in Arabic, violent Islamic radicals and kindred spirits to other world-wide Islamic radicals who have support and assets and opportunities at the highest levels of society, even in the United States. They use pretty little girls begging for freedom on their English website and banners of crossed swords with the slogan “prepare” on their Arabic website. The public here is being played like a Stradivarius violin. They have literally learned from Goebbels, the ace Nazi propagandist. And they are a powerful, not weak, player in the present crisis. A recent Pew poll of Egyptians, before the demonstrations, found 59% back the Islamic radicals and only 27% support the “modernizers.”
The Egyptian demonstrations are about food and lack of jobs for a growing and increasingly educated population. It is about Mubarak and the dictatorship only in the sense that the dictatorship is not able to keep prices of food from surging and make jobs plentiful. In perspective, a reporter once asked China’s leader Hu Jin Tao what kept him up at night, and his response was to say the task of creating 25 million jobs each year. The implication: if he fails, then riots and a bloodbath must follow. So goes Egypt under Mubarak.
Think about this: why now, after 30 years of dictatorship do the Egyptians launch massive demonstrations? Such massive protests do not come about easily, and the mass of the population has to be roused by something that is precipitous. I mean this in two senses: firstly, that some economic event, for instance food shortages, has to move them to stop being passive and second, that some organizing force has to organize them into making a SUSTAINED statement. Whoever can capture the organizing mantle can claim and will be able to claim leadership of the ensuing movement. In this case, the anger over the lack of economic opportunity among Egyptians is most likely to benefit the Muslim Brotherhood, even if their rise to power is regretted by the Egyptian population later. This is the history of the Iranian Revolution in 1979. The Iranian people, largely, hate the ruling mullahs now and wish strongly for a liberal democracy.
So now there is heavy hand-wringing in Washington over how to handle this cauldron. George W. Bush pushed for democracy in Gaza and Iraq, but forgot that an election with radicals brandishing weapons, even if in the background, is not a Western-style election. In a liberal democracy, to which we aspire, the losers do not face the prospect of annihilation. Only a neutral government that has the monopoly on force can be allowed. This is the lesson of the elections in Gaza that ended in a Hamas coup against Fatah. No neutral guarantor existed. And the lesson of Iraq, where the electorate largely felt safe enough to vote freely after heated debate. Then there is President Obama’s thesis that dialogue with enemies brings peace. He seeks economic and political partnerships amid mutual respect and validation coupled with the withdrawal of force or the threat of force as a way to transition from some supposed colonial present to liberal democracy in the future for such dictatorships.
But Obama, as yet, has not mastered the art of the use of dialogue and force taken TOGETHER as the American form of diplomacy. He thought force was only necessary against the likes of the Taliban. He was and still is wrong.
Now Obama wants to include the Muslim Brotherhood in the new Egyptian government and pushes the Egyptians on this point. Hasn’t he been paying attention to the recent history of Lebanon? Anywhere where the Islamists are allowed into the government, the government has eventually fallen to them. Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Khomeini in Iran, etc.
If we want liberal democracy, and I believe ultimately that those now in the Muslim world want it too even if they do not yet understand that, then the United States foreign policy has to commit to backing liberal democracy and opposing dictatorship. That means opposing the Muslim Brotherhood and these kind of forces being included in elections. We should be backing the 27% who favor the “modernizers” even as we ally with the existing dictatorship against the Muslim Brotherhood. Any political entity in a society that backs or seeks Islamism, including the imposition of Sharia Law, we should oppose up to and including, as the situation merits, the use of force. We are not deliberately trying to undermine the existing dictatorships, but we are at war with the Islamists, and thus ultimately we cannot afford to cede the importance of a liberal democracy capable of channeling public anger into peaceful and useful political struggle.
The alternative is war, revolution, violence and another Jewish holocaust. The convulsive first half of the 20th Century gave rise to the relative prosperity and peace of the second half.
Either way, the good will come, but we hope things go to the good first. It would save us from the bad.