Foreign policy establishment of two minds on Egypt

The administration is torn between two competing visions put forward by the foreign policy establishment in Washington of what the US should do and say about the crisis in Egypt, and as is typical, they have chosen to split the difference.

This Washington Post editorial represents what might be termed the idealistic faction:

The United States should be using all of its influence - including the more than $1 billion in aid it supplies annually to the Egyptian military - to ensure the latter [regime change] outcome. Yet, as so often has happened during the Arab uprising of the past several weeks, the Obama administration on Friday appeared to be behind events. It called for an end to the violence against demonstrators and for a lifting of the regime's shutdown of the Internet and other communications. Encouragingly, the White House press secretary said that the administration "will review our assistance posture based on events that take place in the coming days."

But U.S. statements assumed that the 30-year-long rule of the 82-year-old Mr. Mubarak would continue. After speaking to Mr. Mubarak, President Obama said Friday night that he would continue to work with the Egyptian president; he did not mention elections. Instead, in an apparent attempt to straddle the two sides, the administration suggested that the solution to the crisis would come through "engagement" between the regime and the protesters.

Representing the realists, Rep.Thaddeus McCotter issued a statement published in Human Events to the effect that we should stand behind Mubarak:

Though many will be tempted to superficially interpret the Egyptian demonstrations as an uprising for populist democracy, they must recall how such similar initial views of the 1979 Iranian Revolution were belied by the mullahs' radical jackbooted murderers, who remain bent upon grasping regional hegemony and nuclear weaponry.

In this crisis, the American people deserve candor and action from President Obama, and President Hosni Mubarak and General Tantwai.

This is not a nostalgic "anti-colonial uprising" from within, of all places, the land of Nassar. Right now, freedom's radicalized enemies are subverting Egypt and other our allies.

There are good arguments that can be made for both positions - with very large caveats. Standing behind Mubarak and stability might be the desired goal but is it realistic at this point? Preventing radical Islamists from ascending to power might be beneficial to the US and Israel, but at what cost? Is any cost worth what it will now take to beat down the protests?

Of course, WaPo's suggestion invites the worst case scenario. We have the Iranian revolution as a guide in this respect and to imagine jihadists in charge of the largest Arab country in the world with the largest military - a nation that would then be at odds with Israel - would cause any president to lose a considerable amount of sleep.

It should be remembered that the situation in which we find ourselves was not created overnight. Thirty two years of backing this thug by Democratic and Republican presidents alike while giving his military tens of billions of dollars seemed a good tradeoff at the time but, as a famous scholar once opined, "the chickens have come home to roost." It's too late for either scenario above. We can't pull the rug from underneath Mubarak and expect the demonstrators to love us. Nor can we continue to support the Egyptian president and not expect whatever government the mob throws up to view us with anything but contempt.

The world is about to change and the administration is unable to decide what to do to help shape the future to the benefit of US interests. Is it the nature of the crisis that this is so? Or is it that Obama and his State Department are like a deer in the headlights when it comes to proposing options?

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