Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Generals Are Revolting, Part I

America's problem in the Middle East, as in so much of the rest of the world, is that our nominal friends don't share our values -- and the people who share our values are so rarely our friends.

At least on paper, our core values are individual liberty, democracy and the rule of law.  But -- because we have historically also valued things like stability, security, the oil industry and a bulwark against Communism (or latterly Islamism) -- we have often made friends with regimes that emphatically reject our core values.

There is a cost to this. The CIA has recently declassified documents which detail just how it organized the overthrow of a democratically-elected regime in Iran, and replaced it with a friendly dictator.  This meant that when our cores values manifested themselves -- when the people of Iran actually demanded democracy for themselves -- the party that came to power was and remains deeply suspicious of America's intentions.  Perhaps you've noticed.

The present turmoil in Egypt provides a brutal example.  For decades, we supported the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak.  In exchange for billions of dollars of weapons, Mubarak suppressed the Islamists and provided a safe southern border for Israel.  We got safety and stability at the cost of liberty and democracy.

The election of Mohammad Morsi, a member of the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood, reversed the situation.  It was an expression of our core values, but came at the cost of stability and security.  Morsi's overthrow removal by the army, in a move that the US has not yet agreed to call a coup d'etat, appears to have been an attempt to regain stability at the cost of democracy.

The attempt has failed; Egypt is a mess.  Today's reports include a thousand dead, and Christian churches attacked and burned by enraged mobs.  The army can hunt down terrorists in Sinai all it wants, but there is no way that this shambolic disaster can be associated with either stability or security.

Strangely, the US is at the moment doing something wise -- largely by doing very little.  The law would not permit us to provide foreign aid if the Egyptian regime had come to power in a coup.  Therefore, we have not legally declared this coup to be a coup.  In theory, we could still cough up some money -- and in theory, we are going to.  But at the same time, both Congress and the administration have started dropping hints that we may not.  The generals, if they are paying any attention at all, are on warning.

In contrast, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the UAE have stepped up their financial commitments to the new and counter-democratic rulers of Egypt.  You could argue that their support for the new order will weaken America's clout; but for our part, we can live with a little less clout if it keeps us from surrendering our core values once again.

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