From all I read and hear, the Hosni Mubarak regime in Egypt is pretty oppressive, and the intense protests these days are a reaction to this oppression. All else being equal, this is a good thing.
But foreign policy is messy, and there are always complicating factors. I'm a foreign policy novice, but it seems a real uprising in Egypt could leave the U.S. worse off.
The U.S. has long supported Mubarak. We've been cutting direct checks to Egypt for decades, well over $30 billion, I think. We've supported Mubarak in other ways, too. As far as I understand, there are two main reasons we back him: (1) He fights al Qaeda and other terrorists; (2) he tolerates Israel and moderates the anti-Israel sentiment of other Middle East nations.
Michael Brendan Dougherty at the American Conservative discusses some of the complications introduced here:
The guns being used to beat protestors this week were bought with American tax dollars. Foreign aid to poor countries like Egypt creates both the impression and the reality that the government is more solicitous of its Ameircan sponsor than of its own people.↓ Continue Reading Below
So what would happen if the unrest today led to Mubarak's being overthrown? What would an anti-Mubarak regime look like? There's good chance that anti-Mubarak resentment would carry with it anti-U.S. resentment and anti-Israel resentment. To put a finer point on it: the enemies of al Qaeda's enemy could be al Qaeda's friend.
As we consider a Democratic Egypt — a government reflecting the will of the people — we should ask where the sympathies of Egypt's people lie.
As one example of why to be worried, there's this:
Iranian outlets, especially those linked to the government and establishment, are using terms like “revolution” and “uprising” to describe the protests, painting the demonstrators as heroic and giving headline treatment to voices predicting the downfall of President Hosni Mubarak.
None of my thoughts above should be read as foreign-policy prescriptions for the U.S. But as this mess unfurls, and we think about the awful choice of (a) supporting an oppressive ruler or (b) possibly welcoming an anti-American regime, maybe we should put a little more thought into how we might in the future heed George Washington's advice about entangling alliances.