Our friend Charles Krauthammer began his column last week by asking, “Who doesn’t love a democratic revolution? Who is not moved by the renunciation of fear and the reclamation of dignity in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria?”
Some on the right, that’s who.
It’s understandable that conservatives should be wary of people taking to the streets — even when they are entitled to do so. It’s also reasonable for conservatives to warn of the unanticipated consequences of ostensibly hopeful developments.
Reasonable people will differ in their analyses of rapidly changing circumstances half a world away — a fact that should make us somewhat tolerant of the Obama administration’s own stumbles. So, whatever our differences in historical interpretation or foreign policy tactics, we agree with our skeptical comrade that the United States must support the Egyptian awakening, and has a paramount moral and strategic interest in real democracy in Egypt and freedom for the Egyptian people. The question is how the U.S. government can do its best to help the awakening turn out well.
In the last quarter century, there have been transitions from allied dictatorships to allied democracies in Chile, South Korea, the Philippines and Indonesia, to name only a few. The United States has played a role in helping those transitions turn out (reasonably) well. America needn’t be passive or fretful or defensive. We can help foster one outcome over another.
As Krauthammer puts it, “Elections will be held. The primary U.S. objective is to guide a transition period that gives secular democrats a chance.” Now, people are more than entitled to their own opinions of how best to accomplish that democratic end. And it’s a sign of health that a political and intellectual movement does not respond to a complicated set of developments with one voice.
But hysteria is not a sign of health. When Glenn Beck rants about the caliphate taking over the Middle East from Morocco to the Philippines, and lists (invents?) the connections between caliphate-promoters and the American left, he brings to mind no one so much as Robert Welch and the John Birch Society. He’s marginalizing himself, just as his predecessors did back in the early 1960s.
Nor is it a sign of health when other American conservatives are so fearful of a popular awakening that they side with the dictator against the democrats. Rather, it’s a sign of fearfulness unworthy of Americans, of short-sightedness uncharacteristic of conservatives, of excuse-making for thuggery unworthy of the American conservative tradition.
It was not so long ago, after all, when conservatives understood that Middle Eastern dictatorships such as Mubarak’s help spawn global terrorism. We needn’t remind our readers that the most famous of the 9/11 hijackers, Mohammed Atta, was an Egyptian, as is al Qaeda’s No. 2, Ayman al Zawahiri. The idea that democracy produces radical Islam is false: Whether in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian territories, or Egypt, it is the dictatorships that have promoted and abetted Islamic radicalism. (Hamas, lest we forget, established its tyranny in Gaza through nondemocratic means.)
Nor is it in any way “realist” to suggest that backing Mubarak during this crisis would promote “stability.” To the contrary: The situation is growing more unstable because of Mubarak’s unwillingness to abdicate. Helping him cling to power now would only pour fuel on the revolutionary fire, and push the Egyptian people in a more anti-American direction.
An American conservatism that looks back to 1776 cannot turn its back on the Egyptian people. We should wish them well — and we should work to help them achieve as good an outcome as possible.
William Kristol is editor of The Weekly Standard, where this article appeared.