Waiting for Krauthammer on Egypt
As the Washington Post and the New York Times reported, the rapidly developing unrest in Egypt is just as quickly posing a major challenge to U.S. foreign policy in the region. On Tuesday, Secretary of State declared "the Egyptian government is stable" even as tens of thousands of protesters poured into the streets of Cairo. To be sure, the Obama administration will have to decide how hard to push one of America's long-time allies (and biggest aid recipients) towards democratic reforms. But for neo-conservatives like Charles Krauthammer, the future of the Mubarak government is a make-or-break test of their commitment to the ideal of democracy promotion they claim to champion.
As Eschaton recalled six years ago, back in 1993 Charles Krauthammer supported Mubarak's crackdown on Muslim fundamentalists in Egypt and the Algerians' attempts to crush the Islamist FIS movement which caught the west off-guard by winning elections there:
In the case of Egypt, the question is becoming acute. President Hosni Mubarak is in the midst of a desperate campaign against Islamic extremists adept at terror and committed to a Khomeini-like Islamic state. The fall of Egypt, linchpin of the Middle East, would be an international calamity second only to the fall of Russia, linchpin of Eurasia. Mubarak is no doubt asking us, "Do you support me in my war against the fundamentalists?" Our answer has to be: Given the alternative -- yes.
Are we not violating the very tenets of democracy that are supposed to be the moral core of American foreign policy? No. Because democracy does not mean one man, one vote, one time. In the German elections of 1932 and 1933, the Nazis won more votes than any other party. We know what they did with the power thus won. Totalitarians are perfectly capable of achieving power through democracy, then destroying it.
Moreover, democracy does not just mean elections. It also means constitutionalism -- the limitation of state power -- in political life, and tolerance and pluralism in civic life. Yeltsin and Mubarak are clearly more committed to such values than those who would overthrow them. That is why it would be not just expedient but right to support undemocratic measures undertaken to avert a far more anti-democratic outcome. Democracy is not a suicide pact.
A year later in December 1994, Krauthammer told the Middle East Quarterly that American support for the Mubarak regime was a diplomatic no-brainer:
One reason has to do with the government's position being rather stronger in Egypt. The real test of our policy comes when it's not an easy call. Egypt is an easy call because the right side appears to be winning.
But by 2005, two years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Charles Krauthammer took a sunnier view. With the death of Arafat and the first voting in Iraq, the Cedar revolution in Lebanon and the Orange revolution in Ukraine, he claimed, showed that:
Those who claimed, with great certainty, that Arabs are an exception to the human tendency toward freedom, that they live in a stunted and distorted culture that makes them love their chains -- and that the notion the United States could help trigger a democratic revolution by militarily deposing their oppressors was a fantasy -- have been proved wrong.
That March, President Bush and his allies in triumphant and self-congratulatory tones took credit for the sweeping reform throughout the Middle East. President Bush proclaimed, "Freedom is on the march." The National Review's Rich Lowry crowed "Bush has put the United States in the right position to encourage and take advantage of democratic irruptions in the region." And while Time declared "history has yet to yield a verdict on the final outcome," Charles Krauthammer was not so cautious in trumpeting: "three cheers for the Bush Doctrine."
Alas, things did not go so swimmingly for the neo-conservatives afterwards. Hamas surprised the Bush administration by winning Palestinian elections and triggering divided rule in West Bank and Gaza. Iranian influence grew dramatically in Iraq. As events this week revealed yet again, Hezbollah is a growing force in Lebanese politics. And now, the uprising that toppled the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia is spreading to Yemen and Egypt.
So far, 2011 is not 1993 in Egypt. So far, in Cairo as in Tunis the pro-democracy demonstrators in the streets are not dominated by Islamists. But Egypt isn't Tunisia. The Muslim Brotherhood has been the primary source of political and civil opposition to Mubarak for decades. Where the massive demonstrations in Egypt will lead is unclear, as is the fidelity to democracy on the part of Mubarak's son and anointed successor.
In the face of growing unrest, President Obama will quickly be tested on his State of the Union pledge that "the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people." As for Charles Krauthammer and his ilk, the same group who slammed Obama's 2009 speech in Cairo and his "silence" over the elections in Iran, they have to decide whether they stand for anything at all.