Kissinger is wrong on Egypt

March 24, 2011

I’m listening to Henry Kissinger defend supporting dictators for our national security interests. The choice is not obviously autocracy vs. democracy with an amiable government. Everyone would choose a nice Nordic democracy were it possible. Instead, the choice is usually presented as autocracy vs. some scary unknown bogeyman. In Egypt the bogeyman is the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization dedicated to destroying Israel and opposing the US. Given a choice like that, everyone would hold their nose and choose the dictator. And dictators know this. They kill the political center to leave the lunatics as the only alternative. This forces the US to continue supporting the dictators.

This approach looks good in the short-term, but is bad for the US in the long-term. By supporting Mubarak and the military, we’ve made 1 friend and 80 million enemies. We’ve also condemned Egypt to 50 years of terror and economic stagnation under Sadat and Mubarak. During the Cold War this may have been the only alternative, especially since the Muslim Brotherhood really were wackos back then. But since the Cold War ended and the US is the last superpower standing, we are in a position to generally take the high road in foreign policy. This means sacrificing some short-term stability for, hopefully, longer-term gains. Despite the rhetoric of the Bush and Obama administrations, they’ve continued to coddle dictators.

The main reasons the US meddles in the Middle East is (1) to guarantee our supply of oil and (2) to protect Israel. The first is not a serious problem. Most oil producing countries are in such severe debt that they need to sell oil in the international market to keep their kleptocracies going. And if they raise prices too much we’ve got the know-how, but not the self-control, to cut oil consumption enormously. I’m pretty sure higher oil prices give the US an economic advantage vs. China. The second is also fairly easy. Put American arms and troops in Israel and promise to blow the shit out of any attacker, just as the US already does now in Korea.

It is true that democracy is more than just elections. Democracy is a culture that allows Bush to take office even though the Supreme Court blatantly stole the election. The most likely scenario for Egypt’s next election is there will be rampant voter fraud, the winner will be illegitimate, all sides will go nuts and the military will install another strong man to enforce order.

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