Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Egypt and the Difference Between Personal Feelings and American Interests

In my opinion one of the main things that leads people into unrealistic and counterproductive foreign policy positions is the tendency to view issues through the lens of personal feelings, as opposed to a more detached view focused on American interests. The current situation in Egypt serves as a prime example. I'm sure a majority of Americans look at the protests/riots in Egypt and sympathize with the protesters. We enjoy our rights and freedom in this country, and as Americans we naturally feel that it would be nice if Egyptians didn't have to live under a repressive authoritarian regime. Why shouldn't they be able to choose their own leaders, instead of having a president for life supported by the military and a nasty police state apparatus?

Such an attitude is perfectly fine for ordinary Americans. But if policy makers allow these types of personal feelings to cloud their judgment, it can influence policy in a way that isn't conducive to advancing U.S. interests. As I've argued many times on this blog, the primary focus of U.S. leaders should be to protect and advance American interests. We don't elect people to look out for the interests of Egyptians. And the unfortunate reality of the Egyptian situation is this: the collapse of the Mubarak regime, or greater Egyptian democracy does not appear to be in the U.S. interest. Regardless of our natural sympathy for the Egyptian people, the fact remains that Mubarak is an ally of the U.S. in whom we have invested a great deal. If he could be replaced by a friendly Egyptian democracy, that would be great. But it is far more likely that a new political system would include strong Islamist elements, and be much less cooperative with the U.S. We need only to look toward the results of greater democracy and less military influence in Turkey, let alone what happened with the overthrow of the Shah of Iran. The last thing we need right now is a large, important Middle Eastern country turning from ally to neutral or even hostile.


  1. We learned in Iran that keeping unpopular dictators around only makes the new government more anti-american.

  2. What we learned was that abandoning an ally didn't gain us in the slightest with the new regime. We won't get a big of credit from whoever overthrows Mubarak if we reduce our support. It's not like we can just wipe away our long-term alliance with him. It's not going to be forgotten if and when his government collapses. It's in our best interests to preserve the regime as long as possible, and hope for some sort of gradual transition to something better.