As the situation in Egypt continues to evolve, there have been repeated calls for the U.S. to stand forthrightly on the side of the protestors. This position finds support on both the left and right. For example, here is Elliot Abrams, who served in foreign policy positions for both the Reagan and G.W. Bush administrations.
President Obama's words of support for both the demonstrators and the government late Friday, after speaking with Mubarak, were too little, too late. He said Mubarak had called for "a better democracy" in Egypt, but Obama's remarks did not clearly demand democracy or free elections there. We cannot deliver democracy to the Arab states, but we can make our principles and our policies clear. Now is the time to say that the peoples of the Middle East are not "beyond the reach of liberty" and that we will assist any peaceful effort to achieve it - and oppose and condemn efforts to suppress it.Abrams also writes,
Such a statement would not elevate our ideals at the expense of our interests. It turns out, as those demonstrators are telling us, that supporting freedom is the best policy of all.Unfortunately the first sentence isn't true, and the second is an assertion based on little evidence and much wishful thinking. Abrams, and others pushing for an anti-Mubarak stance ignore some important facts and possibilities.
1. All of the U.S. alliances and friendly relationships with Arab states are with non-democratic regimes -- with the exception of Iraq. We can't forthrightly support democracy without at least indirectly undermining our allies.
2. Loyalty and consistency matter in foreign relations. The Mubarak regime was good enough to ally with and supply with massive amounts of U.S. aid, but now suddenly democracy in Egypt is supposed to be our primary concern? What kind of message would we be sending to Saudi Arabia and other authoritarian allies if we suddenly turn on Mubarak? We only support you until the first time you have major popular protests. No doubt sending that message will do wonders for the strength of our relationships with Arab rulers.
3. Democracy in other countries can have negative consequences for the United States. Democracy isn't some sort of magical, unalloyed good that we should be pushing regardless of all other circumstances. Has greater democracy in Turkey been beneficial to U.S. - Turkish ties? When the population of a country is largely hostile in attitudes toward the U.S., as is Egypt, it makes little sense for America to be promoting democracy in that area.
4. The U.S. will get no credit from the protestors even if we come out strongly against Mubarak. The people of Egypt aren't suddenly going to forget how the U.S. propped up the Sadat and Mubarak regimes for decades, just because we withdrew our support at the last minute. Such a move will be seen as a transparent, cynical attempt to curry favor with whatever government replaces Mubarak.
5. U.S. withdrawal of support could lead to greater violence. If the U.S. pulls its support from Mubarak, it is possible that he might decide to crack down harder in a desperate attempt to retain power. He'll no longer have to worry about U.S. opinion if we turn on him, suspend his aid and ally with his enemies. We need to consider the unintended consequences of such a major shift in policy.
6. And finally, Mubarak could survive. It doesn't look good for him now, but it's possible he could weather the storm and retain power. We gain nothing by wrecking our relationship with him.