One of the chief problems confronting the United States in the uprising against Hosni Mubarak is the lack of good alternatives. Just about any conceivable outcome is likely to be worse for the Untied States than the continued rule of Mubarak. Barry Rubin doesn’t consider the range of alternatives available, but he takes an inventory of regimes from the perspective of American interests. He asks readers to consider the following chart:
Who in the Middle East could the United States depend on five years ago to support its basic policy goals?
Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Turkey
Who in the Middle East can the United States basically depend on today?
Israel, Iraq (?), Jordan (until next week?), Saudi Arabia
Who in the Middle East is likely to oppose basic U.S. policy goals today?
Egypt (soon), Gaza Strip (Hamas), Iran, Lebanon (Hizballah), Libya, Sudan, Syria. Turkey
Rubin uncorks on the giddy optimism that has been promulgated in American news and commentary on the events in Egypt. He apologizes for picking on Robert Kagan in particular: “I regret criticizing Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution as he is one of the smarter, saner people.” Rubin’s perspective derives from a perspective a little closer to the action:
I am writing this about 50 miles from Egyptian territory. Two next-door countries–Lebanon and for all practical purposes the Gaza Strip–already have Islamist-run regimes. Some would count Saudi Arabia as a third, though I wouldn’t necessarily do so. A fourth, Syria, is in the Islamist alliance. Now a fifth, Egypt, might be headed that way. All that’s left is Jordan. This week, at least.
Rubin criticizes American observers for their complacency about the prospects of the Muslim Brotherhood in the next phase in Egypt. Here the United States appears to be pursuing an alternative promoting the worst possible outcome (consistent with Rubin’s forebodings). The Wall Street Journal reports, incidentally, that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates aren’t much happier with the United States than Rubin is.
The Obama administration is promoting the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood. Here, for example, is President Obama’s veiled reference to it in his remarks earlier this week on the “orderly transition” he is pursuing in Egypt: “[T]he process must include a broad spectrum of Egyptian voices and opposition parties.”
The Washington Post reports on the administration’s promotion of the Muslim Brotherhood in “U.S. reexamining its relationship with Muslim Brotherhood opposition group.” It is the Obama administration’s “smart diplomacy” in action, the kind that dismays friends (like Barry Rubin) and heartens enemies (pick your choice). Richard Cohen somewhat unrealistically advises that “Obama should just shut up,” but you get his point.
In his categorization of the types of regimes, Aristotle classifies tyranny as a degraded form of monarchy. The Middle East has thrown up refinements in despotism such as the hereditary thugocracy (Syria) and the mullahcracy (Iran). Indeed, Mubarak’s desire to engineer the succession of his son to the presidency was one of the straws that broke the camel’s back, so to speak. if there is a decent way out of here, it will not be assisted by the foolish optimism that Rubin mocks or by the willful blindness from which Obama suffers.