Monday, February 7, 2011

Egypt: Old Myths and New Myths

By Barry Rubin

Nothing is more fashionable than hindsight. Here are some myths forming this week.

1. New myth: Egypt proves that stability doesn't work.

Let's see: The Egyptian regime has lasted 59 years and is still in power as I write. Sounds relatively stable to me. The U.S.-Egypt alliance has now lasted about 22 years. It was a successful policy even if it is going to end now.

Yes, things change but the fact that a strategy or policy doesn't succeed permanently does not mean it was a failure. For another example, consider the Israel-Turkey alliance.

2.  Mubarak's downfall was inevitable.

Well, he's still president as I write this. What was inevitable is that an 82-year-old man is not immortal and he will not remain mortal that much longer either. Just because there are demonstrations in Cairo calling for the regime to fall doesn't mean that the regime must or will fall.

Ask the Iranian regime about that one.

Incidentally, Tunisian President Ben Ali was 75 when he was overthrown; Mubarak is 82. Old dictators need to give way to younger dictators. Look at Syria, when Hafiz al-Assad prepared well for his departure from the scene. And now young Bashar is doing just fine.

3. The Egyptian upheaval shows that the United States should not support so many dictators.

Can you name any dictators the United States supports now in the Middle East? How about South America? We are no longer in the 1980s. U.S. policy around the world supports remarkably few dictatorships. Of course, all the regimes on the other side, America's enemies, are dictatorships.

4. Being in power moderates revolutionary Islamist movements.

Can you name any? Because there is a list of examples to disprove this claim.

5. All problems in the world are Israel's fault.

Why bother to answer that one, the people who believe it won't listen any way.

6. All problems in the world are the fault of the United States.

If you hear this then you're probably sitting in an American university class, or even an elementary school class. Or reading an editorial in a major U.S. newspaper, in this case the Washington Post:

"It's worth remembering what has led to the rise of Islamic extremism and anti-American rage in the Middle East. Arabs see Washington as having supported brutal dictatorships that suppress their people. They believe that it ignored this suppression as long as the regimes toed the line on American foreign policy."

It is hard to remember what is a fabrication. On one hand, which "brutal dictatorships" has the United States supported? I can only think of two possible countries in that category: the shah's Iran and Sadat-Mubarak Egypt. But wait!

What about all the "brutal dictatorships that suppress their people" that the United States opposed? Qadhafi/Libya, Nasser/Egypt, Sudan, Syria, Iraq/Saddam Hussein, Islamist Iran, Gaza/Hamas. There are far more brutal dictatorships that suppress their people that were anti-American.

Did the United States get any credit for its opposition to these regimes among the masses? No. And there's more:  The anti-American regimes are more brutal than the pro-U.S. ones. In Hama in 1982 the Syrian government murdered between 10,000 and 30,000 civilians. The Iraqi dictatorship murdered tens of thousands of Kurds.

It is understandable that Usama bin Ladin and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blame America for everything. Why should Americans echo those lies?

Here's one example: The anti-American Nasser sent Muslim Brotherhood leaders to concentration camps, tortured them and executed them. Sadat led the Brotherhood function again, in practice if not legally. Sure, he and Mubarak arrested and harassed Brotherhood members but who was really brutal?

The problem is that Western elites expect gratitude for being nice and attribute hostility to something they must have done. The ideology, search for a scapegoat, and outright demagoguery of your enemies dictate their attitudes toward you.

I'm starting to wonder whether Western media and intellectual elites are too dumb to survive.

7. This is the State Department's fault.

Absolutely not. It's the White House's fault. At the State Department, whatever its shortcomings, they still understand diplomacy: maintain credibility; take into account cultural differences; ensure deterrence; find out what's going on before you jump in; act privately and quietly; and don't tell a beleagured ally:

 You're fired! Now pack your bags and get out! Oh, by the way, on second thought, please ensure a smooth transition!

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