Does it ever bother you who you find yourself in agreement with? Even if it is just one issue, it troubles me that I might find myself with the same fears for Egypt as the man who has in essence been a dictator for the past thirty years, If the telephone call this article discusses actually happened last Thursday night, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the sentiments attributed to Mubarak were accurate.
In recent days, we've seen radical Jihadist groups toppling regimes and rulers throughout the Middle East (Lebanon, Yemen, Tunisia and now Egypt).
The problem is, that although I would be thrilled to see real democratic governments crop up throughout the Middle East, I am afraid the actual result will be much like it was in Iran in the Carter Presidency. The Shah was a dictator who was extremely brutal in his efforts at keeping himself in power. And taken by itself, how could a country like ours be anything but repulsed by his secret police and mistreatment of the people? And yet, when we chose to watch the Shah's regime topple, did the government become more democratic? More humane? No. In fact, the repression simply took a different form. No longer was there a royal ruler, now there was a clerical ruler. Democracy did not come, but a dictatorship friendly to the United States was toppled for a theocratic dictatorship that is openly hostile to the US. And this government has continued to fund terrorism from that day to this, has sought to destabilize the region, and now seek nuclear weapons.
So, as I fear will be the case in many Muslim countries who topple autocratic regimes that most all of us would find reprehensible, the crowds will not get their free and fair elections, their basic rights, their democracy. Instead, the best organized and funded group will be poised to make the most serious bid for power, and we may see a Middle East where even more regimes are replaced by extremist theocratic dictatorships. The main difference will be that each one that goes the way of the extremists, reduces the moderate Islamic states with which the United States can work to pursue our national security, and worse yet, with which we can work to exert influence to slow the extremist flames and moderate the rising (and possibly inescapable at this point) tide of autocratic theocracies virtually built on hatred for the 'decadent' West, and the most hated extremist target of all - The United States.
I am not so naive as to believe it possible for the US to support or ally with only regimes we approve of. Sometimes (maybe often) in world affairs, we must choose to live with much that we deplore, if only to have some ability to prevent even worse regimes from coming to power. And, in the case of the Middle East, as the list of countries and regimes with whom the United States can work continues to shrink, I am fearful, as it appears that Hosni Mubarak was, just what a Middle East region with almost no United States influence would be like. I cannot imagine it will be pretty.
And though I don't like to criticize the sitting President, who knows far more than I about what is really occurring, I was very much disturbed by the amateurish changing of of policy (9 different positions were stated last week, sometimes multiple contradictory positions in a single day). I was concerned at how casually the administration wrote off (and with a single statement early in the protests emboldened the crowds to seek nothing less than regime change NOW!) a man and government with which the US has been able to work over and over to moderate crises in the region. The simple statement that the world was watching transition did much to make it so, and I fear the outcome will eventually remind us all of the Iranian revolution. I hope that the Armed Forces are powerful enough, and respected enough to ensure that the country moves forward toward the democratic elections the people clamor for. Yet still I worry that the best funded and most well organized group will be the Muslim Brotherhood, and the elections less than free and fair, and the new regime yet another repressive theocracy headed by a dictatorial religious leader.
Should these things which Mubarak worried about come to pass, I think a great many people in the world will regret that the US did nothing to support the Mubarak administration until elections could be held. I think we may find a whole different level of swarming hatred for the United States and the West, severe impacts on our economy and ability to project power when and where needed, and an even lesser ability to work to seek a peaceful path in the region.
Of course, Mubarak could have simply been venting his personal loss at being abandoned by his most powerful ally in just a matter of days, and I am sure there was an element of this in his comments. But I can't say that I write off the rest of his statements when I recognize his potentially bitter feelings toward the US.
And please understand, I am not advocating that the US support autocracy around the globe. I am troubled by very much by oppressive, repressive, autocratic and theocratic regimes. But sometimes in this world, or at least in certain parts of it, way not find a single friend we would seek out purely because we like and admire them. Sometimes the devil you know IS better than the devil you don't. We allied with Stalin in the 40's, not because we wanted to, but because we shared a common enemy. This was also true in Egypt, and I hope that the confusing, abrupt abandonment of one of the few friends the United States had in the Middle East won't have similar consequences to the Iranian revolution.