They only pay me for original stuff, so there is no point in noting that Obama is the Moses of our time. Everyone knows that. He said “Let my people go!” and the heads of American corporations immediately started letting people go in all directions.
Now he is taking his imitation a step further, trying to get today’s leader of Egypt to destroy his own regime in an orgy of drowning chariots. And this fool might actually get his way! Although the situation in Egypt appears to be confusing, the one aspect of it which should have been clear was the range of possible American responses. Perhaps counterintuitively, the United States was in a fairly good position when this began, because most of the options had some upside. Sure enough, Obama picked the one wrong way to go.
Not just wrong. Bloody-minded, short-sighted, ill-conceived, mean-spirited and self-destructive. Just about every pejorative you can cobble together with a hyphen will cover the situation amply.
Let us review. Egypt was the de facto leader of the Arab coalition which attacked the fledgling State of Israel shortly after it declared independence in 1948. It was seen as the leader of the 1956 force fighting Israel, although it worked very closely with Syria during that period. Between 1958 and 1961 Egypt and Syria merged into the United Arab Republic. After they split, Egypt under Gamal Abdel Nasser was again the leader of the Arab world in its bellicosity against Israel.
In 1967, a blockade instituted by Nasser in the Gulf of Aqaba triggered the Six-Day War, with Egypt again the prime opponent. The Yom Kippur War in 1973 was a direct invasion of Israel by Egypt under Anwar Sadat. It is fair to say that the Arab-Israeli conflict was mainly in those days the friction between Egypt and Israel.
This means that when Sadat made peace with Israel in a shocking turnabout, the idea of full-scale war between Israel and its neighbors, as had occurred four times in the prior quarter-century, was no longer a clear and present danger. Thirty-three years later, that impression has not been materially altered. All military engagement involving Israel since that time has been limited geographically; no sovereign country has directly been at war with Israel since. The only sort-of exception was when Syria allowed its Air Force to duel Israel’s over Lebanon in 1982, resulting in a humiliating rout. Also, Iraq shot 39 Scud missiles at Israel in 1991 while being spanked by George H. W. Bush.
A great deal of time and effort is invested into trying to smooth the feathers of the Palestinians, all this goes under the heading of the Mideast peace process. But in the real world those are very small potatoes. With Egypt on the sidelines, the danger of a real conflagration in that region is limited to the possibility of Iran making up the geographical gap between itself and Israel by virtue, or vice, of nuclear technology.
Which brings us to Mubarak. Since the assassination of Sadat, he has managed his country fairly well and managed the peace exceedingly well. The alliance between the United States and Egypt is by far the single most valuable asset we have bought in the entire world. Israel is a great asset, too, but they are peaceable people in their own right and would support our interests even if we showed them no favor at all.
Egypt is not democratic with some repressive elements involved. Still, there are no Iraq meat-grinders on the security front, nor are there leprous gangrenous scabrous limbless orphans in tatters begging in the streets like Calcutta. Tourists are permitted to roam quite freely there and they find a country with some prosperity and a lot of lower-middle-class people in mismatched clothes, a sort of Central-America-on-the-Nile. Mubarak is not Gandhi, but neither is he Ahmadinejad or Castro.
To treat the democracy demonstrators there better than those in Iran requires a degree of lunacy. And as this column’s honorary South American correspondent — Miss Latin America 2005 Claudia Monteverdi — has pointed out, it is beyond absurd to regard Mubarak as less legitimate than Manuel Zelaya was in Honduras in 2009.
We could have handled the situation by praising Hosni Mubarak’s benevolent leadership while pointing out that it is in the interest of Egypt and its neighbors for greater democratic participation. Much, in fact, as Condoleezza Rice did. However, mass anarchic demonstrations paralyzing the economy are counterproductive. As Abraham Lincoln said in 1838, “There is no grievance that is a fit object for redress by mob law.” We could have promised the good offices of the United States in working with our loyal ally to negotiate gradual improvements in the system.
Instead Obama chose to say: “The people are right. Get out, Mubarak. Now.”
Number one, stupid: we are now at the mercy of street thugs in the most sensitive country in a volatile region. Number two, heartless: taking Mubarak out is certain to visit horrific dislocation on the entire population. Whoever takes over will not be able to prevent Iraq-style suicide bombings all over the place, destroying the quality of life. Number three, morally obtuse: Mubarak is not a bad guy and should not be treated like Hu in China, who sticks electric cattle prods in people’s rectums to make them talk. Come to think of it, how did we treat creepy sadist torturer Hu when he dropped by the other week? Number four, ineffective, because Mubarak has no incentive anymore to play ball.
Here, then, is the climax of my argument. The money and the cover fire we gave him until now acted as a brake on his behavior, not an accelerator. By telling him now we were dumping him, we gave him the one trump card which could save him, anti-Americanism. He can now slam us while he fights to save himself, thus winning over some of the America-haters who can’t bring themselves to back any friend of ours.
Until Obama opened his mouth I thought Mubarak was gone. Now I think he will survive. Once his goons get the protesters out of the streets, good luck enforcing his Larry-Craig-style resignation effective in September. The Pharaoh of old saw cows in his dream, but today’s leader of Egypt is done with mooing for Barack.