I take John’s point that the Muslim Brotherhood has managed to prosper under Mubarak, but the problem with these types of arguments is that we can’t say what would have happened had he not been in power. If, after the assassination of Sadat in 1981, there was no Mubarak to lead a crackdown, it’s perfectly plausible — and possibly likely — that we could have wound up with an Islamist government back then, just two years after the Islamist takeover of Iran. So, when I say that Mubarak provided a check on the Muslim Brotherhood, I mean that he helped prevent fundamentalists from taking over Egypt.
Still, in Elliot Abrams’ comments that John quotes, I also see the seeds of an effort to shield his views from criticism should things go horribly wrong in a post-Mubarak Egypt. If Islamists carry the day, he will argue that it’s only because Mubarak’s rule allowed them to flourish. But it goes without saying that are other explanations for why an Ismamist movement would grow in a major Arab nation.
I agree that there’s an American impulse to want to side with people rising up against a totalitarian ruler. All I’m saying is that I’m going to withhold my cheers until we know more about what this will mean for the United States. It would be great if we could gain a democratic ally in the Arab world, but what I fear is that we may be trading relatively pro-American totalitarian rule for anti-American totalitarian rule.