Much of the show’s conversation focused on American and Western involvement in Egypt. “Does the Middle East need more intervention or does it need less intervention from the outside?” asked the show’s host, Peter Lavelle.
Ramzi Baroud, editor of PalestinianChronicle.com, and Huffington Post contributor Taufiq Rahim argued for “less intervention.” The United States, Baroud said, has been a force for oppression and injustice in Egypt and the Middle East and should just leave the people there alone.
It is true that, in the past, the United States has too often worked closely with, and made excuses for, autocrats such as Mubarak. We have done this in the ostensible interests of political expediency, and too often this has been a mistake.
After all, as Rahim rightly observed, and as Fouad Ajami also points out, two of the 911 terrorists, Mohamed Atta and Ayman Zawahiri, are products of Mubarak’s Egypt.
“We had befriended him [Mubarak], but enraged his population,” Ajami writes. “The jihadists who hadn’t been able to overthrow Mr. Mubarak had struck at American targets instead.”
But as Ajami also notes, George W. Bush and his “freedom agenda” “can definitely claim paternity” for the Egyptian uprising and the larger-scale democratic wave that is now sweeping the Middle East and North Africa.
One despot fell in 2003. We decapitated him. Two despots, in Tunisia and Egypt, fell; and there is absolutely a direct connection between what happened in Iraq in 2003 and what’s happening today throughout the rest of the Arab world.
Moreover, I think you could argue that one important reason Tahrir or Liberation Square did not become a bloodbath a la the French and Russian Revolutions is precisely because of American support for the Egyptian military, which amounts to more than $1.3 billion annually.
Even more importantly, key Egyptian military officers have studied, and continue to study, at U.S. military schools and service academies. Egyptian military units also conduct joint training exercises with their American counterparts.
Thus, the Egyptian military has learned and seen firsthand how the world’s top military behaves and interacts vis-à-vis its civilian overseers and the populace.
So, as a practical matter, the United States is involved in Egypt and will remain involved there for some time. The question is: how can American be a force for positive, liberal democratic change in Egypt?
We don’t, after all, want to see the Egyptian revolution hijacked by the Islamists and the extremists. We don’t want to see it go awry as have other revolutions (most recently and most notably Iran’s 1979 revolution).
For these reasons, I think, it behooves the United States to exercise all elements of national power — political, economic, cultural and military — to move history, in Egypt and elsewhere, in a liberal democratic direction.
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