A video accompaniment to this morning’s NewsBeast piece, in which he lays into Obama for equivocating and into his advisors for failing to foresee that a sick, elderly, widely despised fascist might be ripe for the picking by a discontented public. The clip is long but you’ll enjoy every minute, from Mika’s rose-colored visions of revolution being shattered to our bumbling intelligence braintrust derided as “third-rate” to The One’s grand “strategy” on foreign policy summarized as “I’m not George W. Bush. Love me.” Good lord, man — no need to use the brass knuckles.
Just one nagging question: Which grand strategy should Obama have pursued in lieu of the one he chose, i.e. backing Mubarak and then hedging once demonstrators forced a direct confrontation? In the clip, Ferguson mentions American assistance to dissidents in eastern Europe during the Soviet era, which helped prepare the ground for transitioning to liberal democracy once Russian hegemony collapsed. Not only hasn’t The One reached out to Egyptian liberals, he actually cut the funding provided to them by Bush’s administration once he took office. (In fact, Bush’s efforts to promote democracy did have some effect on the Egyptian protests.) Should he have continued that funding or even increased it in anticipation of chaos breaking out once the old pharaoh died or tried to hand power to his son Gamal? If he had, given the now infamous poll numbers from Pew about how Egyptians view the role of Islam in politics and punishments like stoning for adultery, what confidence is there that that funding would have achieved anything? The problem with Egypt isn’t that there are no liberal democrats; the fear is that, unlike in eastern Europe, there aren’t enough to sustain a liberal democracy even if the U.S. somehow buys one into existence. Which, of course, is why so many people (Ferguson presumably among them) expect that American interests in the Middle East are bound to suffer no matter what sort of government comes out of this.
The other problem with Egypt, of course, is the fear of contagion. With Iraq, contagion was a virtue because the countries in its immediate sphere of influence — Iran, Syria, and Iran’s Hezbollah proxy in Lebanon — were U.S. enemies. Turning Iraq into a democracy was supposed to inspire the Shiites and Sunnis next door to demand the same thing, which necessarily meant more liberal, western-oriented regimes. The proverbial anti-American dominoes would fall. Mubarak, however, was probably more western-oriented than whatever will come after him, and the Saudi royals are definitely more western-oriented. If democracy fever crosses the Red Sea from Egypt into the Kingdom, contagious from one great Sunni power to another, all hell will break loose. (Which helps explain why Bush, the great neocon liberator, was happy to be photographed literally holding hands with Abdullah.) So I ask again: Knowing all that, knowing that democracy in Egypt could mean an elected government of Wahhabist lunatics in Saudi Arabia, what was The One supposed to have done differently to prepare for the end of Mubarak? The best answer I can come up with — which I’ve given you in a previous post — is to go all-in on regime change in Iran so that aspiring democrats around the region can see for themselves how ecstatic Iranians are to be free from an Islamist regime. Might make fencesitters in Egypt think twice before voting for the Muslim Brotherhood. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself.