My favorite morning radio talk show host – Chris Plante – asked his listeners a great question this morning: what should the administration be doing about Egypt? It’s direct, simple, and invites a serious response. But, since I was not chosen to speak on air both times I’ve called into his show in the past, and I hold grudges - I took a pass on calling in during the show. Instead I’ll give him my answer in this space.
With regards to the fluid situation inside Egypt itself – American policy should be guided by the paramount need for stability in that highly volatile region. The relationship of the Suez Canal to the world economy, and Egypt’s special thirty year relationship to Israel’s survival trump every other concern, period. (Flip these two points around, and it’s easy to see Tehran’s opposing interest in undermining both.)
Now we need to take into account what we know about reality on ground. I find three points to be salient. (1) The standoff will not end without Mubarak stepping down. (2) The professional military forces seem to have a good relationship with the demonstrators. (3) The most organized faction among the demonstrators seems to be the Muslim Brotherhood.
Therefore, the short answer is: do everything possible to facilitate an orderly transition of power to a new government run by the professional military; and, conversely, everything possible to avoid a rise to power by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Rhetorically, I find the administration’s emphasis on the universal human right to self-determination counter-productive here; because it undermines the stability project by raising the bar for immediately satisfying the demonstrators. Mubarak stepping down can be engineered, but providing for instant elections in a culture that has never experienced democracy is a crap shoot. Wasn’t Hamas “elected” in the Gaza Strip in 2006? Has there been another election since? How’s that for historical precedent? Hmmmmm.
The administration should also be working every available back-channel to give Mubarak a safe exit to exile (because no good will come from abandoning a 30 year friend), and to identify the immediate shape and form of an interim government run by his generals. These generals must pledge to keep the Suez Canal flowing, to keep peace with Israel, and to work with the UN on a slow (and I mean slow) track toward free and fair elections. This is the formula that has a chance to allow Egypt to join Iraq as a nascent Arab democracy as opposed to joining Iran as an Islamic Republic.
The administration should also be working all the diplomatic channels in the region to make perfectly clear the US stands with Israel, come hell or high water. If this situation breaks the wrong way, the only stable democracy in the region will be surrounded by autocratic terror states dedicated to her total elimination. And these states (a radicalized Egypt, Hamas governed Gaza, Hezbollah governed Lebanon) will act in coordination to attain this goal the moment they feel they can get away with it. Their end game will therefore be widespread war in the region – which will have deleterious effects on our economy given our continuing dependence on fossil fuels taken out of the ground in that region.
Which brings me, finally, to what the administration should be doing domestically in response to all of this.
1) “Drill Here, Drill Now!”
2) Eliminate the Department of Energy as an abject failure in its 35 year old founding mission to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil.
Remember .... never let a crisis got to waste :)
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