Supporting Change in Egypt is the Real “Realist” Option for the US

Why Obama Should Tell Mubarak to Step Down | Stephen M. Walt

In fact, this is one of those fortunate moments when the United States does not  face a clear tradeoff between its moral sympathies and its strategic imperatives. For starters, Egypt is not a major oil producer like Saudi Arabia, so a shift in regime in Cairo will not imperil our vital interest in ensuring that Middle East oil continues to flow to world markets. By itself, in fact, Egypt isn’t a critical strategic partner. Yes, military bases there can be useful transit points when we intervene in the region, but the United States has other alternatives and military intervention isn’t something we should be eager to do anyway (remember Iraq?). Egypt is not as influential in the Arab world as it once was, in part due to the social and economic stagnation that has characterized the Mubarak era, and its recent efforts to mediate several on-going disputes have been unsuccessful. Furthermore, U.S. support for dictators like Mubarak has been one of al Qaeda’s major reasons for targeting the United States, as well as a useful recruiting tool (along with our unstinting support for Israel and our military presence in the Gulf).  It is also one of the main reasons why many Arabs have a negative view of the United States. Viewed strictly on its own, the U.S. alliance with Egypt has become a strategic liability.

As a number of commentators have emphasized, the real reason the United States has backed Mubarak over the years is to preserve the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, and to a lesser extent, because Mubarak shared U.S. concerns about Hamas and Iran. In other words, our support for Mubarak was directly linked to the “special relationship” with Israel, and the supposedly “strategic interest” involved was largely derivative of the U.S. commitment to support Israel at all costs. For those of us who think that the “special relationship” is bad for the U.S. and Israel alike, therefore, a change of government in Egypt is not alarming.

In fact, change in Cairo might not threaten Israel’s interests significantly, and might even help break the calcified diplomatic situation in the region. For starters, a post-Mubarak government is unlikely to tear up the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, because such a move would immediately put it at odds with both the United States and Europe and bring Cairo few tangible benefits. Although ordinary Egyptians do feel strong sympathy for the Palestinians, the primary concern of those now marching in the streets is domestic affairs, not foreign policy. A new government will think long and hard about taking any steps that might cost it the current U.S. aid package, and the Egyptian military would be dead-set against any actions that would jeopardize the support it gets from Washington. Even in the worst case where the treaty did lapse, this would not create an existential threat to Israel. Why? Because Egypt’s military is no match for the IDF and Cairo’s capabilities would deteriorate further once U.S. military aid was cut off.

Of course, if the Egyptian government becomes more responsive to its population, we can expect it to be more critical of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and its refusal to accept a viable two-state solution. It will also be less willing to collude with U.S.-backed policies such as the counter-productive and cruel siege of Gaza. In other words, we may be witnessing the birth pangs of an Egypt that it is a more like contemporary Turkey: neither hostile nor subservient, and increasingly seeking to chart its own course. And this might be precisely the sort of wake-up call that Israel needs, to help it realize that its long-term security does not lie solely in military strength or territorial control. Ultimately, its security must rest on being accepted by its neighbors, and the only way to do that is via a two-state solution with the Palestinians (as the 2002/2007 Saudi/Arab League peace plan envisioned).

To be sure, such a prospect is certain to alarm anyone who thinks that U.S. Middle East policy has been pretty much on-target for the past few decades. But the number of people who still believe that should be dwindling rapidly, when one considers the debacle in Iraq, the prolonged turmoil in Lebanon, Iran’s growing influence, the failure of the Oslo peace process, and the revolving door of failed U.S. Mideast policymakers, who are often wrong but never disqualified for appointment. For those of us who think that U.S. policy has been bad for just about everyone except our adversaries, the turmoil in Cairo is not a threat but an opportunity.

 

31 comments on “Supporting Change in Egypt is the Real “Realist” Option for the US

Commenting at CK MacLeod's

We are determined to encourage thoughtful discussion, so please be respectful to others. We also provide a set of Commenting Options - comment/commenter highlighting and ignoring, and commenter archives that you can access by clicking the commenter options button (). Go to our Commenting Guidelines page for more details, including how to report offensive and spam commenting.

  1. So Walt is auditioning for the Richard Falk role, well someone has to, I’m a little more reassured that Nour is on board, maybe as foreign minister in the new government, but then again, the example of Ghotzbadeh is not too encouraging

  2. Ah, Walt. So second-rate.

    the real reason the United States has backed Mubarak over the years is to preserve the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, and to a lesser extent, because Mubarak shared U.S. concerns about Hamas and Iran. In other words, our support for Mubarak was directly linked to the “special relationship” with Israel, and the supposedly “strategic interest” involved was largely derivative of the U.S. commitment to support Israel at all costs.

    Start off with a well-evidenced thought. Then exaggerate and declare that the position we’ve taken to support Israel means that we support it at all costs just so that the support can be said to be irrational and you get to skip the need to list any reason why our support might be good and just and principled and worth large cost.

    Then Walt, you don’t have to consider that your thought that we should support Egypt becoming more democratic and “more responsive to its population” might be linked to why we support Israel.

    No need to explain why the Egyptian population that’s so critical of Israel has been so steadily fed a diet of misinformation about the other country, in order to distract them from considering how much better off people are there then in Egypt, that their opinions are as much prejudice as they are consideration of fact.

  3. @ fuster:
    Except Walt never says we shouldn’t support Israel. He says just the opposite, and claims that his position is more in Israel’s interest than support “at all costs.” You’re right that “at all costs” is an exaggeration, or perhaps overly general: Yet I think it comes a lot closer to describing the position of many people – Dual Covenant-influenced Christian right wingers and NeoCons, for instance – than the term “conditional support.” Essentially, US policy could be described as support Israel at all conceivable costs, but not excluding restraint of Israel or divergence from particular policies of Israeli governments.

    Meanwhile, your last thought about the immersion of the Egyptian populace in anti-Israeli, anti-Zionist, and anti-semitic propaganda – three different things – would add to Walt’s case, not subtract from it, since every aspect of Egyptian political culture and civil society has been distorted by the Mubarak regime. One result is that many of the same voices in the U.S. and Israel that have been decrying the vicious antisemitism of Egyptian culture over the years are now putting themselves on the other side of changing its internal dynamics – mainly because they’re afraid that the inevitable results of their longstanding policy will finally arise, and take the form of a weakening of the current (in)security structure. The two things are different sides of the same coin. Egyptian political culture is not the only political culture distorted by the compromises of a security policy that in key respects has remained unchanged since the ’70s.

    “No justice, no peace” was originally a Jewish insight.

  4. Has Walt shown an interest in consensual government in the Middle East before, his advice apparently is to abandon Afghanistan to the Taliban, the local branch of the Ilkwan, his view was similar with regards to Saddam’s regime, which he seemed to have no significant
    qualms with. Seems to be a touch of Buchananian opportunism, directed at Israel

  5. @ miguel cervantes:
    Walt’s been out front about his beliefs on these issues for too long and to far too great an extent to be pigeonholed by your usual GbA tactics.

    What difference would it make in regard to his argument anyway whether he shared or opposed your version of “interest in consensual government”? What does that phrase mean, anyway, when the ones who normally deploy it are the ones most worried in the present instance about its possible advance?

  6. CK MacLeod wrote:

    Except Walt never says we shouldn’t support Israel

    of course he doesn’t. he simply describes the current reality as at all costs and uses that crap to avoid quite a few things and make his position, that we must reduce support, sound more reasoned than it might really be.
    as long as you frame our position as at all costs you’ve defined it as immoral, unwise and unrealistic and then it’s just so easy to continue by pointing to the more outrageous actions of the Israelis and claim them to be our responsibility and thing that we support.
    makes so many things so much easier.
    makes his suggestion that the Israelis must be willing to pay the price of Egypt’s looming withdrawal from combating Arab/Iranian aggression, even possibly aiding that effort, sound so much more reasonable. after all, we supported them at all costs as they do bad things, and now we must understand that we and the Israelis have earned having bad things done.
    it avoids discussing the more accurate picture and it avoids the more important point that our support for Egyptian democracy must not be at all costs, or even at the cost of several other things.

  7. It is quite remarkable how a longtime lackey for the corrupt, frankly antisemitic oligarchy of the Pharoah, can turn so quickly, I have my concerns about what a successor regime might entail, that have been allayed in part by Nour’s connection with this effort.

  8. fuster wrote:
    “At all costs” is not prima facie immoral. It is, however, prima facie extreme. I’ve suggested that the phrase is obviously somewhat exaggerated, but it’s only somewhat exaggerated: It lacks technical precision, and can be taken in several different ways, including the ones I’ve addressed. It’s not an exaggeration when applied to the Rightwing Christian Americans who run around quoting Genesis 12:3 and who possess something approaching veto power over Republican policy. It’s probably not an exaggeration, or very much of one, when applied to the defenders of Castle Podhoretz, who are also influential.

    We and the Israelis have “earned having bad things done.” Why should we be different from anyone else? So has the MB, so have the Palestinians. In no case does that relieve us of the obligation to seek and the real interest in seeking greater justice – at all costs.

    On the specific issue of “Egypt’s looming withdrawal from combating Arab/Iranian aggression, even possibly aiding that effort,” that horse done left the barn. Egypt’s now in no position to do much more good than harm, regardless of how things play out. Raising the good and limiting the harm isn’t likely to come from throwing good money after bad on Mubarak, or in making Israel more difficult to support on any other basis than power politics or Islamophobia.

  9. I think they’d be more likely quoting John 3:16, if any particular passage were to come to mind. Now Walt is smart enough to know that as Keynes’s put it ‘in the long run’ the IM will prevail, he doesn’t have the excuse of Falk, back in 1978, there will come a reckoning for that, swift and sure, so why deny it.

  10. miguel cervantes wrote:

    I think they’d be more likely quoting John 3:16, if any particular passage were to come to mind.

    No, that defines their Christianity. It doesn’t say anything about Dual Covenant Christian support for the State of Israel. Genesis 12:3, on the other hand, is frequently cited in evangelical quarters as one authority for a pro-Israeli stance “at all costs.” The other authority is eschatological – the widespread belief that the return of the Jews to Israel confirms the apocalyptic prophecy and proves that we’re in the “end times.” The superficial contradiction – how we could at the same time be “blessed” for supporting Israel and yet face the “end times” – is resolved in faith: Faithful Christians of this type look forward to and welcome the Apocalypse. The similarity in their views to the views of such as the Mahdists is unfortunately not trivial.

  11. CK MacLeod wrote:

    “At all costs” is not prima facie immoral.

    it pretty much is, unless what you’re defending at all costs is transcendent good.
    what he does is not an exaggeration, it’s an attempt to place the other side, the entire other side, on indefensible ground.

    he’s better at it than the Jennifer Rubins of the world. Much better, because he starts with a much better grasp of fact, but he still pulls the same stunt of demonizing the other side at the beginning of the of the discussion of the future and its “oughts”.

    Walt, in his consideration of the future of Egyptian actions, where he suggests that it will be less aligned with our and Israel’s interests but not actively opposed, omits considering whether it’s likely that his

    change in Cairo might not threaten Israel’s interests significantly

    is less likely than is the likelihood that Egypt will cease to be an effective and active part of the effort to combat Hamas and other extremist organizations. Egypt is unlikely to be as willing and able to interdict Iranian arms shipments and other things.

    The loss of an ally helping to prevent harm from evil-doers (other than Israeli evil-doers) is not considered, even though it’s likely and even though that is what worries people who support Israel not at all costs

    loss due to shrinkage is, I guess, a hidden cost for Walt.

    that loss might lead to some real bad stuff.

  12. fuster wrote:

    that loss might lead to some real bad stuff.

    Not might – almost certainly will. But “real bad stuff” is ongoing. It’s already the legacy of real world choices made over the course of 60 years (and going back to the origins of the origins, of course).

    Walt briefly assesses “the loss an ally,” and discounts it. I think he also believes that the legacy insecurity structure has enabled self-destructive and self-defeating policies on the part of Israel, and a drift toward Israeli illiberalism, that in other contexts you’re among the first to decry.

    It’s possible that the Israeli reaction will be the precise opposite of the one advocated today by the Haaretz editors (see RecBrow). That would be a very unfortunate byproduct of the loss of an ally, but it would also be a sad comment on what Zionism has become in our time, and in my opinion a much greater danger to Israel than Hamas or Iran.

  13. Yes, because Haaretz editors, on the whole, do believe ‘in the best of all possible worlds’ and the easter bunny. The last three decades of
    the Camp David Accord, the Second Intifada, the ’06 Levantine war
    (to combine the Hamas and Hezbollah battlefields) don’t muss their hair at all. Israel used to be almost exclusively a Labor domain, then
    they grew up. Hence Barak having to form a new party, from the old shell of Labor.

  14. miguel cervantes wrote:

    Yes, because Haaretz editors, on the whole, do believe ‘in the best of all possible worlds’ and the easter bunny.

    Or maybe they understand that indulging in facile pessimism in order to proceed with manifestly unjust or even atrocious policies and practices is, in a word, evil morally unacceptable.

  15. CK MacLeod wrote:

    Walt briefly assesses “the loss an ally,” and discounts it. I think he also believes that the legacy insecurity structure has enabled self-destructive and self-defeating policies on the part of Israel, and a drift toward Israeli illiberalism, that in other contexts you’re among the first to decry.

    still gonna decry them.

    just as I’ll continue to cry out that Walt’s dismissal of the likely in favor of arguing dishonestly leads it to be flawed on a realistic level as well as being flawed logically and ethically.
    other than that, it’s second-rate.

  16. @ miguel cervantes:
    I noticed that news item, too. It would be a very interesting development, since that’s the same fellow said to have just concluded a week of intensive discussion with his American counterparts. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait and see how many of these reports are accurate, and wait even longer to sort out their true implications.

  17. fuster wrote:

    loss due to shrinkage

    There’s the old Fuster humor. I was beginning to wonder.
    CK MacLeod wrote:

    and a drift toward Israeli illiberalism, that in other contexts you’re among the first to decry.

    That’s what confuses me about Fuster’s ideas sometimes. It’s okay, though. Emerson: Consistency is the hobgoblin of the small mind.

  18. @ Scott Miller:

    well old fuster isn’t arguing against the data that Walt is working from or arguing against the existence and danger of that illiberalism.
    he’s arguing that he thinks that Walt has a bunch of problems with his application of data.

    Walt, like Marx, is good at some things; predicting the future and offering advice about how to proceed into it not included.

  19. @ fuster:
    I’m not sure where ol’ Fuster differs from ol’ Walt substantively except in suffering greater conniptions at the thought of no longer having ol’ Hosni to depend on for whatever ol’ Hosni had to contribute. Does ol’ Fuster think ol’ Barack and ol’ Hillary oughta be pulling out all the stops trying to keep ol’ Hosni in power?

  20. @ CK MacLeod:

    don’t differ at all from Walt in thinking that we should advocate democracy rather than dictatorship.

    don’t think that it serves anyone’s interest to stand for more Mubarak(s)

    don’t think that I want to shrug off the likelihood of big problems arising from the change.

    don’t care for Walt ignoring that it’s reasonable to expect that there’s going to be injustice and more violence from this than I enjoyed the last admin arguing that invading Iraq and deposing the Baathists was going to lead to a bright shiny democratic future for the ME, without mentioning much about the immorality of imposing our will through invasion and slaughter. slaughter, yes slaughter, he said, that would go on and on long afterward.

  21. @ fuster:
    “Invasion and slaughter” should be avoided…wait for it…”at all costs.” Obviously. But don’t you think you might be comparing apples and oranges here?

  22. Scott Miller wrote:

    “Invasion and slaughter” should be avoided…wait for it…”at all costs.” Obviously.

    well, I guess you and I agree with Truman that they are better left separated.

Commenter Ignore Button by CK's Plug-Ins

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*